Mental Health. Such an odd, precarious topic to breech. Since I started personally struggling with my own mental health around ten years ago, I’ve seen the public opinion of this topic change quite a bit. When I first started going to therapy regularly around the time I turned 16, a lot of people in my life were still of the mind that I shouldn’t “make it known” that I struggled with mental health issues. It was a disability, and disabilities should be kept hush-hush, lest people find out. People with mental health issues were still viewed as:
To clarify, I have a condition called Cyclothymia, accompanied with an unspecified anxiety disorder. Cyclothymia is in the Bi-Polar family and causes rapid cycling mood swings and cyclical depression. When I'm in the middle of a flare-up I can go from severely depressed to absolutely fine to borderline manic in the span of 24 hours. It's the type of Bi-polar disorder that ignorant people tend to stereotype. Think: "Omg her mood swings are so crazy, she must be Bi-polar hahahahahahashootme"...except it can be debilitating for the person with the disorder. At the very least: it ain't fun. This past winter I was having a bit of a rough time and I decided to finally put into words what my struggle feels like to me. I never did anything with what I wrote, but in my current mental clarity: I'm so glad I wrote it because now I want to share it.
Promoting education and awareness of Mental Health is something I am and always have been passionate about. I never did listen much to the people who told me to keep my problems to myself. It seemed counter-intuitive to keep it all inside. It felt like the opposite of a solution to my problems. Shutting away a truth of my life and of my human experience seemed like a recipe for fueling my depression which already filled me with feelings of isolation and saddled me with the inability to connect to the world around me.
I want to share what my struggle is like, because I hate the idea of anyone feeling ashamed or alone in their own struggle. Having a mental illness is hard enough on your own; it can make you feel alone in a sea of people. But if we are open and honest about it, no one has to walk alone.
Hi. My name is MariaElisa, and as of right now the only thing on my mind is that I have suffered for as long as I can possibly remember from depression (I wrote this before I was diagnosed with Cyclothymia. That's actually a very recent diagnosis). It comes and it goes. Sometimes it’s barely there. Other days, I can’t get out of bed. I’d say “it feels like such and such” but most of the time…I don’t FEEL anything at all. No, that’s not quite right. I do feel. I’d venture to say that I almost feel too much. All the time. When I am happy, it overflows. But by that same token, when I am depressed I feel everything too much as well. Because of this, I become overstimulated and then I shut down.
Anyone that knows me knows that I feel so much. In the good times and the bad. My teachers and friends from IAMT- the school I graduated from last year- would affectionately (I hope) argue that I cry over EVERYTHING. Including the happy things.In my graduation speech I joked that when I had started school there I spent a lot of my time crying from sadness and negative emotions, but after two years there, I still cried a lot- but I was crying from happiness.
Recently…That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. It’s been a year since I left school and the shine seems to have worn off. A year of the real world, of adjusting to “being an adult”, of auditioning- or rather, of trying to audition- of moving out of my parents house, only to be forced to move back home, coupled with the long winter months…I can’t seem to find that girl right now. The girl who had overcome her fears, who cried tears of joy on the regular, who loved herself and didn’t fear the future. I don’t want to say she’s gone. She’s there…somewhere. But I’m having trouble finding her.
The winter has always been a rough time of year for me. For nigh on ten years, my years have only been about 9 months long, because I lose January through March to depression (which I now know to be seasonal affective depressive disorder). It’s been that way since I was about 16. The worst times of my life have always fallen in the winter months until last year, when I was in my last semester of school at IAMT. I felt great, I was on a roll, kicking ass and preparing to graduate. It was the first winter in about 10 years that wasn’t an absolute fog for me. I thought that I had finally shaken this vicious cycle of severe seasonal depression.
Let me tell you: the only thing worse than having depression is thinking the depression is gone and being prepared to go live your life to the fullest…. then you suddenly become unbearably sick again one day. You were ready to kick ass and take names and instead you have to spend the foreseeable future just trying to get better. Again. To survive. Again. It’s as though someone has karate chopped all the light switches off.
I do not exaggerate when I say that the world goes gray. Nothing feels real and everything is simultaneously too much and too dull. You feel pain that you can’t put into words, and a sadness that comes from literally nowhere. You can sit down and write down on paper all the wonderful, beautiful things in your life that you should be happy and grateful for…but you just can’t feel those positive emotions. You either feel nothing, or you feel pain.
Well, that’s not entirely true. You can most certainly feel guilt. And shame. Intellectually, you can understand that it’s not your fault that there’s something wrong, but emotionally all you can think about is how you’re worrying all the people who love you. How you’re letting down all the people who put their faith and love in you, all the people who encouraged you to get better, and helped you get there. You feel guilty that you’re a grown ass adult with parents who worked their asses off everyday since the day you were born so that you could just be happy, and you can’t even manage to do that properly.
It feels that way for what seems like forever, but then suddenly, you see the light again. It starts out dim- a tiny flicker- and it gets stronger and stronger till one day you look back and don’t remember when the light became so bright. You rejoice and you get back to living your life and enjoying it. Life doesn’t just go on, it moves forward and you’re there keeping up with it. Colors get more vibrant, and the sky literally- no hyperbole- seems bluer. I’ve spent many a “good day” looking up at the sky and being grateful for it.
That was all I could manage to write at the time. I didn't write that or decide to post it to be macabre. I have decided to share this part of my life so that people can better understand what it feels like. This description barely skims the surface of the day to day struggle of people battling mental illness- and there are far more people fighting this battle than most people realize. There so many people who have it FAR worse than I do, but you'd never know on the outside.
I'm doing about a million times better now, as is usually the case in Summertime. I always get better. I always fight through it and live life as best as I can while I'm sick, and then crush life when I'm better. When I wrote that, I was actually in a show. Just goes to show, some illnesses are invisible.
I don't share it for pity, or for sympathy. I don't need either. I am a badass. Not in spite of my struggle but rather in no small part- because of it. Some days I wish this wasn't my reality, but then there are other days when I am grateful for it. Without this struggle I wouldn't know what I fighter I am. I wouldn't have the great wealth of empathy that I hold in my heart. It sucks- for damn sure- but it has also been my greatest accomplishment. Living life and loving life, loving people and myself despite the fact that my brain has a few wires crossed which would make it much easier to wallow in pain. I will forever be proud of the fact that I can hold my head up high and speak about my illness without shame, and demand I be seen as valid. I am also secure in the fact that it does not define my entire existence and personality by any means.
Maybe I am writing this to help myself, but I like to think I'm writing about it to help other people as well. I was lucky that for the most part, my parents helped me to find the help that I needed. Some people aren't as lucky as I was and don't have the support system or access to mental health care that I have. I would hope that at the very least, anyone reading this feels less alone. Your struggle is yours, as my struggle is/was/always will be my own. No one can ever possibly know exactly how you feel. But all the same, you are not alone.
You are valid, you are worthy of help and you are not a mistake or a burden or unworthy of love because your brain is an asshole sometimes. Keep fighting. It'll get better. Then honestly, it might get worse again. But I promise you, that no matter how many times it gets worse again, the times it gets better make everything worth it. For everyday you are in pain, there are a million and one happy memories to be made. For every time your brain tells you no one loves you, there's a hundred people randomly thinking about you: "Wow, I love this person so much." For every sad tear there will be endless happy ones.
Look up at the sky and wait for it to turn blue again, because even though it may feel like it'll never be blue again...if you keep going, and keep fighting, eventually it will change. But if you give up...there's no way it never will.