Talking about this matters

November 25, 2011

Well, it’s the day after Thanksgiving. Now would be a great time to make a list of things and people that I am thankful for. The thing is, though, that I am so gracious for every person in my life that I could never be able to mention everybody by name… but I will make a few shout outs to people that I’m immensely thankful for.

Here is a small list of people that I’ve been thinking about-

  • The person who overheard me being sexually harassed and made a point to come over, tell me that it wasn’t okay, and offered to tell off the harasser for me. The person who told me that I was precious.
  • The person who let me in closer than he has ever let anybody in before, figuratively and literally, who was able to look me in the eye.
  • The person who wasn’t scared to share with me, who I was able to talk with for hours, who was going to change his own life and triumph. The person who believed in me before I ever did.
  • The person who shared his world with me, who smiled for me and who wanted to take care of me, the person who tried harder than anybody else ever tries despite every set backs, the person who made me feel like safety.
  • The person who clicked with me, who was like me, who opened up to me and trusted me. The person who was and still is the best badass ever.
  • The person who shared their life with me without even knowing me, who hugged me last, who kept in contact, who cried during my pain and celebrated my triumph, who called me a friend.
  • The person who let me in, who opened up. The person who made me laugh constantly, and who let me share my thoughts and feelings with, who noticed me and made sure to keep me floating. Who inspired everybody.
  • The person who I immediately loved, who I immediately clicked with. Who is precious to me, who looks so strong but can be delicate.
  • The person who told me that I was going to be okay. Thanks for the glorious laughs, too.
  • The person whose voice I’ll never forget. So resilient, so many layers, so much love. Who looked for the good things to be happy about, who shared my views, who wanted to sit with me.
  • The person who bought me bags of food and gave me a ride home just to make sure that I didn’t hurt.
  • The person who was honest, and loving, and caring. The person who was a mother to everybody but herself, but who finally stood up and made herself important, and who showed me what it’s like to do what you’ve always wanted to do (what I’ve always wanted to do).
  • The person who checks in on me just to let me know that they are here.
  • The person who is always herself, is always beautiful, is always kind, and who is beginning to inspire herself as well as everybody else.
  • The person who will always be there.

These people are a constant inspiration to me. I spoke about them a few times yesterday, at the in-laws’ house, to various relatives of my boyfriend. I told their jokes and stories, and dreaded the implied question.

Where did you meet them?

Everybody that I mentioned above I met during an inpatient stay at a mental hospital, during outpatient mental health care, or during group therapy.

And they were all fellow patients.

I could talk for pages about the wonderful professionals I have worked with. There have been countless persons who listened, who guided, and who gave me the tools I needed to succeed. I could talk about my every day friends and my family, and the years of assistance they have given me, their homes, their time, their care. These are the people who have literally saved me multiple times over, and whose help I could never repay them for completely. These are the helpers that deserve to be thanked, constantly.

But I also want to thank the other patients who were right there with me. These are the unlikely candidates for help; even some inpatient professionals urge patients to not rely on each other, “the blind leading the blind.” However, these are the people that are right there with me, who share in my experiences, who know what it’s like. And, during the hours when we aren’t in therapy or when we aren’t actively working on coping, these are the people who provide support, reprieve, and even more therapy (just without a degree, in most cases). There is so much care, and it is so easy and wonderful to bond with somebody in this way. After all, when we leave, we know that reality will hit us again, and that these are things that we just don’t or can’t talk about with the everyday person, that we have to retreat back into our silence.

But, because I’m sure it’s expected, I’ll give a brief example of somebody’s pain. These are the stories people expect of me when I talk about inpatient, the horror stories of a life gone awry, taken over by chemical imbalances and unseen demons. So for that sake, and for the sake of reality, I’ll share.

This is a person whose first memory is of a suicide attempt at eight years old, of shoelaces across the neck and crippling feelings of guilt. This is a person whose strongest childhood memories in general are feelings of depression, of crying, of pain. It isn’t that this person didn’t experience happiness, it’s just that this person can’t remember much anymore thanks to years of medication, and this is all that sticks. This is a person who, being the only inhabitant of a bunk bed, built a cave by putting blankets all around the bottom bunk so that they could live only in this area. This person started to love small and confined areas, and, in Junior High, slept inside a nest they had made in their closet- a nest that included a jump rope tied to where the clothes were supposed to hang with a noose tied at the end, for a just-in-case scenario. This person dressed to disappear, and to be hated. This person, one night, punched themselves in the arm to bring about a bruise, to punish themselves, a habit that would stick for a decade. This person found respite through online relationships and through pretending to be other. This person had a few friends in their actual reality who loved and who prodded and who coaxed them into opening up, just a little bit. This person dreamed of healing and of being a good influence, and so this person joined a group to counsel others. This person started opening up, started listening, and started becoming positive, and started to dream. Still, this person cried nearly every day from pressures at home, from feeling inadequate. This person began spending hours every day looking at pictures of emaciated persons, started to limit themselves to eating solid food once a day at the most, once a week at the least, always keeping below 400 calories. These would last for a month or two, and then the feelings would ebb, but then come back, in waves, every time the sadness came back. This person threw themselves into other people, into their post-graduation life, ignoring the night spent in a ball, crying, thought that it was just part of their normal being. Until the depression became unbearable, and the feelings of suicide came back. Therapy helped until the feelings were too strong, and then the first hospital stay. A diagnosis: Bipolar II. The anxiety attacks started, like a darkness coming in over the whole body, the shaking, the fear, the inability to move. Home was a respite, but it brought on delusions, a belief in a dark demon in the corner that wanted to cause pain. More medication, more therapy. A return to university that was full of extra morning hours spent finding a reason to live and get out of bed, a reason to not chug down everything under the sink and deal with the pain until there wasn’t any, until there wasn’t anything. More medication. More people. Another hospital stay. Different medication, different doctors, more time. A light, through support and some love, but a darkness that came back from disappointment. Loss of function. No more showering, no cleaning, no cooking. Barely breathing. Back to home, back to fuck-ups, shuffling around, hurting everybody. Being forced into the hospital for the first time. Back home, more fear, more fuck-ups, more hurting, choosing the hospital again. Eight days. A new diagnosis, one that actually fits and feels like liberty from an identity that wasn’t theirs: Major Depression Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. An explanation. A new life. More pain, but an escape to where they could breathe, to where they could believe in themselves, more than anything. To lots of therapy and lots of support, but also to a good job, to friends and to love, and to some kind of life. To a life that seemed worth trying for. To an actual sense of steadiness, and of security, and of stability, that this person helped to create and worked for. To an end to self-injury, to promises to themselves, to a lot of effort. To months without depression or anxiety, to months without depression-tears. To seven months of functioning.

It’s November now, and I’ve been functioning for seven months. At twenty-two years old, I’m beginning to live and to try and to enjoy, and it’s the most beautiful feeling in the world.

But still, I cannot open my mouth to my future relatives and say “I met these wonderful people in a mental facility. I have a mental disorder. I have depression without reason or warning, and it took a lot of work to get me out of it, but I’m okay, and they are okay, and this isn’t rare. It’s everywhere, and it needs to be talked about.”

The stigma, in the end, is what suffocates us. It’s our community that is what saves us.

What saved me, in the end, was giving myself enough time with other people like me, with people who were trying. Was being able to see the truth: most people who live with a mental illness are successful, are wonderful, and who happen to have inner darkness or issues that they deal with. That the people who need help and who get it are the strongest, and that we are all, in the end, people. People who need each other. The voices I heard inpatient and in therapy are the strongest and the wisest. We aren’t the blind leading the blind; we are warriors who fight for ourselves and for each other.

So this is a post about support, and about love. About talking about things outside of therapy. I know that we talk about, that we already have to be brave enough. I know that we have to protect ourselves. But this is me putting this out there- I’m in my mental health journey that will never end, but I want to talk about life with depression, about coping, about being able to live with it. About treatment, about support. About the amazing people that I am in company with. About it’s okay to talk about it because my hope is that the kids in my life will grow up and not be afraid of their private pain, and that they will know that there are ways of treatment and ways of life. About ways where things can be enjoyed, and where reactions to things can be appropriate.

And, important for me and for many others: the treatment of these things doesn’t have to include a deity. It doesn’t mean “giving it up to [god here].” If that helps, great. But there is a full life without a deity, there is hope for atheists with mental illness. I am an atheist, and I have depression, and it’s not because of my lack of a god, and a god isn’t helping me at all. I have reasons to live beyond any kind of hope that a creator could give me. There is the hope that we can have in reality, in humanity, and in ourselves. There is so much to empower ourselves with, and this is important to talk about. Can we please just talk about this?

I didn’t want to write in here anymore, because I have been scared about repercussions, about reactions. But JT Eberhard is brave, and so I want to be, too. Thank you, JT, for being yourself. It is really the best thing you could ever do.

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