If you follow me on twitter you already know that I’ve been battling off one of the most severe bouts of depression I’ve ever had. Yesterday it started to pass, and for the first time in weeks I cried with relief instead of with hopelessness. Depression can be crippling, and deadly. I’m lucky that it’s a rare thing for me, and that I have a support system to lean on. I’m lucky that I’ve learned that depression lies to you, and that you should never listen to it, in spite of how persuasive it is at the time.
When cancer sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery. We call them survivors. Because they are.
When depression sufferers fight, recover and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark…ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness…afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.
When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker…but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand.
Regardless, today I feel proud. I survived. And I celebrate every one of you reading this. I celebrate the fact that you’ve fought your battle and continue to win. I celebrate the fact that you may not understand the battle, but you pick up the baton dropped by someone you love until they can carry it again. I celebrate the fact that each time we go through this, we get a little stronger. We learn new tricks on the battlefield. We learn them in terrible ways, but we use them. We don’t struggle in vain.
We are alive.
I wrote this post a month ago, but I couldn’t bring myself to post it then. I was too weak from fighting to shout, and so instead I whispered this into the night and left it unpublished until I felt like I could speak to it with the battle-cry it deserves. Years ago, coming out about depression and anxiety disorder was something frightening, but now people are more honest and open and so much of the shame has dissipated. We may not have pink ribbons or telethons but we know that someone out there understands. That is, until we’re honest about how it affects us. I’ve never written about this because I can’t talk about it without it being a trigger but I think it’s important to be honest even when it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary.
I self-harm. I don’t do it all the time and it’s not enough to put me into an institution or threaten my well-being, but it’s enough to make it frightening to live in my body sometimes. I’m far from suicidal. I do it to self-sooth, because the physical pain distracts me from the mental pain. It’s one of those things that’s impossible to explain to people who don’t understand impulse control disorder. Honestly, I find it hard to understand it to myself and I’m working my ass off to fix it now before my daughter is old enough to see the things I don’t want her to see. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.
I am safe. My disorder is fairly mild and is becoming more controlled. I’m in therapy and I’m not in danger. I avoid triggers and I’ve found therapies and drugs that are helping. I’m getting better. But I sort of feel like I can’t completely heal from this without being honest about it. So here it is. Judge me or not, I am the same person I was before. And so are you. And chances are that many of your friends, family and coworkers are dealing with things like this. Things that are killing them a little inside. Things that kill people who don’t get help. Silent, bloody battles that end with secret victors who can’t celebrate without shame. I hope that this post changes this somehow. I hope that you feel safe enough to be honest about the things you are the most ashamed of. I hope you have someone there telling you “It’s okay. You’re still the same person to me.”
I hope to one day I see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle and that they celebrate the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.
I hope one day to be better and I’m pretty sure I will be. I hope one day I live in a world where the personal fight for mental stability is viewed with pride and public cheers instead of shame. I hope it for you too.
But until then, it starts slowly.
I haven’t hurt myself in 3 days. I sing strange battle-songs to myself in the darkness to scare away the demons. I am a fighter when I need to be.
And for that I am proud.