(This post isn’t a subtle cry for help or anything like that- I’m pretty good at obvious cries for help. This is a theory piece discussing why I write about my own struggles with mental illness even though some people will think I am attention seeking whiny pants. It’s been languishing in my drafts for a few months but since I’m likely to post about going back on meds a lot in the next few weeks this feels like an appropriate time to post it.)
Most people who struggle with chronic mental illness look perfectly normal when you pass them on the street. We don’t wear big signs that say “this is the first time my anxiety has receded enough for me to leave my apartment this week,” or “I’m in the midst of a downward spiral and see my therapist 3 times a week,” or “my anti-depressants are finally working but I can’t bear human touch and haven’t had sex in 6 months.” We grapple with our (largely) invisible illness and sometimes it’s terribly, terribly lonely. Reading about other people’s struggles (and successes) in living with mental illness has made my own struggle more bearable, has given me hope, so here’s my story.
It took me a long time to start using the phrase “mentally ill” to describe myself- I used to talk about my “crazy” or my “issues” because it felt more jokey and light, more socially and culturally acceptable. I finally decided to start using the phrase because I think it’s important to humanize and give a face to mental illness as we work to destigmatize it.
My life became easier when I accepted that I have a chronic mental illness, that my depression and anxiety weren’t going to magically disappear after 6 months, when I owned the fact that this is who I am and how my brain works (for better and for worse). The reality of my life is that over the past 4 years the thing I have spent the most time, money, and energy on is not a romance or a job or a home, it’s managing my mental illness.
Neurologically, I was pretty “normal” till I was about 12. That’s when I started having partial-complex seizures in my left temporal lobe which went improperly diagnosed until I was 17. (That’s bad; uncontrolled seizures have a bunch of negative effects like brain damage which Google or Wikipedia will be happy to tell you all about.) Seizures in this part of the brain have a strong correlation with depression- one theory is that the same lesions and malformations which can cause seizures may cause depression, another is that the electrical seizure activity itself causes the mood issues, or that the damage caused by the seizures makes it more difficult for the brain to regulate mood. To put it bluntly, I’m brain damaged and it contributes to my mental illness. It’s more complicated than that, depression is if nothing else complicated disease, but on good day my brain is still more likely to be depressed than a “normal” brain on a bad day.
Stability nowadays comes from a combination balance of diet, supplements, exercise, therapy, massage, and prescription meds. Sometimes finding the balance is easy, sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s impossible and Valium and I hang out together for a few days. Even on easy days it’s always there, needing to be managed and worked around.
There’s no neat ending to this blog post, to the story of my mental illness. I keep writing because it helps me, because I hope it will help someone else, because on bad days I can look back and remind myself that good days happened and will hopefully come again.