depression: healing and understanding are not related
May 24, 2019
When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was a recent college dropout, back at home, wading my way through a new reality of psychiatrists appointments, pills and wanting my bed to swallow me whole. It also happened to be an exciting time in our family, though I felt removed from it all. Alone. Though I didn’t mind being alone. Solitude is how is I am able to walk through the world, but I felt untethered in a way I had never felt before, so I overcame my natural inclination to bury things and tried to reach out.
I decided to verbally acknowledge my mental struggles with someone extremely close to me – something I’d not done before. I had been considering admitting myself into a psychiatric facility because I felt so desperately out of my depth about how I was supposed to go about this mammoth task of trying to heal. I shared this information with a person, citing my inspiration as a friend who had just gone through mental health woes who’d been a steady guiding presence, offering what resources she could. She had recently completed her own hospital stay, and had displayed a sense of structure now applied to her journey. I need that: structured guidance.
Upon hearing my wishes, the person I’d confided in implied that it was possible for me to want to admit myself, just because that’s what my friend had done. This reaction broke me. I didn’t communicate this response at the time, and I’ve stopped beating myself up for it — because, in all honesty, what does one say to that? I agreed and moved on and sat with it, never checking myself in.
In my vulnerable state, I had gone to a person with a history of responding to depression as nothing but a matter of will. I could say “I don’t know what I was thinking,” but I do. I wanted comfort, and one of the first lessons that desire brought on was the ability to recognize the people and spaces I could not privilege over my own healing. I only spoke up about the exchange a year later, and I only approached the person in question two years after. I went into that conversation prepared for it to not be what I hoped for and it wasn’t. I had staked a significant part of my recovery on being understood by those closest to me — and sometimes that’s just not how things work out. Even those that love you won’t be able to see you drowning for one reason or the other. This was a sobering realization.
To have a mental illness is to already feel like you’re taking up too much space because your brain has the audacity to not work like normal brains. The shame that is attached to mental health remains strong as hell, and that’s why addressing mental health can be a solitary process. We cannot lean on our people in the same way we would through any other illness or injury, because of the elusive nature of mental health and the natural inclination to downplay its seriousness. To come face-to-face with that reality in your own home is a difficult but necessary pill to swallow. It’s The Matrix redux: You take the blue pill, the story ends and you end up in your bed believing what you want to. You realize that going back to the life you knew would only land you in this place again. You take the red pill, you understand that you have to pick yourself above all else and distance yourself from the patterns, people and behaviors that brought you here.
The red pill, for me, was radical self-care. The solution was to pour all the energy I’d expended on keeping the peace of my relationships, back into myself. It also required an on-off relationship with anti-depressants, and learning to try and give myself the comfort I’d been seeking. I did not need to be understood fully to heal — I merely needed to understand myself. That exchange was a reminder that you really do choose who you allow to hurt you — but even they don’t get free reign. They don’t have to do anything but just be there for you. That’s it.
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