Perhaps my favorite analogy when it comes to the stigma against mental illness is the adage, “Asking how someone can be depressed when their life is great is like asking how someone can have asthma when they have all this air to breathe.”
I didn’t start hearing statements like this until a couple of years ago, and it’s made all the difference in the world. I grew up in a very small, sheltered community where mental illness wasn’t openly addressed. If it was brought up, the general responses basically amounted to “just get over it”. This astounds me now that I’m older, that even as recently as 2016 I was still engrossed in a culture that was so backwards that it refused to recognize the benefits and necessity of modern treatments. I was never taught that it was an illness or that it wasn’t my fault. The phrase “it’s all in your mind” was metaphorical instead of literal.
Let me tell you just how ridiculous the idea that someone can “just get over it” really is, no matter how “great” their life may be.
Two years ago, my life was completely different. An ashen, burnt out husk of a life, brittle and dilapidated. I was hardly recognizable from the person I am now or even that I had been before. Allow me to set the scene:
I got married right out of high school after panicking and dropping out of college the day before I was scheduled to move to campus. The only work I could find was in fast food after moving into a rental property my dad owned for a considerable discount, which – let’s face it – is about the only thing I could afford working at minimum wage. I started dating a coworker and things escalate, only for my dad to discover I am no longer an unblemished virgin, which he will not allow under his roof. I have nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to, or so it seemed, and so I am now living with this new boyfriend of only a few months just to survive; all of my religious friends and family have now turned their backs on me, which was pretty much all of them. Cue a rushed marriage to fix the unforgivable problem of living in sin out of wedlock, which my family could not look past.
Fast forward two years.
I am 21. Young and with my whole life ahead of me, yes? It doesn’t feel that way. I am trapped in a marriage to someone almost seven years older than I am. A host of legal, medical, familial, and mental issues have ridden piggyback into our relationship via this man, and I am somehow supposed to know exactly how to handle it while dealing with my own abusive childhood, insecurities, mental illness, and lack of direction and success in life. I now have the in laws from hell, who are more judgmental and cruel than any person I’ve ever met. Seriously, I grew up with a mother who brought drug addicts, felons, and pedophiles into our home after my parents’ divorce, and I have never met anyone I’ve hated or been more afraid of or offended by as these two people. I’ve had anxiety issues my entire life, but I had never had a genuine panic attack until I met these assholes. And this is just one of the many, many, many problems stacked against us. Let your imaginations go wild on what that means… you’re probably close.
When I finally, finally decided I’d had enough, I had begun self-harming and tried to commit suicide three times. Coming to the conclusion it was either the destruction of my marriage or my life - after getting really, really drunk for the first time in my life - I moved onto my friend’s couch with nothing but my clothes and most personal belongings.
Shortly thereafter I got a new job, started seeing a therapist, began taking anti-depressants, and moved into an apartment to live on my own for the first time. I couldn’t have made these leaps without the support of friends telling me the analogy about asthma. Or that you wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to just walk it off. It took a long time to get back on my feet – months of agonizing brokenness and reconstruction – and I couldn’t have done it without making the decision to take care of myself.
But here’s the kicker, as far as I’m concerned. Here I am, now, finally enrolled in college. Living in my adorably decorated apartment. Working at a new job that, while not in my intended field and ultimately not my dream job, is a job I truly enjoy. All of my bills are on autopay. I’ve worked up the courage to publish my novels, start two blogs, a review page, design my own website, and build my professional social media. I got my nose pierced, and I dye my hair crazy, fun colors. I go out almost every weekend to hang out with my friends or see my favorite bands. I’m engaged to a man I’ve been seeing for a year and a half, with the wedding another year and a half away, giving me plenty of time to plan and not rush into things again. And he’s incredible for me – my age, about to graduate college for chemical engineering, kind, supportive… He looks after my mental health, encourages my ambitions, introduces me to new bands and shows and games that I now love, plans romantic dates, buys the absolute best gifts, and always offers me the last slice of cake. And his family has basically adopted me – his parents invite me over even when he’s out of town, his sister is now one of my best friends and actually co-authors Insanifiction with me, while his brother tries to teach me some of their favorite card games and gives advice when I’m having a bad day…
And that’s the thing right there. I still have bad days. And I don’t mean bad days, like my car won’t start or I got to work late or I caught a cold. Bad days like I can’t find the energy to get out of bed, or I have a panic attack because I haven’t done laundry in a week, when I have to break out the Xanax or end up sleeping the day away.
This is my point. My life is closer to perfect than it’s ever been. I’m achieving my goals, have strong and loving people in my life, and I’m taking far better care of myself physically and mentally. And I’m STILL DEPRESSED! I still feel hopeless some days. I still have acute anxiety. Now, I’m not going to say things haven’t gotten better. Because they absolutely have and I worked hard to get there. But I by no means magically got better just because my circumstances did. I love my life. But I need help some days, and there is no shame in that. Remember that if anyone ever tries to make you feel guilty or invalidated for your condition.
Your life might be exactly what you’ve always wanted. It might be the farthest thing from it. Either way, if you need help, you need help, plain and simple. Anyone who says otherwise can’t go to hell. Love yourselves, darlings. Sometimes, you’re the only one who can.