I am not sad. I am not going through a phase that I will outgrow; I have major depressive disorder. No matter how happy I am, how many of my goals I achieve, I know I will always have depression. I do not mean that to be defeatist, I mean it to be pragmatic. My depression is manageable.
Science posits that the origins of my mental illness are in my DNA, inextricably woven into the fabric of my life. My personality exists separate yet equal to my diagnosis. I have a sense of control over my thoughts and actions, but I also have to recognize that this is an illusion, albeit one that I’m invested in for the sake of my mental health.
There are times when, even medicated, depression cuts through and I can’t muster the gumption to accomplish anything. I’ve read that this is common, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. For me, being depressed means waiting out the course of the symptoms. Talk therapy helps, but I’d still like some kind of merit badge for getting stuff done.
When I choose to agree with the shame I feel, I am the one giving power to stigma. I am the only one who has the power to break this internal stigma because I get to choose what I believe about myself. So for me breaking stigma requires intentionally breaking out of the mindset my childhood gave me. It requires me to talk back to my mental tapes that tell me I am not enough.
Today I live in gratitude for all of the help I’ve received, and especially for the gift of acceptance which I awarded myself. The perseverance of my therapist and trusted friends helped get me from my deluded thoughts to a place where truth helps me heal. My symptoms are more obvious to me now when they arise, and I’m vigilant about my mental health.
I have survived for 32 years despite my best efforts. Consequently, I talk about mental health a lot because it affects me every day. I talk about it with my therapists, my friends, my family, the Internet. I talk about my scars from self-harm, my suicide attempts, my battle with addiction, the miscarriages I had, and the continuing, day-to-day frustrations of living with my disorders.
I always want people to immediately understand bipolar as I do, and it is frustrating. How do you explain something so immense, and intricate, in a couple of minutes of causal conversation? I just want to get from point A to point B, quickly. But I have found that saying “hello, my name is Sean, and I have bipolar disorder,” isn’t the most effective way to set the groundwork for any type of relationship.
When you tell someone new that you live with a mental illness, there’s always the risk that they’ll get “that look!” I’m sure you know the one I’m talking about. It’s a smile that begins and ends on the lips. Everything else about their face says they’re afraid, and also a little embarrassed.
It feels like an admission of failure to say that I hear voices, like it’s a personal flaw in my character, that I somehow have a modicum of control over the experience. I don’t. It’s an involuntary response to stress. At least that’s what science claims. I actually have no idea, even with all the research I’ve done, but it makes sense.