My friends know a lot. They know who I’m crushing on. What my job aspirations are. How I feel about period sex. Which member of One Direction I’d boff (Liam) and my current favourite TV programme. Mainly because I say, ‘Sashay away!’ at least twice a day. They also know about my past, my family situation and how I handle grief among other super personal and deep things.
But they don’t all know I have depression.
I was diagnosed at 17. I’d dropped out of college because going made me miserable. Then staying at home all day made me miserable. Then I was just miserable. Neither I nor my Mum could put a finger on it. Depression the GP said.
It got mentioned again at 25 after multiple visits to the doctor and nurse because every single pill I went on made me emotionally hit rock bottom. Depression the GP said.
More recently I’ve put it down to SAD as I feel the symptoms worse in the winter. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s depression.
Some of my friends don’t know this. There’s a lot I wish they knew. However sometimes you don’t always want to be the moody one, the Debbie Downer or the party pooper so you don’t speak up. You just exist and you hope that they don’t judge.
So here are some things I wish my friends (and your friends and family) knew about having a mental illness.
I’m not just having a bad day. I didn’t fall out of bed on the wrong side, or sleep through my alarm or burn my toast. Today is just a struggle. There may be a million reasons why. There may be no reason at all.
I’m numb. Where my friends might get home, put dinner on, hang some clothes up or jump in the shower, sometimes I get home after work, or from being out and I just sit. Normally on the toilet, my bed or very occasionally the floor. And sometimes I can’t move. Sometimes my brain is empty and it cannot think, let alone think to move. Sometimes I sit at my desk at work, frozen into a sad Mannequin challenge and everything is just empty – my brain, heart and energy. I’m not sad. Or angry. Or in a daze. Sometimes I’m just numb.
Getting out of bed is more than a struggle. When some people wake up at the un-dulcet tones of their screeching alarm, they glance into the darkness and groan at their misfortune at having to drag themselves out of bed. When I wake up though? I often just stare into space and consider all of my options that mean moving from bed doesn’t have to be an option. And some of those options are darker than the morning that has just arrived.
I’m not lazy. One of my favourite phrases is, ‘ugh I just couldn’t be arsed.’ It covers a lot of things – showering, tidying, vacuuming, shopping, eating a decent meal, meeting people, going out, getting up to put something in the bin, going to work, catching up with a friend, taking a phone call or fulfilling a hobby. I want my friends to know that it’s not that I can’t be arsed. It’s that mentally and emotionally I don’t have the energy or brain space for it.
I lie. Sometimes it’s to say I’m fine. Sometimes it’s to get out of seeing you. Sometimes it’s to make it seem that I’m doing something productive. Whatever it is, it’s to distract you from the fact that sometimes I’m just not fine.
You can’t fix me. Your kind offers of company, of hugs, of help or of distraction are beautiful, kind and always appreciated. But you can’t fix me. Your kindness will not heal me. Your company will not ‘cheer me up’ and I cannot be distracted from my own brain.
I may seem fine. I may be a barrel of laughs. I may be outspoken. I may be confident. I may be popular. I may smile. I may look put together. But I may be struggling.
I don’t want to be a burden. I say sorry a lot. If you have a mental health problem, your brain can be a burden you carry 24/7. Because you know this feeling so well, you know you don’t want to make other people feel burdened. This may mean I bottle things up. But sometimes my pride is all I have.
I can be a shit friend. Sometimes I am so hyper aware of not texting you back, or asking how you are or checking in on you that I feel sick to my stomach. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that at that point of time, I’m numb to anything that isn’t my own feelings. And I’m ashamed of it.
I’m not being dramatic. It takes a lot for me to say I can’t cope. Mainly because sometimes it feels like you’re always just about coping. So if I say I can’t cope. Or that I’m at breaking point. Or that I’ve had enough. Believe me.
I need to be by myself. Not all the time. I’m an extrovert at heart. I love people and I love social situations. But occasionally and sometimes for no reason at all, I just need to be by myself. My brain is constantly whizzing and sometimes I don’t need the added background noise.
It will come and it will go. I know it’s hard for you to understand. Maybe, as a friend, you’ve seen that for the past 2 weeks I’ve managed to shower every day, put an effort into my appearance, hit lots of social events and get on top of all my work. But then the next week I’m back to having my hair scraped up 4 days on the bounce and wearing the same outfit for the second time that week and you’re left wondering what happened, what went wrong and what you could’ve done. Soz but it’s unexplainable. It comes and it goes and if I could predict or control it I would.
I’m not ashamed. I will talk to you about what it’s like. Or how I feel. If I feel I’m not being a burden. I will give you statistics. I probably won’t cry. I can be matter of fact. Because I’m not embarrassed. I have a mental illness which means that sometimes life is a struggle. That merely living and just living, is a struggle. I’m not ashamed of that because it is not my fault and it is out of my control.
Lastly I’d like my friends to know that it’s OK. That this will be with me forever. Whilst it doesn’t define me, it does refine me. I wouldn’t be the person my friends know and love without depression. So it’s OK, my friends, to feel helpless, frustrated, sad or worried for me. I feel the same. It’s OK to offer help where you can and step back when you know I need space. It’s OK to not understand what goes through my head, because I don’t either. It’s OK because now you know.