I love the Bloggess, especially when she writes about her mental health issues, her depression, her anxiety, and her just general bizarreness. (She has also written a lot about her rheumatoid arthritis and other physical issues, which I’m sure readers of mine understand that I relate to closely.) Her amazing candor has helped me come to grips with a lot of my own mental problems (mostly depression) in a lot of ways. I know that reading her book Let’s Pretend this Never Happened helped me accept taking antidepressants.
Her most recent post was about Mental Health Awareness Month, which is apparently May. She said that most people (or at least those who read her blog) are already aware of mental health, and so she changed it up. She asked her readers two questions. Here are my stabs at some answers, and my other general thoughts on the subject.
HOW HAS MENTAL ILLNESS AFFECTED YOU PERSONALLY?
In many ways, I’m one of the “lucky” ones. As far as I can tell, I’m only dealing with garden variety depression, the kind that makes it hard to get up and get moving every day. Even then, it’s not so bad as to actually keep me from doing that (yet).
And I’m pretty sure that my physical issues loop into and reinforce the mental ones (and vice versa). Depression causes pain; pain causes depression. Pain causes me to be exhausted, which leads to my not doing much, which leads to be being sad about everything that didn’t get done. I’ve made some efforts to stop this (see: aforementioned antidepressants). I make myself get up and do shit anyway, but there are a LOT of things I miss out on because I just have no energy or willpower left.
So, it has affected my social life, and sometimes it has made work harder. (The pain can affect things as much as anything else–there have been days when either due to stomach upset or horribly painful joints I couldn’t work.) But, my awareness of my problems has also led to my being more empathetic than I used to be, particularly about other forms of privilege that I might have been blind to. As a straight white cismale, my life if mostly on easy mode. (Not saying my life has been easy, just that there are many ways in which life could have been harder.) I did not realize how much privilege I had until this one was pulled away, and then it became more clear. I care more about social justice now than I probably did in college.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT THAT MIGHT HELP OTHERS?
The most important thing I’ve learned is that there are people who will support you, who will help you, who will back you up.
See, I’ve realized that I’ve dealt with depression since at least middle school, if not earlier. I remember days when, halfway through the school day, I just had no more energy left to deal with things, even just holding the bow for my string bass. (Reminder for those who don’t know: depression is not sadness. It is a loss of interest, energy, and desire.) But I didn’t know that’s what it was. I didn’t realize I had a problem, or that I could talk to someone, or get any kind of help. (And to be fair, I probably couldn’t have then–it’s not like we had the resources.) Now, there are a million people online, going through similar things, who I can turn to. (Not to mention my wonderful wife, who gets me in ways I never thought possible.)
Number two, as the Bloggess always puts it: depression lies. There are worries I have that are pretty unlikely to come about, such as losing my job entirely, having to retire early, etc. I know that I do a good job, and that I will likely make Senior Foreign Service and enjoy the hell out of it. But, when it flares, it’s hard to remember, and all I want to do is hide away and pretend I don’t have responsibilities, and I worry some day I’ll give in or have to give in. And I have to remember, no, I can do this and I will.
Number 3: Be kind to others. Show empathy. Lift others up when you can. You have to look out, realize where you are privileged, and use that not just for yourself but for others. Do not assume you have it worse off, or make fun of those who have problems that don’t seem as bad as yours. It can be hard, sometimes, but it’s vitally important, especially if you want others to help you.
So those are the lessons. Depression and other diseases lie, you are not alone, and damn it babies, you’ve got to be kind.