Five amazing statements you hear while recovering from mental health disorders!
It has just been two months since I acknowledged the fact that I have clinical psychological problems and within such a short duration , I already had my fill of absolutely insensitive statements that I have heard from people. Many have been incredibly supportive but it is important to highlight problematic myths about mental health issues. If you thought that being kind towards others and being accommodating of their needs would get you enough good karma, you are sorely mistaken. So no, I am not using panic and anxiety disorder as an excuse to rant. This is my normal self venting the frustration and offering , hopefully helpful observations that I have gathered over the years in my limited lifespan.
- You are only 24. Why are you depressed?
“ Yay! This whole anxiety business seems to on the rise, maybe I should jump on this wagon and start popping pills which inhibit my normal functioning”- said no one ever.
No one wakes up one day and decides that now the time or the age has come to be depressed. It is worse than menstrual cramps. Both are painful but at least the latter is predictable. Neither is it one of those atrocious snap streaks or dub-smash fads that are so irresistible that people decide to join due to FOMO. Agreed that mental illnesses are sometimes unjustifiably used as an excuse to get away with horrendous behavior(saying that I called you a bitch because I have anger/panic issues is no justification )but for the vast majority of sufferers, it is a nightmare they can’t wait to wake up from. Imagine your worst nightmare, one in which you are running but can’t seem to move forward or are screaming but none can hear you. Now imagine experiencing it sixty percent of the time while you are awake.
It is beyond humiliating to watch others get out of bed , work , eat while you struggle to go to office, eat at a crowded cafe, focus on your job or sit through a three hour movie in a theater because suddenly being bound to any commitment is asphyxiating. Being on medication, watching your efficiency drop to abysmal depths and hearing snide remarks about your general incompetence is horrible , especially while remembering how easy normal tasks such as getting out of bed or going out with friends used to be. Sometimes I just want to ask what would be an appropriate age be to feel depressed or anxious?
2. Everyone has their struggles , you aren’t the only one who has issues.
Sure. And I am not belittling your pain or struggles in any way. But this is similar to saying that someone with general cough is facing the same uphill battle as someone who is coughing due to Tuberculosis. I, too , used to struggle with general life issues before my panic attacks set in. And sometimes they lasted for more than a month or two.Crying , feeling frustrated and low on energy , wanting to step back from the rat race is all a natural part of life. But now the difference is that I can’t control it. I have no desire to try and fight it. It interferes with my daily life so much so that I have persistent headaches (24*7) if I forget to take my medicines( Yay! Today is that day so you can imagine my joy!). Like Sisyphus is taking rest and I am preventing the boulder from rolling down.The worst part is that my inability to focus during conversations at office or work is often chalked up to my laziness or deliberate insubordination, which then triggers a downward spiral.
It makes me wonder if there is some issue with me that I have to use my entire reserve of energy for tasks which used to come naturally to me. Whether my state is adding to the distress of those living with me! How am I dependent on synthetic medicines for the purpose of controlling my emotions as if I am some weak whimpering person. I , who used to be a pillar of strength, for others, can’t get through one day without crying.
You see the toxic pattern of my thoughts? These questions go through my mind the entire time I am awake and no matter how much effort I put into silencing my thoughts, I fail miserably every single time. So I agree that everyone is dealing with pain and anxiety but it is not the only thing dominating your conscious mind. Unfortunately that is the case for me.
3. But you have everything you want…..what’s the reason to be unhappy?
If only there was some reason !Something I could blame it on such as job, finances, breakup(my lack of romantic life eliminates this option by default). But I can’t figure out the ‘why’ of my current state. And it drives me crazy.
So advice such as find something to focus on , something you love is as useless as offering ketchup to dip chocolate chip cookies in( This is some weird analogy, even by my standards!). Sufferers of mental illnesses do not want a new job or a change of place or more money. This is partially why I guess people suffering from depression or other mental health issues don’t discuss it with anyone. Because you will be flooded with advice, some are useful but most of it is to do with finding distractions. And while dwelling on the why is not healthy, suppressing the problem by putting a band aid on it by obsessing over a new thing is definitely worse. This “quick fix” attitude is perhaps why our generation is plagued with mental illnesses because we try to run from it but the demon is inside the mind. There is no escape from it.
There is no short cut to recovery. It takes time to readjust and reorient oneself with life, the basics of which you seem to have forgotten . And that’s okay. The one promise I made to myself when all this began was that I won’t feel ashamed of taking two steps back and opting out of the race. I won’t allow others to guilt me into believing that the panic attacks are happening because I lack the will to fight it.Just no. So sure there are days when cruel words trigger a panic attack , but it only goes till a certain point . I have built a mental wall beyond which external hurt and pain can’t reach me. Also the fact that currently I have a fine contempt for consequences and general lack of interest in giving a damn about what others think of me helps. So hurrah for that I guess!
4. You go for movies, you travel and have fun. You don’t seem depressed(skeptical expression)!
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it’s the quite voice at the end of the day that says, I will try again tomorrow”
When my grandfather died, quite a few distant relatives attended his funeral . And they cried more than my mother. My mother was sad but she didn’t grieve in front of everyone. Her pain and emotions are very private to her. I could sense her grief, her loss, her suffering. But it wasn’t something she needed to get validated by the society. So that they give my mother a seal of approval that she is feeling bare minimum amount of grief a daughter should feel at the loss of her father.
And there lies the problem. We are unkind because till we see tears , we don’t think our words have hurt another person. We call others fat but till they openly admit that they are struggling from eating disorders or body image issues, we continue to hound them with fat jokes. And dare you take offense because then you will be branded as a wuss who can’t take jokes.This vicious need to break down another person who is suffering is something I will never understand. I have heard people say that they feel happy when their friends suffer as a result of disregarding their warning. Right!Because being right is so much more important than being considerate towards your friend who is suffering.
This moral depravity, the need to see someone’s wounds and pain to pity them and derive a sense of power from your superior stature to provide wise counsel nauseates me. Kindness isn’t and shouldn’t be a slave to someone’s pain. It is basic foundation of humanity which should be your default mode people! There is a mask of competitiveness that you have to put on and participate in collective mourning when you fail to live up to societal standards of success. I experienced this in college when I wouldn’t feel particularly sad after not qualifying for a debate tournament because it was only a bloody extra curricular activity but I had to show that I was sad, else it meant that debating meant nothing to me. The numbers of tears you shed was proportionate to your dedication to the activity. And don’t even think about not cheering and shouting the slogan of “Pressure is just fuel” or “ You don’t get broken, you only get better”. The result would be general ostracization which for some god forsaken reason , everyone in college feared back then.
So no, one doesn’t have to constantly break down in front of others and cry and plead for help to prove that they are sad or depressed or anxious. Neither do they have to keep finding some way to prove that they are tough and fierce.
The ones who matter will guess it from one look at the faces of their loved ones that they are struggling . The mask you put on for the world, won’t fool them. There a few who will be genuinely concerned but wouldn’t know you well enough to gauge the weight that is currently oppressing you but still want the best for you. And I am thankful for many such good people in my life. As far as the people who want proof of someone’s suffering are concerned, so that they can feed on it , well they can burn in hell. :)
5. “Your mask is off! And it scares me”
No one has ever said this to me but I have sensed it in the uneasiness of their voices, the unsteadiness of their gaze, the loose grasp of their handshakes. I think this is the reason why society can empathize with people suffering from illnesses with visible symptoms but not mental illness. It goes deeper than the invisibility of depression or anxiety. Mental illness shatters the illusion that humans are invincible, claiming that anyone can break, that everyone is vulnerable. And vulnerability is a trait that we are taught to be ashamed of. To be expressed in small quantities, never at a stretch because that takes away from the novelty of it.It is to be treated disparagingly as if it is a communicable disease and the ones suffering from it should be isolated so that others remain safe. So that the culture of wearing a mask to conceal your true thoughts and desires continues and you continue to be a part of the daily grind, accepting it to be the new normal.
But the mask is off. And it has made quite a few people around me thoroughly uncomfortable. As if my refusal to value academic or financial or social achievements, my willingness to relinquish coveted things such as college admissions, jobs and most importantly , my desire to know for certain that I can shape my future horrifies them. I can feel them bristling at the thought that I am not conforming to their definition of ‘normal’ . Being abnormal would have been okay if it inspired me to achieve great feats of genius which make for a good story . But by allowing myself to feel sad and hopeless and uncertain, which we have been repeatedly told are abnormal emotional states, I am not contributing to the grand narrative of suffering leading to great accomplishments. You are allowed to suffer only if it is the means to attain something that others value, such as money, fame or an award. A depression that you can snap out of and go on to write a beautiful melody or establish a huge business.But such expectations have lost their hold over me. Because life isn’t a movie meant for public consumption. The reminder that uncertainty is the ultimate truth that ambition can’t defy is a jarring dissonance for so many. It is similar to the uncomfortable feeling of remembering more innocent times , such as staring at the sky , feeling limitless hope and peace without tying it to an ambition or expectation.
That is the feeling I long for now. I haven’t felt it in a while but I see glimpses of it in the warm smile of a friend, in long forgotten songs, in the grasses growing through concrete cracks, in the voice of my mother. This longing upsets me, causes me to cry but it also makes me want to counter the numbness that dominates my conscious mind. Maybe it is the only feeling that truly matters!