The sound of the jet engines above sounds like the impending doom that I am to face for the rest of my life. But really, if I think of depression as my life-long companion it is a different take on things. Depression is not something to be feared. It just is. It comes in waves and you never know when that wave is going to hit. When it does, you’re living from day to day, just trying to get by. If you have lived with depression for some time, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
You’re Not Alone
Let’s open up the conversation of mental health. Let’s tell it like it really is. This isn’t some sob story. It’s people who have to lie about a physical illness because taking a day off of work for a mental illness is not acceptable in this society. It’s people who regularly struggle with having suicidal thoughts. Can you imagine that there are some people who have suicidal thoughts every day for years? Imagine what sort of a quality of life that would be like. That used to be me. But things get better. The one thing about life is that it is ever-changing. It never stays the same. That means the bad times won’t last forever, but it also means we have to hold onto the good moments of our lives for when we are feeling bad. Yes, that’s easier said than done. When you are in the midst of a mental health crisis, the last thing you would be thinking about is that time last summer when you had a popsicle at the beach and you felt so free, like a child again. No, you’re thinking of who you’re going to call for support because your mind is spinning, the alarm bells are ringing and you’re two minutes away from stepping into that car and driving to that bridge. It’s not always that dramatic, however, I am merely narrating from personal experience. Luckily we have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) and hospital emergency rooms. Sometimes you need that little bit (or a lot bit) of extra help. Because face it, we weren’t made to live this life alone. So we don’t have to deal with our mental illness alone either.
There are people who spend their entire careers supporting people like us. We’re definitely not alone. Mental health is its own field of study. Psychology can be fascinating except for when you’re just trying to make it through to the next day. I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty special to be me. I wouldn’t want to be anyone else, although I would like for the depressive symptoms to go away for good. Having depression has drastically shaped my outlook on life over the last decade. Because I’m still alive, I can say that I’m a better person for it. I have so much empathy for others who suffer just as I do, and for those who aren’t yet as far as I am on their recovery journey. Recovery is entirely possible, you just have to be committed. When you lose hope, there are others who can hold that hope for you until you’re strong enough to take it back on.
Talking About Self-Care
My everyday life revolves exclusively around self-care. It’s a practice which doesn’t come naturally to most people. The more you practice it, the better you become at it. From waking up in the morning, taking my medications and feeding myself, to going to bed at a decent hour while making sure to not expose myself to triggering material online and staying away from harmful things like alcohol and my old journals which detail my past trauma. I still haven’t burned them yet. One day I will be able to let go. Now I am curious to know what your life is like. Do you self-care? In what ways do you find nice things to do for yourself? How do you practice kindness to yourself and do you try to stay away from those automatic negative thoughts? What is one thing you can do today to improve your mood? Do you write mental gratitude lists? What are your coping skills? Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a global list of different coping skills at our fingertips each time we needed them? I guess that’s called The Internet.
There is Hope
The one thing I have to hold onto is hope. I have hope for a better future. It doesn’t hurt that I have Samuel, my Emotional Support Animal. Animals can be amazing for individuals who suffer from depression and they don’t talk back. They do have personalities and having a wagging tail to come home to every day after work can really be a bonus to one’s mood. For years I had no hope. I wanted to kill myself every day. I even tried it a number of times, each time ending up in the hospital because, in the end, I reached out for help. Through all of my bouts of suicidal ideation, there has always been a part of me that wanted to stay alive. I wanted to live, I just didn’t know how to yet. Years of psychotherapy have changed that for me and now I have skills, real and tangible skills which help me to create and to live a life that is worth living. The life I had before was definitely not worth living for, but that’s another story.
Individuals who have a mental illness, whether diagnosed or not, often suffer consequences. Not only do we suffer abandonment from some of the people that we love, we may also suffer economic consequences. Taking a mental health day off of work can be one thing. But what about those who have to live with debilitating depression to where they cannot hold a job? If I had not had alimony for the first three years after I left my abuser, I could very well have been living at a homeless shelter. I’m serious. I have a family but those doors are not unconditionally open. Some people simply do not have the resources to deal most effectively with their depression or other diagnosed illness. It’s not sad, it’s just a fact and it’s reality. The reality is that we need to help the public and politicians understand that mental illness is an issue which is underfunded and at times simply shoved aside. And that’s not okay.
Opening Up the Conversation
This is why I want to talk openly about mental health, not only about mine but also for those people who do not have a platform to have a voice. We are real people with thoughts, feelings, histories and families. We deserve to be heard and those who choose can listen. We don’t deserve to be shoved aside by an inadequate healthcare system. The mental health crisis is real and it’s happening right now, in every city and every corner of the world. I’ve heard of a statistic that in San Diego alone, one person per day manages to kill themselves. Just imagine the number of people who attempted suicide today but did not succeed. What about the children who are self-harming every day because they haven’t been given the resources to succeed in this life? When is this going to stop?
Let’s Talk About Mental Health
The answer is that mental health will always be an issue. Even people who do not have mental illness still have to take care of their mental health. In this fast-paced life of work, consumerism and capitalism, we need to find ways to slow down and breathe in order to stay mentally balanced. One way to help everyone live a better life is to help to reduce the stigma of mental illness. If people could talk openly about mental health in the way we talk about cancer, it would make a world of difference. But change happens slowly and it starts with one person at a time. Like I said, mental illness not something to be feared, although others may become protective against what they don’t know. The key is education. There are some wonderful charitable organizations in San Diego that work toward all of these goals in order to improve the lives of those in our community. But it’s not enough. More needs to be done. More people need to know that this is an issue each and every day. More people need to be made aware of the uncomfortable facts of the truth. It starts with one person, and that person is you.