It’s mental health awareness month and I’ve been trying to figure out how I can put these thoughts on paper for the last 28 days. With the deadline (end of May) fast approaching, I just had to get it done. Here goes.
I couldn’t get out of bed. When I finally forced myself out of bed, I couldn’t open my mouth to say anything. There was nothing to say. I stood in front of a class of 32 learners and couldn’t teach. There was nothing. Emptiness. I didn’t care. I couldn’t care. I got into my car one day after school and drove to the beach. I was gonna go there for one last time and then end it all. Didn’t care how, just had to. No one knew. On my way I did a thing that I am so thankful for. I called my psychologist. I told her I couldn’t. I was diagnosed with depression and got help.
I grew up around depression. Family members and friends were diagnosed in all stages of my life. I have always advocated for mental health but was never allowed to mention their conditions. It was a secret, as if it was something to be ashamed of. When it happened to me, I decided that I was going to be vocal about my illness.
I wasn’t going to follow the lead of so many before me. Not saying the dreaded “D” word. Keeping up appearances and faking my smile so that people wouldn’t think less or strangely of me. I didn’t walk around with a megaphone shouting: “I’m the queen of depression”, although in retrospect that sounds like a hoot. I did, however, tell people who needed to know. I told my friends and coworkers who had to deal with me. I didn’t expect any pity or special treatment, I just wanted them to know that I couldn’t be the Anneke they knew, but that I was doing something about it.
In this process I noticed something. My friends were frustrated and unsure. They didn’t know what to do or how to make me feel better. Others opted to ignore my state and lean on their decision that I was overreacting or making it up. Some didn’t care, but that didn’t bother me, I was honest and working on my treatment. Being better and looking back over the past year I wanted to share some things I’ve learnt on my journey. This is my experience. It’ll be different for every person, but it might help you understand some things better.
Friends and family members listen up please:
This is NOT your burden to carry.
It’s not your job to make your loved one feel better. Read that again and again, please. You can’t do anything, and you’re not supposed to do anything. Do not project your fears, doubts, and uncertainty, because it will not help.
I don’t know how to make myself feel better, so I can’t tell you what you should do to make me feel better. I wish I had this written on a card that I could hand out to everyone. I couldn’t deal with people not being able to deal with my illness. I didn’t have the capacity. I could see their frustration, but I couldn’t care about it. If your friend is just diagnosed, they are probably so overwhelmed themselves they can’t mother and comfort you while you’re trying to understand their situation.
This is not about you.
Don’t make it about you.
Take that energy and research the illness. Read up, try to get an understanding. And just sit with them, you do not have to do anything just be a person and be there. This picture shows it so well. Enjoy.
Listen when we speak.
It happens so often: I mention how I’m feeling only to have it discarded or ignored. If I’ve mustered up the courage and energy to admit to you that I‘m having a bad day, then acknowledge that. Don’t dismiss my feelings because you don’t understand them. When you dismiss those feelings, it forces me deeper into the darkness, and the glimmer of light that shone through diminishes. Just acknowledge. What does that mean? Well, you could nod and say “fuck, that sucks” or “I love you” or, if you have the capacity, ask me if I want to talk about it and then listen some more.
I‘m trying to find a way to get through this battle and it might look different from one day to the next. If I want to stay in bed all day because I know it’ll help, or I just can’t. Don’t force me out, remind me that it’s okay. If I want to paint or sing, even if I suck at it, allow me to do it, ’cause it probably makes me feel better. You can remind us of the things that make us feel better, but don’t force us to do them.
Saying all this I want to reiterate that it’s not your job to make me feel better. I’ll try to do that. They’ll try to do that. All you can do is support their journey and love them.
My last plea is for you to realise this: I’m not a fragile little crystal ornament. I’ll not shatter at the mere touch.
You don’t need to wrap me in cotton. In fact, please don’t.
Treat me as you always have, just understand that there are certain ways I can’t respond. Invite me to the party, but know that I’ll probably say no. Please still invite me though, I want to feel wanted. Tell me the joke. I might not laugh, but I want to hear it. And be honest. If you’re struggling with me or frustrated with the situation, tell me. Chances are I didn’t see that. If you’ve questions, ask them, but know that all you might get from me is “I don’t know”, and be okay with that.
Mental illness sucks, but it affects so many of us in different ways. I want to encourage all of you to talk about it. The more we talk about it the easier it’ll become to deal with the reality. If you’re suffering from a metal illness, tell your people. Be open with them about it. I’m not saying walk around with a huge sign around your neck, that would be weird and even I might judge you. But be honest to those you really love and trust, you might be surprised by how many of your friends have struggled with mental issues as well.
Healing from mental illness is a process. A process of unlearning, discovering new truths, falling, rising, being better and worse again, but there is hope. It gets better. You learn to handle it better. I don’t want to drive to the beach and end everything anymore. I have very bad days even bad weeks, but I have learnt enough and gained so many tools that I can help myself out. Shoutout to great meds that really help!
If you realise that you are struggling please contact a counsellor or psychologist. Get the help and find hope again. You will be okay.