Depression and anxiety shape a lot of my life. People say not to let your illnesses define you, don’t cling to labels, break free and be whatever you are – whoever you are – without shame or excuses. You’re weird and that’s okay. You’re a little funky, no problem, some people like that kind of funk. You’re kind of creepy how much you think about death but we’re all kind of cree-
Don’t bother finishing that sentence. People cheerfully say this kind of shit and inevitably they trail off, turn back to the cheese plate with small talk when they realize they’re out of their depth with me. Can’t tell you how many times people have casually asked me about the scars on my arms before realizing they were walking down a dark mental alley full of human piss and dirty memory.
I was officially label-free for the first 32 years of my life. I wouldn’t go back to being undiagnosed for anything in the world. Being diagnosed isn’t a magic bullet you can take to the heart to be reborn fresh and clean-spirited, but it can give you important context for your experiences of life. Being diagnosed with Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder validated a lifetime of being “off” to others for me. It validated the slow sadistic torture life felt like for me on most days. Particularly in my younger life.
My mental illness isn’t an excuse for bad behavior but sometimes my mood disorders weigh heavily on the choices I make. Knowing what’s interfering with my rational thought and the regulation of my moods helps me live a better life because I have developed self-awareness, checks and balances, and an honest dialog with myself.
One of the best tools having a diagnosis of mental illness has given me is being able to recognize the broken mental records my brain keeps playing that tell me I’m a piece of shit failure, that I’d be better off dead. I’m not sure I’ll ever shed my difficult relationship with my corporeal self, but navigating through suicidal ideation (mostly passive) has become safer and I can cycle through it faster knowing that these feelings are part of the way my brain was created and my life experiences have cemented – that this fight to live that I’ve been struggling with for 35 years isn’t a moral failing. Some people are born with holes in their hearts, I was born with glitches in my mental operating system that can be life threatening but most of the time is just irritating and requires a lot of maintenance.
I don’t believe in regrets but sometimes I wish I could go back to my younger self and explain everything before I’d done serious damage to myself. I wish I could give my younger self the therapy, the meds, and the diagnosis that ultimately saved my life. Things I was able to get because of the healthcare we had at the time.
Not everyone needs a diagnosis to hang onto their parachute. Not everyone needs meds or therapy to survive the tortures of an unbalanced mental state or the ravages of abuse or war. They are blessed to fly free without the structure of support I need and I don’t resent them for finding their way when I can’t.
But for those of you who are letting go of your safety nets, and to those of you who never had them – the thing I want more than anything else is for you to get the support you need in order to wake up every day and know that you have it in you to get dressed, stand tall (ish), and be the person you honestly are in the most meaningful and satisfying way possible. Or just to stay alive and enjoy something every day like a hot cup of coffee or hugging your kids or kittens.
We’re going to kick the mental illness stigma to the gutter one day at a time, one case at a time, one life at a time.
Head above water my darlings!