I suffered through years of debilitating mental illness (and I didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt)

One in three adults will suffer from clinical depression in their lifetime, so at least I’m not alone.

This isn’t really comforting, though, when I’m curled up under the blankets smelling of three-day-old sweat because that’s how long it’s been since I was able to convince myself to leave my bedroom and take a shower and I’ve already missed two days of work and I know someone’s going to start asking questions soon because nobody has the flu this often and for this long. At those times, I feel really alone. I even feel alone as my husband, who is very kind and very caring and very supportive, does all the things you’re meant to do when faced with a morbidly depressed wife-shaped blob in your bed refusing to move – the hugs, the reassurances, the offers of food or other physical comforts, the reminders of my worth as a person. It’s all pretty meaningless at times like those. When you’re underwater and you can’t breathe and it feels like your lungs are going to burst, it doesn’t really help to know that some day, long after you’ve already inhaled a lungful of ocean, you might get to breathe a little stale air again.

This won’t be the most eloquent thing I’ve ever written about my illness, not even close. The reason for that is that I am too depressed right now to create something beautiful. Everything inside of me right now looks dark and ugly and jagged at the edges, so I expect this will look the same. I don’t remember what air tastes like or the feeling of it in my lungs – I’ve been holding my breath against the onward drowning rush of the turgid waters of depression for so long that all I can feel is this kind of weary resignation, like maybe if I just give in at least I won’t feel so dizzy any more. It’s not a perfect metaphor. It’s pretty ugly, actually, which makes it just about right.

I’ve been depressed since I was five, which seems like a really long time. It is a really long time. Sure, it didn’t get really terrible until I was twelve or thirteen and puberty threw in a whole bunch of hormones to destabilise me even further, but being even slightly depressed at age five is a big enough deviation from the norm that I was always very acutely aware that there was something weird about me. When you talk about death as an adult, people think you’re profound; when you want to walk in front of a car at age five because you think you’d rather take your chances on heaven being fake than listen to your parents fight again, people think you’re a freak. So I guess I’ve been a freak for a long time now, long enough that the word doesn’t even hurt any more, like the scar on my right arm from the time I broke it in three places, which I acquired around the same time. I have a whole lot of scars, but some of them are in places you can’t see, like right over the parts of my psyche that are meant to help me trust people and love them and feel happy with where I am in life. Those are the deepest and ugliest scars of all.

I wish I had the kind of depression you see in movies, where you sit at a window and feel melancholy and create poetry and win the affections of pretty girls. Instead, I have the kind where you lose all sense of self-worth and doubt everything you say and think and do and you can’t write any more because you’re pretty well convinced that everything you create is garbage that nobody would want to read. When was the last time I wrote something just because I wanted to – not because I was being paid, not because I felt like I owed someone, but just because writing is something I love that makes me happy? I can’t remember. I have a beautiful leather-bound journal with crisp pages that still smell new that I’ve only written in once because I don’t want to dirty it with the trash that’s currently spinning around my mind. I feel like it deserves better. I feel like I probably deserve better too, but I don’t know how to provide it for myself any more. I feel like this is how I’ll always be: unable to remember any of the things that make me good or useful or beautiful or worthwhile because they’re buried down under so many layers of dust that I wouldn’t even know where to start looking.

The ridiculous thing is that I know people like me and respect me and even love me, and I know there are reasons for that and they must be as plain as day from the outside. I look at the things people say about me and I try to wrap my head around the fact that I’m the person they’re talking to. It doesn’t seem possible that the person they see and the person I see could possibly occupy the same space. Doesn’t the theory of special relativity say two bodies can’t occupy the same space at the same time, or something? I feel like there must be two of me: the one who goes to her day job and writes a column every week and calls her mother just to see how she’s doing at work and teaches people things on the internet, and the one who lies here and cries for no reason and can’t remember how to stop. That these two people can exist inside my one (failing) body is a paradox. All Cretans are liars. This sentence is false. Something like that.

I’m making myself write this because I want to prove to myself that I can – that I can write a thousand words (even if they’re not very good ones) and publish them for no reason other than wanting to. And I want to, I really want to – I want to spend hours creating fairy tales in longhand and then spend hours longer sitting at my computer polishing them until they shine, and I want to share those fairy tales with the world because I genuinely do believe that when I’m at my best, I create beautiful things that are worth sharing. I’m not at my best now, but surely that version of myself, the one who can take care of herself and handle her everyday life and make beautiful things, is here somewhere underneath all this dust. And I can tell myself forever that I don’t know where to look, but what if I just start digging and see what I find first? I’m so tired of feeling like there’s no way out of this hole. I’m tired of feeling like there are no options, no answers. Why not try? If I finish this, it’s proof that I can do it. And if I can do it, I can do it again. And if I can do it again, maybe I’m still alive in here somewhere and my head doesn’t have to stay under the water forever and one day real soon I’m going to take in a huge breath of air and feel it burning in my lungs and know that I’m still alive.

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19 thoughts on “I suffered through years of debilitating mental illness (and I didn’t even get a lousy t-shirt)

  1. You are NOT a freak. Every word in this post resonates with me. Those feelings, those thoughts, even the reluctance to sully beautiful paper with “unworthy” words, I know them all and you have written about them far more eloquently than I’ve managed.

    I started a positivity list a few days ago. It’s just a little paperback notebook where I write things like “The fact that I have coped with all the things that have gone wrong in my life shows that I am strong and resilient”, and “I am loved by and important to many people”. When I’m feeling too shit to write more, I just read the ones I’d written. I know they’re true, even if they don’t feel true, and it helps a little bit.

    You’re still there. I see you. I recognise you, and I care about you, and some day you will emerge from the fog and recognise yourself again.

  2. I get it. I was told I’ve been depressed since I was 7-ish. Upon further contemplation, I think it’s been PTSD, presenting as depression. I mean, who wants to think a child has been traumatised, right?
    Here’s to eventually feeling the sun on our faces.

  3. I look at the things people say about me and I try to wrap my head around the fact that I’m the person they’re talking to. It doesn’t seem possible that the person they see and the person I see could possibly occupy the same space.

    Oh, wow, yes. This happens to me all the time. I receive a compliment and my knee-jerk reaction is that the other person must be wrong because they don’t know the real me. I’ve discussed it with some friends and am trying to trust that they wouldn’t lie to me or blow smoke up my ass. That they things they say about me they actually believe. How do they believe them about someone as worthless and a fuckup as I see myself? Well, I know my friends have good taste and that I’m biased. It helps on occasion.

    I’ve felt like I was drowning before. I got my head above water and made a little progress towards the me I wanted to be. Then I sank again. The cycle repeats, but each time I have more resources with which to deal with it. I keep trying because I know there is beauty in the world.

    Please keep trying. You are not alone.

  4. If it counts for anything, I think you are an extremely gifted and talented writer. I might not know you personally, but I think your personality reflects in your writing. You are witty, funny, raw, and extremely inspiring. Always remember this,”You are love and light. Your feelings and emotions are valid. Honor your fears. There will always be a war of darkness and light in your soul. You have family and friends, that love you, and you are worthy of love, happiness and all the other countless splendors’.

  5. If it counts for anything, I think you are an extremely gifted and talented writer. I might not know you personally, but I think your personality reflects in your writing. You are witty, funny, raw, and extremely inspiring. Always remember this,”You are love and light. Your feelings and emotions are valid. Honor your fears. There will always be a war of darkness and light in your soul. You have family and friends, that love you, and you are worthy of love, happiness and all the other countless splendors’.

  6. As a person who has written things like this more times than I’d like to remember, I think you are brilliant and strong and amazing for making these words come out onto the screen, despite how ugly and broken you feel. I hope very much that you feel better soon.

  7. Hi. This resonated with me so much as I also have a mental illness. You are courageous and strong and so brave. I’ve had hard times like you and I know this may sound like a docs words but you will get better. Just keep surrounding yourself with those who love you. And find stupid reasons to smile. Watch FRIENDS (that always makes me laugh when I’m feeling down)

  8. I am in awe that you could write that while feeling as you did (past tense because I hope by now you are feeling ‘you’ again. Sunbathing in the Rain by Gwyneth Lewis helped me when I finally got the energy to lift a book. I wish you the joy I’ve found

  9. I can relate to the feelings you’ve described. When you get to that point you just feel like nothing matters and you’re just coasting through life. Its a horrible feeling.

    But once you make it through you know you can do it again–and, unfortunately, it always happens again.

  10. I can relate to this too. I have Asperger’s, and many people think that Asperger’s is “genius” when it is the opposite. Einstein and Gates lived normal lives and were never in special education.

    However, one of the strange things is that many people that are supposedly autistic claim that Asperger’s is genius, but those people are almost normal and have jobs and friends.

  11. Inshallah Khair. I too suffer the mental cloud of doom but It’s gotten so much worse after coming off a particular pain med. Alhumdulilah we both have husbands that are supportive… I always feel grateful for that. May Allah swt cure us of this awful illness and keep us close to him. Ameen

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