It’s one thing to talk about the highs. My manic episodes are usually positive (at least when I’m not drinking or drugging). I have a lot of extra energy when I’m manic. I get a lot done, and I’m extra nice and considerate to the people around me. I smile and laugh more (a bit too much really).
People see an engaged, fun-loving, happy woman when they see me during a period of mania. That’s not hard to talk about. What I struggle to talk about is the crash that comes after – the deep dive into depression that lasts for weeks at a time. That’s the part that no one likes to see.
They try to make it go away by pushing me to “Cheer up,” reminding me that “Others have it worse,” and suggesting that I “Get some exercise.” These responses to my downswing show a basic lack of understanding of my condition and suggest that I am incapable of managing my mental health.
Of course, people mean well when they say things like this. I’m sure they don’t realize how hurtful they can be. The fact is, I would love to cheer up, but the chemical imbalance in my brain is preventing me from doing so. I know that others have it worse off, but again, the chemical imbalance in my brain doesn’t care. And yes, exercise would probably help, but suggesting it as though it’s a magic fix trivializes what I’m going through.
I’ve learned to be very careful with whom I share how I’m feeling. And even when I share, I’m careful with how much I share. I don’t disclose the whole of my burden (except to psychiatrists/therapists). Most people don’t know how to react when a person says, “I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.”
Most of the time, I try to hide my depression from everyone. When I want to sleep late or take naps I get up early and drink coffee to stay awake. I repress my feelings so I don’t cry. I push myself to stay focused when all I want to do is stare at the wall. And I always answer, “How are you?” with, “I’m good!”
I learned to not talk about my depression at a young age – about 13. At the time, I thought I could talk to my mother about anything. So when I went to her about all the sadness and loneliness I was feeling, the last thing I expected was for her to snap, “Depression is a sign of sin in your life. You need to pray for forgiveness.” My relationship with my mother was forever changed in that moment.
Of course I prayed. I prayed very hard. The depression got worse. The mood swings got worse. I didn’t seek professional mental health treatment until I was in my thirties when I was final diagnosed Bipolar I. Since then I have learned a lot about my mental illness. But my fear of judgment for being a sinner remains.
I struggle to open up about my depression. I wear a facade that says, “I’m fine!” I work very hard to protect that mask because I’m scared of the judgment I might face if I was ever completely honest with someone about how I feel when I’m depressed.
When I try to get behind that mask and share what I’m thinking and feeling with people, I struggle to find the words. I fight so hard to pin my depression back, it’s strange to let it creep towards the surface.
And it’s a strange feeling to begin with. It’s a black hole. No emotion escapes it. When I’m depressed, I’m swallowed up by an utterly complete numbness. I feel nothing to the point of it being painful. The only thing I can do is try to function as best I can until the numbness passes.
It’s difficult to explain that feeling to people who don’t know what it’s like. So I keep my darkness wrapped up tight inside, hidden away where no one can judge it.
One day I would like to live without fear. That’s why I’m writing this blog. This is the first small step towards talking about my mental illness — towards accepting my mental illness as a part of who I am.
I struggle with bipolar depression. And I’m going to start talking about it.