I’ve dealt with depression from the time I was a child. It goes so far back that I can’t point to an age or a moment when I realized something was different about me; it has always been there.
As a child, I spent many nights sitting on the floor beside my bed, a cassette tape crackling on the stereo in the background, thinking about the vastness of the universe and how tiny and isolated the earth is (this was when Pluto was still a planet), and it depressed me so deeply that I didn’t want to live. I’m sure a lot of people have these disturbing thoughts sometime in their lives, but 10-year-olds should not be dwelling so much on the dark mysteries of the universe that they want to kill themselves.
It struck me. My brain got sick. I never asked it to.
When you have a mental illness, you eventually learn that there are certain things you can’t really do without making yourself feel worse. Watching sad movies depresses me. Skipping sleep sometimes makes me manic. My friends and family know this about me, and if I’m not doing well, they will usually ask me if I have “done anything differently lately.”
I think they’re good questions to ask, and I know that some mental health advocates believe that all of that is beside the point and that no one has a right to inquire about such things. I disagree. I think it’s important, especially if you’ve asked others to come alongside you and help keep you healthy.
But there’s a catch. These questions are only useful if the person asking them has at least a general understanding of mental illness.
Like most of you, I don’t NEED to watch a sad movie to become depressed, just like I don’t need to mess up my sleep schedule to become manic. Mental illness and addiction often go together, but they are not the same. We don’t get sick because we fall off the wagon. I don’t sit alone at night, fighting my temptation to be depressed. I don’t think to myself “OK I’ll just be depressed today. Just one more time. I don’t really NEED it, I just want one more taste of that sweet misery. Tomorrow I’ll be happy.”
I think this is how a lot of people view mental illness. We just need to pull it together, determine to be happy, and remember how important it is to be stable. Don’t give into the temptation to be unstable! Like there are two buttons on the alarm clock each morning, and if we hit the one on the right, we’ll be OK. If we hit the one on the left, we’ll be sick, and if we get sick, well…that was our choice.
One of our bodily organs is sick. It doesn’t ask us if today would be a convenient day to freak out. There is no falling off the wagon and then deciding to jump back in. So questions are a good thing in the right hands. They’re dangerous when they’re asked by someone who believes, no matter what you say, that you must have done something wrong to cause the predicament you’re in now, because nothing triggers depression like being second-guessed and doubted by people you love.
We need people to celebrate the good days with us, not quietly wait for the other shoe to drop, and we need people to believe the best about us, too. Would you ask someone to cough on you so you could catch the flu? Me, either. Why would we WANT to be mentally sick?
It seems so illogical to me, but… it’s frustrating how many people are simply clueless.