Unfortunately for many people living in this country, this is still a ‘case of the blues’ or being ‘moody’ or ‘miserable’ and not ‘appreciating life’. Of course, mental health still isn’t fully appreciated and understood. It’s why this week has been designated for awareness, with people all over the world sharing their experiences. But what astounds me is the ignorance of people in the 21st century to something which is quite clearly a medical condition. I don’t just mean Katie Hopkins (although her comments were unjustified and, in my opinion, grossly misinformed), but the thousands of others whom I, and others with depression, have encountered. Even in my three years at University I have met people who, when I chose to disclose personal information about my health, have told me that the solution is to: ‘Man up’, ‘just think positive thoughts’ and, my personal favourite, ‘it could be worse’.
I am not denying that there are people in the world who suffer more than me in many ways, such as with poverty, famine, personal losses, homelessness etc. But what people need to understand is that depression does not really care for who you are or where you are. Last Summer I went through a phase where depression was really kicking my ass, and all of a sudden came the news that Robin Williams had committed suicide after a long history of depression. It felt as if the whole world had been shocked in to awareness, the kind that makes you think: ‘Damn, this stuff is real’. The man who had it all, the man with the infectious smile, the man who made us all laugh and feel good about ourselves was dying on the inside every single day. It’s an invisible and often silent illness, working away in the background of someone’s psyche. Just like with M.E, M.S, F.M.S, ADHD, Bipolar, Autism, Anxiety and all the other invisible illnesses, you cannot see it. But you can’t see gravity can you? You know it’s there, you know it exists, but you just can’t see it. It is the same with a lot of mental illnesses.
I have struggled with depression and anxiety. I am not going to go on about it in too much detail but for one example/memory, because I don’t want people to assume this is a cry for attention. I can confirm that it is debilitating and unrelenting. I have put friends and good people through my worst side, and for no good reason. It led me to believe with all my heart that I was just a ‘wrong un.’ A bad person, a bad friend and generally good for nothing, which only made things worse as I wanted to push my friends away from someone who was only going to bring them down. Even to this day when I could be in a good mood, I can often feel myself being pulled down by an invisible anchor and no matter how many motivational videos or songs I listen to, I can’t pull myself up out of that state. Hypocrisy at its finest, I think, as I give people my best motivational quotes and advice, then go home to just see black.
I remember the other week talking to my friend about depression, when he asked at what point I realised I may be depressed. It was during second year (although this was after 2 years of feeling very low in general) and I kept plummeting in to dark thoughts throughout the day. I sat in the library and tried to write down a sonnet, for my creative writing assignment, but nothing was really happening. I felt everyone staring at me and whispering my name, and I got hot headed. I began feeling sick, I had a sweaty forehead and my eyes would not stand still. I wrote down everything that was on my mind in an unstructured poem, and I will leave it at the bottom of this post. But it didn’t stop there, I rushed down the hill and back to the student house I lived in. I shot through the hallway, up to my room and locked the door. I was a mess, really. I cried for half an hour, I got in and out of bed, I punched the wall (No, I really didn’t learn from that 1st year mistake), I planned leaving University, looked up one way flights to Cyprus, transferred the money to my account and contemplated leaving it all. Thankfully someone knocked at my door and told me I had 30 minutes until we were leaving for a group meal, and in that time a close friend came on the phone and talked me in to going. I was the same ‘miserable git’ throughout the meal, but tried so hard to perk up. I later got back to my room and the entire process repeated itself.
It’s hard talking about crying, because I find it embarrassing. For one, I’m an ugly weeper. But more importantly, I don’t want people to know I do it, because it’s a sign that I can’t handle this thing that goes on in my head. It’s hard talking about what goes on in my head to someone who doesn’t experience similar things, and even harder to a doctor when I finally realise that it’s a conversation that needs to happen. There will be people who, like me, are terrified of admitting anything could be wrong, that they’re not worthy of the doctor’s time. But as difficult as it was going to a doctor and answering that same question every time (“Have you had any more suicidal thoughts?”) and taking pills which, frankly, don’t have any lasting effects, it was something that had to be done and has helped. I know what the problem is in my head, and although I can’t always overcome it on a daily basis, I know that I shouldn’t beat myself up for having the problem.
I have been wanting to write a new blog post for my website for months, but not found anything I am passionate about enough to write on. When I saw it was mental health awareness week, I realised I could talk about my experiences and maybe change at least one person’s perspective on the topic of mental illness. It also gives me a chance to showcase one poem that I always find difficult reading at poetry slams and open mic nights, due to the painful memories associated with the night I wrote it. So as a parting message I will say: never underestimate the power and capabilities of mental illness. It is real, it exists, and just because someone isn’t the ‘type of person’ who ‘should’ have it, doesn’t mean they don’t suffer.
I have these moments where my mind
Races out of my control, and I’m numb.
My vinyl of turmoil will thrum and hum,
And never ever succumb; it is all
Too much for me to process,
multiple thoughts, without pause, breath,
I come undone.
I often sit there and hold my head,
Then grip my hair tight and tug.
To pull out those miniature demons
Would kill the need for any drug.
And there’s a scar on my right wing,
Where King Jesus used to sing,
Serenade me with his psalms,
Cradle me in his holy palms.
All that’s left is a cicatrix,
Blue in sorrow; black in decay,
Chameleon shield overrun
Cannot compute; end the process!
Smile, sob, laugh, cry, hysterical;
I think this has gone clinical.
Doctor, doctor, you don’t understand:
I can’t accept a helping hand,
While my arms are tied behind my back.
Every day I clench to break free,
I try to pull; but I’m an amputee,
Lungs tighten, anxiety attack.
Doctor, doctor, do you have medicine?
Some sweeties to ease this infection,
I can wash it down with a Naggin;
Propose a toast to the memory
Of fanciful days of reverie!
So I can writhe within this sin.
Doctor, doctor, who is this within me?
A forlorn stranger, disturbed escapee,
Clawing at my internal structures.
He’s gone and shorted the circuit,
With no light I become a hermit,
My clown face becomes a fracture.
Doctor, doctor, did you miss the bus?
Now swear you won’t kick up a fuss,
But I didn’t want the bus to miss me.
I fell in to the road, frozen still,
I wanted to stay, feel the thrill,
Be knocked in to sorrowful debris.
Doctor, doctor, can you tell me why?
Why, oh why, do I always cry?
Even my oxygen is depressed.
I breathe misery and despair,
I try to fight, but it’s not fair!
Mentally ill? I can’t digest.
Doctor, doctor, take a look inside;
I’m an open book, I cannot hide,
Can you see my scaly demon?
Its tainted claws wrapped around my throat,
Dribbling seepage on my suicide note,
The crack in my disposition deepens.
Doctor, doctor, you are hereby dismissed,
I insist you desist; take me off your list,
Don’t waste time on an immedicable.
I am mistaken; you cannot help me,
I will rise from my knees, silence my pleas,
Curse the fact my mind is incurable.