If – like me – you’ve got a facebook account, I’m sure you’ve seen this image:
It’s been floating around now for weeks. And every now and then, someone links to it with a caption about how this is raising awareness for mental health issues. And while I appreciate the sentiment, I am challenged to accept it’s position. I suppose it is true that by posting this you could be raising someone’s awareness to the fact that 1 in 3 people will experience one or more of these conditions in their life. I guess what I take issue with is the use of the word “awareness”.
For me, to be aware of something means that I understand it. It means that while I may never have personally experienced it, I have some knowledge about the subject at hand (in this case depression, anxiety & panic disorders). In my opinion, from reading this little graphic above, you don’t really understand anything about the issues raised.
There have been some amazing stories of mental health issues. Take for example, this brave posting from The Bloggess. And then she followed that up with this post. When I see this little graphic above, I think that maybe it’s time for me to open up, like The Bloggess, and to share a little more about me than I have to date. This is the post in which I will do that… putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. (Because yesterday I told you that, “I often call myself an open book”. Soo… I’m going to share some of my darker pages now.) I’m going to share with you what I understand about depression, anxiety and panic disorder.
I understand depression and anxiety because I suffered with both for more than a year.
It started out slowly, and at first I just attributed it to change. Because early in 2010 I made a pretty significant change: I left The City. And see, that’s the thing about depression: sometimes is sneaks up on you and catches you totally unawares. You don’t even realize it’s happening, and sometimes you don’t have anyone to help you read the signs. You just become miserable and cranky, and maybe – if you’re like me – you find yourself crying. A lot. I thought it was because I was lost. Who is this woman living with my husband and children in the fucking suburbs for christssake! This is not the life I had ever imagined for myself… so who am I now???
For me, that was how depression started. And when I would see my extended family (meaning: the people who don’t live with me, not just aunts/uncles/cousins/etc.) I felt that they were judging me, laughing at me, for doing what I always said I would never do… Were they? Maybe. Maybe not. “Perception is truth in the eye of the beholder,” is a phrase I’ve heard before. It describes exactly what was going on in my mind when I met these people. It didn’t help that I had moved around the corner from my friend of 30 years who had recently ended her marriage to my cousin. The “perception” of that was that I had chosen the wrong side… I felt the sting of judgement often from those who I thought loved and accepted me unconditionally. Again: was the judgement really there, or did I just perceive it? The question is really irrelevant, because it was truth in my reality.
As my depression deepened, a new dimension surfaced: anxiety.
I woke up one day unable to breathe. I am asthmatic, so this is not really a new sensation. I took a puff from my inhaler and waited for it to work. It didn’t… because I wasn’t suffering from asthma, I was suffering from stress. To the extent that I was regularly forgetting to breathe. And when I say “regularly” I mean like every couple of minutes I would take a huge breath and only then did I realize that I had not been breathing. I wasn’t sleeping, I was constantly tense, on edge and really just a ticking time-bomb. I was eating a lot of junk. I was drinking pretty much every day. I gained a lot of weight. Which – of course – only made the depression worse. It was a vicious cycle. It all came to a head when an aunt lost her battle with cancer. When she died, an ancient daemon from my earliest remembered history resurfaced. I had to face it head on and I was terrified.
I was seeing a counsellor and alternative healer regularly by this point. She has been a part of my life for many years; by this time she was deeply concerned with my mental health. Her help – her guidance, her healing, her wisdom – and my own fervent desire to return to a state of wellness got me to turn a corner. Then she became a practitioner of a new healing modality and I will tell you this honestly: that modality saved my life.
I feel I’ve gone on at length here… I fear I’ve “over-shared” and that you’ve been scared off now, never to return… I hope that’s not the case. The goal of my post when I set out to write it was to “raise awareness about mental health issues”. All I can do it share my own experiences, which of course by nature are very personal and intimate. I want to end this post with a quote from The Bloggess: “…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.”
It’s because of this fact (and it is a fact) that I am so glad I am hard-of-hearing.