I’ve been thinking a lot about my mental health recently. I mean, I’m always thinking about my mental health, but these last few weeks in particular I’ve been very reflective and, as I’m want to do when I’m in a reflective mood, I turn to the written word. For a long while last night, I read through all the things that I’ve highlighted on Medium.
Most of what makes a book ‘good’ is that we’re reading it at the right moment for us.
- Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton) September 16, 2013
I read a lot of blogs, and on Medium, when something particularly resonates with me at that point in time, I highlight it. As I was reading through my highlights, I realised a) that there were a lot of them, but that meant that b) there are a lot of people out there who — at least sometimes — think the way that I sometimes think.
Every once in a while, we all need a reminder that, with 7 billion people on the planet, a few of your interpretations of the world are going to be shared by others. So, in that spirit, I wanted to share some of the most poignant things I’ve read here.
It was difficult deciding what quotes I would put — the most striking quotes were often the most difficult to read and, despite the content, I didn’t want this to be an ‘overbearing’ post. Rather, if you’re going through a darker patch, a reminder that you’re probably not as alone as your psyche makes you think. In any case, full credit — and a great deal of thanks — goes to every single person I’ve quoted, and a great many more that I haven’t.
It’s a terrible thing to KNOW something is false in your head but still believing it anyway.
I will still always work towards bettering my own understanding of my depression and how I can fight it, but I will always accept it as part of me.
That is what no one tells you about madness: It is always ruthlessly logical.
‘Plenty of people have lived through much worse,’ I kept telling myself, ‘if they can be fine, then I should be fine.’
It is a slippery slope, depression and crap mental health, and it doesn’t take a hell of a lot to just say ‘oh sod it’, and slip, slide, away.
— Kate Stone Matheson (Full post no longer available)
When you’re burned out, you’re operating at a fraction of your capacity. Things that used to come easily are suddenly almost impossible. This does bad things to your self-image. It makes you feel weak. And it makes you feel ashamed of that weakness. “I should be able to do this!” you say. “I should be able to power through.”
For me, depression has always been characterised by a lack of feeling, but I feel so much.
I attempted to subdue those fears by working a lot. A lot. There were nights when I would ride my bike home at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., only to open my laptop again and continue working after I got home. I spent time over weekends logged in making sure our help desk was empty or in the office trying to finish the project I hoped would make me feel secure there. I would kill my alarm and open my email with one swift motion each morning. I still couldn’t really explain what I was doing.
It’s a guilt I still carry with me. The feeling that somehow I let her down by not opening up.
The word pain comes from the Latin poena meaning punishment or penalty, and that’s exactly what it felt like.
For me, depression is caused by, and results in, a lack of productivity. When I’m low, I procrastinate over all kinds of jobs from the most basic domestic tasks to the really important stuff including things I love doing. It’s a vicious cycle where the less I do, the worse I feel and the worse I feel, the less I do.
I now know. My depression and suicidal tendencies will likely not go away, ever. They are always there, just waiting. It takes only a split second to feel that sinking feeling all over again.
I have never wanted to kill myself, nor have I made plans to that effect. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t wanted to die though, which I view as a totally different side of the same coin.
I wanted people to know that the type of people who attempt suicide haven’t necessarily been parented poorly… These people are humans. They’re humans that go through shit every day. Just like you. Just like me.
You cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy, to show up to work, to make a doctors appointment, to pay bills, to walk your dog, to return library books on time, to keep enough toilet paper on hand, when you are exerting most of your capacity on trying not to kill yourself.
— Medium user, Mayonnaise (Full post no longer available)
Maybe it’s worth allowing the water to flood in. The thought is completely rational. Trading a few moments of pain for an eternity without it. You’ll never again have to look up at your friends beckoning you to swim to them. Never feel like you’re holding them back as they wait for you to resurface.
So we become editors of ourselves, preservationists of our suffering. We become architects of our masks; we reframe our true stories in work and in life. We become vague on the level of a CIA operative. We’re just going through a tough time. We use phrases like a rough patch, a temporary setback, and a minor blip. But we’re fine, really.
Which means that if you met me or talked to me for a few minutes, you wouldn’t know. And sometimes it feels like a secret. A secret that I’m ashamed to be carrying around with me. Because as hard as we’re working to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness, it still exists. And as much as we’re talking about depression and finding out that all different kinds of people are struggling, it still seems like there’s a certain way I’m supposed to appear.
The problem with faking it is that you miss out on the opportunity to be helped and to help others. Maybe you’re struggling financially and the person you’re chatting with has a job at her company that would be perfect for you, but since she thinks you’re “crushing it” the topic will never come up. Maybe the person you are talking to is going through the same thing, and if they just knew they had a friend in it, they wouldn’t feel so alone.
Le “Salut ça va?” n’est pas une question qui demande à savoir la vérité. Rough translation: ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ is not a question asking for the truth.
I don’t reach out because I don’t assume anyone I know is equipped to handle someone like me. I don’t want anyone I care for to have to deal with someone like me. Someone with a brain full of lead and self-destruction and lots of darkness. Someone whose brain tells them they should die. So I stay inside the wretched tension alone. I get through it alone.
Silence is the enemy, the oppressor, the killer, but how do we break its spell? As a veteran in this (depression, I mean), one problem I keep running into is getting lost in translation. Finding the courage to speak is hard enough, but even if you wanted to give voice to the gremlins of the mind, you might not know how to, or if you’d be understood at all. Language would very likely fail you. Language would obfuscate expression and obstruct connection. It would stuff depression into a nebulous catchall for anything and everything from mere blues and boredom to severe mental disorder, but it would leave out the real thing, the inexplicable, inexorable pain, the constant, fortuitous, textured, unfathomable dread that defies both lay parlance and doctor speak.
This is a social contract we have all struck. And it’s one that we cosign, again and again, in every instance when we possibly could (because we won’t get fired from work or because we have to opportunity to tell a trusted person how we are actually doing) admit to not being ok, but say that we are ok. It’s something that I am guilty of and I am working on and in part, I wanted to invite you to work on it with me. I want to be able to say “you know what? Not great. But we don’t have to talk about it right now,” the next time I am not ok and someone asks how I am. — Hanna Brooks Olsen (Read the full post)
I love language, and the power of the written word. It continually amazes me how the combination of a mere 26 letters and some dots and lines can, in the right hands, invoke such profound imagery.
There aren’t that many subjects that illicit a lot of “I don’t know”s from me (I’m quite the know-it-all). Mental health though, is one of them. It’s a big and complicated thing, and more often than not I feel like I’m grasping for the right words to describe how I feel at any given moment.
So it comforts me, in a weird way, to know that — however I’m feeling, and whether or not I have the words to describe that — someone out there can so eloquently express what I’m going through. Often, it’s not even about having the words to make things better, or to pick me up. The solace comes from the fact that these thoughts and emotions aren’t so big that they can’t be described. These feelings might be bigger, deeper, more complex than I can articulate. But they aren’t so unfathomable that someone, somewhere, isn’t up to the challenge. Someone out there can put my thoughts — our thoughts — into words.
And, indeed, they probably already have.