By Amanda-Marie Kavanagh
Imagine a time when you felt really down. Like the kind of down when your body feels really heavy, your limbs are like lead and it takes every ounce of willpower to get out of bed. Times when tears refuse to run and you heart actually aches. You feel all alone, like no one could understand what you are going through and that no words of comfort could ever help bring you out of your present state. In fact, you start thinking that you deserve to feel this bad. That really, you are burden to your friends and family, that maybe you are doing them a favour by hiding out in your bed. No matter how much you think about it, you really can’t figure out why you feel so bad, it could be for a hundred reasons or no reason at all, all you really know is that this is how you feel and you wallow in it.
Now, imagine that you feel like this for weeks, even months at a time. This is how I feel when I go through periods of depression. My sister and I both live with different types of mental illness; I suffer from generalized anxiety and depression which has led to two suicide attempts. At the moment I am managing my mental illness fairly well and only experience some anxiety. My sister’s situation is a little harder to identify, she often goes through periods of extreme highs and lows, but is not diagnosed as bipolar. She has struggled with suicide attempts, hospitalization, psychiatry, and medication. Both of us have lived with mental illness for our entire lives, beginning therapy and medications as young teenagers. We have learned to deal with our unique situations in a way that allows us to be functional adults. We have healthy relationships, jobs, degrees from post-secondary institutions, we own cars – we participate in society. But as you can probably assume, it’s not always easy.
My sister asked me to write about what a typical day is like for people like us, but I can’t speak for her or anyone else, I can only guess that we all probably have our ways to deal. Most days are pretty okay in my life, I get up in the morning with the alarm, I hang out with my husband, I visit with my friends and I keep busy. But in between all of that I have moments, hours, days, and weeks when things are a bit more difficult, when my brain is not my friend.
My brain is not my friend when it won’t stop talking at me. When I go over my day and every little thing I’ve said or done, trying to find a mistake in my actions. I get nervous and afraid to go out in public afraid that I will say the wrong things and make a fool of myself or hurt someone’s feelings. I may avoid going out or visiting people all together when I think like that. These are times when I want to stay in bed, or sit on the couch and not move.
Or I can get angry – I call it “The Rage.” I start off being irritable and I start looking for a fight, and most times, I get one. What starts off as a comment, (and to be sure, I use a tone as my mom used to say) will turn into the most soul crushing, angry, hopeless fight ever in the history of fights.
And although I understand when people get frustrated or fed up with me, what I really need, although I can’t express it, is to have my friends and family let me know that they understand and that they will be there for me. I need people around me who will not feed into my negativity and my “tones”, who can take a step back and bring me with them. Even an occasional stop-acting-like-a-narcissistic-brat helps too. Luckily, I have found people that do understand and I have figured out ways to help alleviate those feelings so they don’t last very long.
For someone living with a mental illness, there is always a fear of being abandoned or misunderstood. That family and friends and employers and teachers will not understand. For people like my sister and I, living this way has taught us who we can trust and how to manage our lives in a way that makes us happy. We know when we are slipping into a depression or when our anxiety is getting out of control and we know that those instances mean we need to take inventory of our lives and figure out what is wrong. We have both taken steps to change our lives so that we minimize the negative and increase the positive. We have read and researched, sought the help of professionals and we have learned what works best for us. We will never stop learning and figuring out how to manage our mental illness as we grow older and our lives change, but the onus is on us to make sure that we get the most out of life. That’s what people do when they learn to live well.