Taking care of yourself is never a failing.
One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to come to terms with is that the way I view the world is inherently broken.
I like to compare it to when I discovered I needed glasses to see. I’d gone my whole life assuming that people couldn’t see individual blades of grass from a car window, or a speaker’s face when you sat in the third row of a crowd. I thought it was absolutely normal to squint to read a display menu at a fast food restaurant because it’s all I’d ever known. The first day I was fitted for glasses blew my mind. I couldn’t believe all the things I hadn’t been seeing my entire life. I couldn’t believe that this was what the world really looked like.
Before I was diagnosed with depression I’d thought my mood swings were completely normal. Everyone got depressed once in a while, right? It was okay to miss one class because you’d overslept. And then if you missed the next class, obviously you’d want to skip the third so you could stay home and catch up. And when you failed to catch up, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to wrap yourself up in blankets and self-loathing and lay awake in bed all night thinking of the number of reasons you didn’t deserve to be alive…right?
That’s the tricky thing about depression or any kind of mental illness. It tricks you into believing that you’re the source of everything that’s wrong with your life. If you were just a better, stronger person you’d be able to pull yourself out of this, that little voice says. I call it my scumbag brain. It’s the one that tells me that I’m unworthy of friendship and basic respect and that I’m going to die alone because someone didn’t text me back. It blows things way, way out of proportion in my mind. It tells me that not only am I a failure, but my inability to single-handedly repair every issue in my life is a compounded failure.
I’ve been on a few cycles with medication and therapy, and the thing about it, is when you have depression and start taking medication, you may not notice the positive changes. It’s slow and gradual, like growing out your hair. The length of your hair seems perfectly normal to you, but someone who hasn’t seen you in three months may comment on how long it’s gotten. When you’ve been on medication for a while, it’s like your normal world is simply more palatable. Medication doesn’t solve your problems or suddenly make you happier, it just puts you on an even playing field when it comes to confronting whatever obstacles are keeping you from that success and happiness. Suddenly the idea of getting out of bed to go to that class you’d missed last week is a lot easier to do.
The stigma behind getting therapy and medication for a mental illness is an interesting one. If I had liver problems and needed to take medication for the rest of my life, odds are good I’d be praised for taking care of myself. “Good for you. Looking after your health is one of the most loving things you could do for yourself,” people would say. But needing to take medication for a mental illness? Whooboy. It’s like people have forgotten that our brains are also an organ in our bodies, or that mental health is every bit as valuable and important as physical health.
If you do have to take medication, the expectation seems to be that this need should be temporary. Like medication for a cold. It’s for a temporary ailment, when you need a little boost to pull yourself out of the pit you’ve found yourself in. Newsflash: depression isn’t a momentary feeling. We don’t feel depressed, we are depressed. Healthy people feel depressed about something, get distracted and move on. For us sufferers, depression is the default state. We may occasionally get distracted from it, but there is no moving on. If we happen to resolve one issue, we’ll just pluck out a new one. Just last night I laid in bed for hours thinking about something stupid I’d done in the ninth grade and hating myself for it. That’s what depression does.
When I’m in a good, medicated and healthy head space, I chant a mantra to myself so I’ll be more likely to believe it when I’m in my lower places: needing medication does not make me a failure. I am not a failure for having depression. I am not a failure for not being able to pull myself out of it magically. And I’m not a failure for needing a little help for the rest of my life to manage it.
Needing help does not make you a failure. Take care of yourselves. Don’t let anyone, even if it’s your own scumbag brain, tell you you’re anything but deserving of great health.
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Comment: Do you use medication to help with a mental illness? How has it worked for you?