A post for the month of Mental Health Awareness. Read on my experience of depression.
The age-old stigma against mental health, inspired me to write on my experiences to highlight just how much mental health is just like having any other illness. In fact, as I reflect, it is far worse, because no one pill, nor one simple treatment is going to simply fix or heal it. Furthermore, being invisible to the eye, makes it even more difficult to pinpoint its causes. This makes your experience lonelier as you have to strive much harder to convince others of the excruciating pain you are experiencing every day. Mental illness is severely debilitating. I myself was a skeptic. I also questioned its severity, I questioned how it was possible for depression to cause someone to feel so physically incapacitated. "How it could be so debilitating that some people could experience not being able to get out bed???"
I thought it was physically impossible!! Especially, being the control freak that I am- I thought I can control my emotions and that emotions would never be able to control me to such an extent that they transform me. However, the reality is very different, and I learnt this the hard way.
About 2 years ago, fear and sadness subconsciously drove my every action and thought. I can unwillingly admit it now, but it has taken some time to process the reality of this nightmare. As I reflect, I see the severity of mental illness and it forces me to speak out and say something so that others can know they are not alone. May others feel encouraged and not ashamed to share their experiences and to seek help because these illnesses, like any other illness, require treatment. Once you go through depression or anorexia, you know that mental illness is a VERY REAL THING!
My experience of depression transformed me into someone else-like an illness...a disease... my body and mind became infected by some foreign, poisonous drive to self-destruct. I became infected by a menacing darkness. It may not have been visible to the eyes or detectable on a blood test, but it was real. Once you feel something, you know it is real, no matter what anyone says. This was a dark pathogen that was visible to the physical body. Like a pathogen, the depression, eats away and consumes any known version of oneself that exists. You become the host off which, the illness lives, starving you of the real you. "It eats away, darkening your light and leaving behind the exoskeleton (carcass) of your soul. You become a lifeless being... an empty soul, living in darkness each day - you become this being that is existing but is barely alive."
You are functioning at the basic levels simply to get by. Your heart feels bruised. It aches day in and day out like that bruise that you don't know where it comes from, but which hurts each time you touch it. When someone describes it as an emptiness, that is exactly what it feels like. Once the pathogen has eaten away all life out.... you are left dry and empty. You just feel empty. There is no other way to describe it. Imagine looking into a black hole - it's nothing but darkness and upset.
Each day- darkness is the shade that filters your lenses- your view of the world. Each day, I would wake wishing it were night- wishing only for the darkness I became comfortable and accustomed to. Darkness would signal the time to sleep and that was all I felt I had the energy to do. There were days where I just wanted to lie in bed in a dark room and sleep. I would cry every day simply to try release the pain I was feeling. To bleed out and release that anguish.
Then there was the social isolation. I became so afraid of the outside world. I didn't want to see or speak to anyone. Similarly, when one is a little under the weather you do feel like you want to isolate yourself- it's as if you go into a self-preservation mode. Your world becomes narrowed as you can only focus on yourself. I think it's your body's way of going into a kind of survival mode.
Along with all the emotional symptoms mental illness expresses itself through the physical which stems from nowhere. "No blood test could have identified this virus's name, but the symptoms were very real. "I was SICK. There were moments when I felt like I didn't really have enough energy to move or do anything else for that matter. To take a shower was challenging. Simple tasks were taxing as hell and often the same thing can be experienced with MS or many other chronic illnesses.
Instead of a stuffy nose from all the sneezing and congestion when you have a cold- I embodied the same face... only this time, the red nose and stuffiness were the result of the constant, uncontrollable crying. The chest pain from a cough was now chest pain from an unknown source but pain none the less as my heart ached with a sadness that was so intense it felt as though it had been badly bruised.
Every day I would wake up.... the sight of the morning sun.... welcoming me! Yet, I would reject it whole heartedly! I would wake up to the morning's greetings, wishing it were saying goodbye. Every morning, I would wish it was still night so that I could simply close my eyes again and sleep. Sleep offered the only sense of relief- an escape from a reality- a world I didn't want to face.
I think this is similar when one has the flu, you just simply want to lie in bed and sleep. I wanted to sleep all the time. I never thought it would be possible, but it was.
Then there was the reduced appetite. When one is sick this generally a common symptom. However, this time, it felt as if my stomach had just shut off completely- it was unresponsive to the sensation of hunger. I couldn't stomach food. Not because I was motivated to avoid it to lose weight but because I just genuinely didn't want to eat. My body became hungry only for starvation, sleep and death.
The suicidal thoughts were just so toxic to my body and it is so hard to stop them. I remember spending my days, walking around, driving around, constantly contemplating my death, contemplating how I could do it, envisioning it so vividly and the only thing that held me back was fear of it failing and then having to live with the consequences over and above the hell I was already living.
It took many months for me to get better. To get back to normality. I decided to leave university because I just could not deal with the pressure over and above everything else. My reserves for coping... my energy and resources were all being put into fighting this battle... into getting better. I also started struggling to focus and kept forgetting things as my cognitive ability started to dip.
I can say by looking at just some of these things just how sick the body becomes when one is depressed. The instinctual, normal functioning of the body takes a turn and it...you become something else.
My whole wellbeing became infected by this ruthless illness. It took many months for me to recover. Over and above the exit from University, I continued to receive therapy from my psychiatrist and I was also given an antidepressant. Fortunately, I can say that these measures were able to take me out of the deep depression. They were able to treat me. I continue to take the antidepressant and to receive my therapy.
I do think that depression, like a chronic illness, never truly leaves you but it is an illness that needs to be controlled. I struggle with my ups and downs. I have my good and my bad days. Some days the depressive symptoms are stronger than others, they show themselves, but I just treat it like it's a minor cough... a stuffy nose... a mild cold but not the viral flu.
Fortunately, it is monitored... it is controlled but many are not as fortunate as I am. There are many people who have lost their lives to this illness for lack of treatment or rather for fear of treatment. Many are ashamed to admit they have a problem and so they don't seek the help they need. I encourage people to speak up... to get help... to help others. Don't allow suicide to become the inevitable outcome for this disease!
Let's not let depression become the next cancerous terminal illness that plagues our society...
In my next piece I will delve into describing the Illness that is anorexia....