A series of experiences from everyday people showing the importance of telling our stories and sharing our experiences to normalize all things mental health, bringing it out of the shadows and into the light. The more we share, the more we understand, and the more we understand, the more we can help each other come out of the shadows and into the light.
“It’s almost impossible for me to accurately articulate what it’s like for me to have depression. Here, for the first time in nearly 40 years, in the space of one blog post, I’m going to try.
I have two shadows.
There is the shadow attached to my feet. The one that paints the ground or the wall with an out-of-proportion, two dimensional version of me. The one that is visible. The one that I can’t feel. The one that looks similar to everyone else’s.
Then there is my other Shadow. This Shadow exists internally, in my mind, heart and soul. This Shadow doesn’t look like me at all. It is invisible. I can feel its weight, and it feels like I alone have a Shadow like this.
This Shadow has, I believe, been with me throughout my life. Because of my Shadow, I don’t remember ever feeling connected to anything, or anyone, until several months after my son was born. I’ve always felt immensely and unfavourably different, like I don’t fit anywhere at all. A square peg in a universe of round holes. I’ve never felt acceptable, or that I am enough.
Sometimes this Shadow – my depression – is a feeling of deep NOTHING. I don’t feel happy, or sad, or angry. I don’t feel love, or fear, or excitement. I feel nothing. I am hollow, empty, blank. I have no energy. Every moment is a mammoth effort. I feel heavy… so heavy… like my internal Shadow has a physical weight. My brain is full of thick, black fog.
Sometimes, my depression is pain. An incessant stream of red-hot self-hatred. Torture of mind and soul. It’s useless to try to halt, distract, or divert the flow of painful thoughts and feelings. The pain is consuming and – literally – overwhelming. Any speck of self-worth is drowned in Shadow.
I feel worthless. If something bad happens, I deserve it, because I am also bad. Of course your son would rather be at his Dad’s: you’re garbage. Of course you’re the black sheep: you’re garbage. Of course that guy hasn’t texted you back: you’re garbage. Of course your friend doesn’t want to hang out: you’re garbage. Of course you didn’t get the job: you’re garbage.
So what does this look like?
Sometimes it looks like an everyday, average human: getting up, going to work, interacting with people, parenting, running a household. I smile, I chat, I laugh, I work. But behind each breath is an intense struggle to keep functioning. It’s a very, very heavy – but effective – façade.
Other times, it is a physical functioning only. Get up, go to work, interact, parent, run household. But there is no smile, no chat or laughter. I feel like a zombie, or a robot.
Other times, I cease to function. I cannot get out of bed. The curtains stay closed. I lie in the dark. I can’t tolerate light. I don’t eat, shower, talk, sleep, read. I just lie there. It looks like laziness. But in fact, I’m consumed in a battle with myself, and it’s taking everything I have just to BE.
I genuinely believe that without me the universe would be a better place. I desperately want people to leave and forget me, because then all obligations and expectations disappear, and I could just fall… surrender and fall into the Shadow. Because, my goodness, it would be a relief to stop fighting. Like struggling to keep my head above water for so long, and then finally just relaxing, letting go, letting myself float down, and drown. I don’t necessarily want to die. But living is just too, too hard sometimes. I just want to not exist for a while.
Then there’s the guilt. Guilt about people having to put up with me. Guilt about life wasted by not leaving my house. Guilt that I’m not a better mother, daughter, sister, lover, friend, aunt, cousin, niece, employee, etc, because sometimes I don’t have energy to engage. Guilt about wasted talent: that I once had a clever brain, but never went to uni, or got a great job. Most keenly and painfully, the guilt about my son: that he deserves a far better existence than this, that I can’t give him more, and that he has to witness and endure this. I worry constantly about what damage I’ve done to him.
It’s being unable to appreciate beauty. It’s being unable to find any meaning in anything I do. It’s feeling devoid of hope that things will ever feel differently, or change, or get better. It’s a desolate feeling of alone-ness.
It’s being unable to show love, and unable to feel or accept love.
It is feeling neither valued nor valuable.
It’s being abandoned by people.
It’s the lies I tell, the classics being “I’m ok, just tired”, and “sorry, I can’t make it, I have a terrible headache/stomach bug/flu”.
It’s feeling broken.
It’s SCREAMING inside your mind for help, but actually not knowing what anyone can do to help you anyway.
It’s a battle with my Self that I can’t win or escape, because it IS me. I don’t know where the illness ends and I begin: it has become so much of my identity. It’s wondering what it’s like to live without illness, and being unable to imagine such a life. It’s a deep yearning to be free.
It’s exhaustion. Soul-deep exhaustion. I am so, so tired.
I have had years of anti-depressants, interspersed with years without them. I feel that they are a Bandaid and a Panadol for a festering wound. They’re not healing or curing anything, just papering over it. They make it easier for other people to endure me though.
I don’t believe that I’ll ever be free of the Shadow. But some days it’s buried a little deeper. The above is when I’m at my worst. And that is not every hour or every day, for me. There are brighter hours and days, when I do want the sun to shine, when I can enjoy interacting with people, when I can laugh, I can feel hope, and I can feel beauty and love with all of my senses. Some days the fight is less intense, and that feels like cool, sweet oxygen in my lungs.
I recently read “Lost Connections” by Johann Hari. I implore everyone to read it, whether you are suffering from a mental health issue, supporting someone who is, or simply as a fellow human. I think it is one of the most important books ever written. It’s compelling, eye-opening, a world changer. It’s not too long, it’s easy to read and understand. It helped validate the gut feeling I’ve always had that anti-depressants are NOT the answer, for me. It shone a light on the real reasons why I am suffering. That it’s not just my biology, or the way my brain is wired. It’s circumstantial and there are identifiable, tangible reasons why I am feeling this way. The book talks about the way we lead our modern lives, and how the loss of specific connections causes depression and anxiety: connection with meaningful work, with other people, with meaningful values, with childhood trauma, with status and respect, with the natural world, with a hopeful or secure future. It also talks about the real role of genes and brain changes. It then offers potential paths to reconnection! It will make you question everything you think you know about mental illness, and its purported cures.
If you are suffering, PLEASE HOLD ON. Just hold on, for one more minute. Then hold on for another minute. Then another. Those minutes will become hours. Do whatever you need to get through THIS minute. You are NOT crazy, broken, or alone. You are HUMAN. You have needs, and for various reasons they are not being met. Be gentle with yourself. It’s not your fault. It’s ok to not feel ok right now. Try to remember that bad days do not equal a bad life. And it’s ok to reach out and let someone know that you are struggling. You are worth it. ”
Lifeline: 13 11 14