Stable. A word that gets repeated quite regularly during my monthly appointments with my psychiatrists. Lots of people think that ‘happiness’ is the opposite of ‘depression’, but they’re wrong. Antidepressants don’t provide any euphoria, or make me feel like a unicorn queen living on a planet of fluffy kittens. They make me stable. They provide enough of a punch to level out my emotions and help me think rationally. Basically, they just help me feel like most people feel every day. I can get out of bed, brush my teeth, wash my face, make myself breakfast and do all of the other mundane daily tasks that many people without a mental illness take for granted.
Living with a mental illness isn’t an easy or glamorous thing. It doesn’t get me off the hook, or make my life easy. I think it’s easy to look at my life and think it must be so amazing (which it kind of is), but the truth is, every day is still a struggle and some of those days literally almost killed me.
My depression and I go way, way back. I was first diagnosed when I was sixteen, more than half my life ago. Since then, depression has been a pretty constant companion; almost like that ex hiding in the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to pop back into my life and mess things up. As the years have passed by, I have slowly slipped in and out of depression, usually the slow kind of slide that sneaks up on you and you don’t notice until you think ‘hey, I haven’t gotten out of bed or showered in like a week’.
At the end of 2015, I started to slide further and further into one of my worst bouts of depression, until I realized that I wasn’t going to make it on my own and I needed to ask for help. Luckily, I did. I started treatment (anti-depressants and therapy) and made some change until things slowly started to get better and my life started to change. I was, dare I say, happy. The thing about getting out of depression is that it makes you so very grateful for the smaller things in life. But what I wasn’t anticipating was that I would feel so good that I would take on way too much and slide into a relapse. I had convinced myself that I was ‘OK’ now and that was wrong.
During my relapse, I found a new therapist and my doctors and I decided to increase my medication dosage. I realized that I still had a little bit of work to do, but probably the biggest realization was that I was ALWAYS going to have work to do. My battle with mental illness was going to be a battle that I was going to have to fight for the rest of my life. That was something I had kind of always known, but really, truly accepting it was hard. I think part of me still viewed my mental illness as a weakness, and that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough, or as deserving of being as happy as everyone around me.
Cut to the summer of 2018, and after a relapse and an incredibly tough year, I think I’ve finally gotten a handle on things. Not in the ‘my life is perfect’ kind of way, but in the ‘life sucks sometimes, but I’m tough enough to deal with it’. I’ve now realized that investing in my mental health is the best investment I can make. I’m taking care of myself and giving myself extra TLC. My mental health condition doesn’t make me less of a person, or less worthy of living my best life. It just means that I might have to work a little harder than some people and be much gentler with myself. I will probably be in therapy and on medication for the rest of my life, which I’m OK with because that’s what my body needs. I’ve accepted who I am and am not going to let my mental illness get in the way of the things I want. And that’s enough to put a smile on my face.