Chuck Wendig reminded me that May is Mental Health awareness month. This year’s theme for Mental Health Month is – Life with a Mental Illness (yes, there’s a theme). If just one person benefits from my story, I’ll be happy. TBH even if nobody reads it, I’ll be happy, because I’m writing again.
I have struggled with depression for most of my life. I have no doubt that my mother used alcohol to self-medicate for depression. It’s possible that her mother did as well – but, seeing that I rarely saw my grandmother express ANY emotion, I can’t be sure.
I consider myself fortunate, in that my personal demon is mostly situational. When life is going well, I sometimes get the blues, but I can cope. Unfortunately, Life is a BITCH and she likes to hammer us with repeated losses and then dump us, battered and bleeding, in the Pit of Despair without Wesley to keep us company.
18 months ago, I hit my low point. I wound up curled in a ball on the floor of my Honda, sobbing uncontrollably. I don’t do that anymore (and not just because I no longer have the Honda). It’s not that Life has become kind. In the past 6 months, my husband almost died, my coworker did, one girlfriend was diagnosed with breast cancer, and my other friend ended up in ICU. No, these aren’t my personal problems (although I would have taken my husband’s death personally), but I have a soft heart, and tend to grieve with those I love, and (sometimes) with those I don’t.
My girlfriend is deep in the hole. She asked me how I cope. “You seem so happy, even when you go through a rough patch”.
I was trained from an early age that emotions are something best kept hidden (thanks Grandma!). We need to slap on some lipstick and hide our broken heart.
The bad news is that suppressing our emotions leads to a whole slew of issues, including (but not limited to) eating disorders, cutting, alcohol and drug dependence, increased depression (goody!) and physical illnesses (yes, stress CAN kill you). The good news is that the idea that you should “fake it ‘til you make it” actually carries some weight. When you get up, shower, put on makeup and clean clothes and pretend that you feel good, eventually you do.
I have learned to ask for, and accept, help. It’s the hardest lesson I’ve ever learned. I am very lucky, in that I have an amazing group of friends who let me vent when needed, and who are quick to provide a shoulder, chocolate, or wine when necessary. Even my husband has learned to “listen and nod” instead of trying to fix my “problems”.
I talked to a professional. Yes, I have a wonderful support team. Sometimes you get tired of complaining about the same old stuff to the same old people. Besides, these people are just sitting around waiting for someone to talk to. Keep them off the unemployment line!
I took a pill. No, not the pills that Stevie sells on the corner. I filled the prescription my doctor gave me. I am not a fan of “Better living through chemicals”, but I’m a huge proponent of using whatever tools you have available to dig your way out of the darkness.
I learned to go outside. Some people like to run, some people like to go to the beach. I have found that it doesn’t much matter. Depression wants us to lay in the dark, under a supersoft blanket, eating cookies and surfing through 300+ channels. Going outside is a teeny tiny step in the battle, but it’s an important one. Please note – do NOT forget to put on pants before you go outside. My neighbors may never forgive me.
Lastly, I listen to music. Music speaks to my soul and makes me feel all the feels. Just this morning Johnny Cash reminded me that when you’ve got the blues, you need to Get Rhythm.
So tell me, what coping mechanisms do you use, when Life leaves you feeling overwhelmed?