“Not all stories about mental illness are dramatic. Some, like mine, are rather mundane; no hospital visits, no incarcerations, no shattered lives. Yet even a simple cut on the skin, or a garden variety cold, can lead to more serious conditions if not treated properly. That’s how I choose to view my own struggle with depression – what should have remained a minor problem became, through years of neglect, a significant burden that threatened to harm myself and my family. And I suspect my story, due to its very lack of dramatic detail, is actually quite common.
During my teenage years, I began experiencing moments of acute sadness and anxiety. I knew these episodes were different from the ordinary feelings of unhappiness and stress I also felt, because my behavior at these times would be far different. I would stop talking unless it was unavoidable; lay in bed on weekends for hours, lights turned off, in nearly catatonic paralysis; have no appetite and difficulty sleeping, and the lack of food and rest only worsened my condition. Some of these episodes had a triggering event (bullying, a bad grade, not landing a role that should have been mine in a school play), but others would arise for no apparent reason, like an earthquake in my mind. These episodes would last a couple days, maybe three or four, and often came with a conviction that the feeling would never end. I was a fool for believing I could be happy – now I know the truth, that I’ll be miserable like this the rest of my life. And then suddenly, the mood would stop, rarely due to a triggering happy event. I would feel “normal” again, and marvel both at my past behavior and sudden recovery. I didn’t understand what had happened to me, and my lack of comprehension made me very afraid. I hid from that fear, hoping against all reason that the dark moods would never return.
Years passed, turning into decades. A lifetime of graduations, jobs, hobbies, lovers, friends and family. Times both good and bad, pleasure and pain, victories and defeats. But even in years when I was generally happy and relaxed, those episodes of acute sadness and anxiety never completely left. I’d feel an episode come on, and would be powerless to stop it. The same conviction would return: This time it’s for real – I’m never getting over this. My behavior during these bouts became more irrational. Have tickets to a ball game I was eagerly anticipating? An invitation to a good friend’s party? When I was depressed, I not only couldn’t make myself go, I relished the sensation of disappointing myself. And then, just as before, the feeling would vanish, and I couldn’t believe the decisions I had made. By my late twenties, it didn’t seem right to continue experiencing these bouts of mental anguish. I sought counselling, which always proved effective (by the third session I’d feel energized and empowered) yet temporary (a new attack would come within months after the last session). Still, I had become a functional, productive member of society, and resigned myself to accepting these periodic bouts as just part of what made me who I was, as permanent and unchangeable as the color of my eyes and skin.
I then met a wonderful, patient women. We married, and brought forth two delightful children. These were good times, but while the attacks may have been less frequent, they certainly did not diminish in intensity (I’m grateful to have never become physically violent during any of these episodes). And when I regained my composure, I could no longer ignore the impact of my episodic emotional violence.
The truth can hurt as it sets you free. When the person whose happiness is so important to you says that she’s tired of walking on eggshells around you, or that your children are afraid of you, and her words speak to a reality you’ve already seen in the eyes of your family… those are words you cannot ignore. You are forced to react. You can respond by finally embracing those feelings you’ve feared for so long, and let the consequences be damned, even if you turn into a monster.
You get fed up with thirty years of denial. You realize you’ve been sick for a very long time, and won’t be getting better until you get help. It was the only choice that made sense at the time.
I’ve been in counselling on a regular basis, and taking antidepressants for a decade now. I had been concerned about the medication making me feeling ‘unnatural’, artificially happy perhaps, but that hasn’t been the case; I still feel as much disappointment, frustration, and sorrow as before. And if I’m not careful, I can still succumb to those agonizing bouts of despair that plagued me so frequently in the past. What’s different now is that I can sense when those feelings are creeping into my psyche, and have the ability to keep them from taking hold. I’m not cured, and doubt I’ll ever stop treating this disease. But my wife loves our weekend getaways, my children enjoy going to superhero movies with me, and my hope is far more powerful than my fear. Life, yes, is good.
I began this story comparing my depression to a minor injury or disease, as a means of summarizing what has been, for the most part, a fairly uneventful experience. But that comparison trivializes the impact depression has had on my life, so at the conclusion I want to pivot towards a different medical metaphor. I don’t know many diabetics (and apologize to any of my readers should this coming analogy not be true to your experience), but depression seems to me a similar chronic condition. There is no cure, and ignoring the problem can be literally fatal, but with proper medication and attention you can live a normal life, however you choose to define that term. Depression will always be with me – I don’t like that, but like a diabetic, I can’t wish my condition away. But I no longer fear it.
Thank you for reading. May you enjoy health and happiness you deserve.”
– By Keigh Ahr
You can find Keigh Arh’s blog here at The Diligent Dilettante.
Stories are still needed!
Do you have a mental health/recovery story of your own that you’d like to reach out and share to others? Whether it be overcoming depression to addiction to eating disorders… no matter what your area, there will be a chance that your experience will touch someone elses life.
Send your story with your name to firstname.lastname@example.org and i’d be happy to publish on The Manic Years.
Sharing saves lives –