Monday, May 9, 2011

Learning to To Live

At the age of 10, I was diagnosed with moderate Chronic Clinical Depression. I had shown symptoms since I was much younger. I can remember the overwhelming feelings of sadness and isolation all my life.

For about 6 years, I successfully hid a serious problem from everyone, including my therapists: I was self-mutilating. I would lacerate my arms, torso, and legs as a way of lashing out and trying to deal with the overwhelming pain I felt inside. By manifesting my mental anguish into a physical pain, I somehow thought it would help me. Then, I got lazy, and my guard dropped, and my stepmom discovered some of my wounds I had inflicted on myself. It started a long, painful and difficult round to getting the more intense help I needed.

My mental illness was exacerbated by a period of abuse that occured in my early teens. My self-image and perception of the world and my relationships to other people were warped to reflect the trauma I experienced. I also hid that damage as well. I hid so much from so many people.

But why? Why would someone who knew they were ill, who knew that what they were experiencing was not healthy, purposfully hide the severity of their illness from loved ones and healthcare professionals? Did that person want to be sick? Did they want to feel the way they felt?

No. No one I have ever heard of or met wants to have depression. The overwhelming black hole of dispair that fills your mind is something that no one would ever want. The reasoning for myself, and others, who deny treatment, or hide the severity of their illness is complex and multifaceted. For me, it was a combination of a warped perception of the world (including my self-image and my relationships), strained relationships with adults and authority figures, and an intense feeling of shame that kept me from revealing how sick I was.

I have heard many sufferers of depression say that they feel ashamed of their illness, or they feel very isolated, like no one understands; or that they are broken, that something is wrong with them and they should just seclude themselves away. A great deal of this is the illness itself talking. Depression is a terrible illness because it is self-sustaining: the very symptoms of depression cause depression. So feelings of loneliness, feeling ashamed, feeling like you're broken, are all exacerbated by the illness.

Because of these reasons (and many others based on the individual), people often do not seek the help they need- or they refuse help because the help they have sought thus far hasn't made the difference they had hoped it would. With depression, you get accustomed to the sadness; it starts to feel like something that resembles normal. Except that persisting feelings of depression aren't normal. Treatment is needed in order to properly cope with the illness. Untreated depression is very dangerous and lead to death- either through direct suicide or through the sufferer's neglect of their health to the point of no return.

Treatment is a difficult and time-consuming process. It requires regular meetings with a healthcare professional, and some form of therapy. That therapy can be chemical or habitual, but the therapy is needed. Often times, there is resistance put up on the part of the person with the mental illness to receiving treatment. They will find any and all excuses to avoid getting the help they need. I went through that stage, but I have managed to keep my depression for the most part in-check with habitual therapy. There are certain things that I know I can not or should not do because it could be a depressive trigger. I purposfully orchestrate my environment and relationships to be the safest they can be and to lessen my exposure to triggers. I have done this with much practice for many years, to the point where it is now habitual and it takes little to no thought to perform my little preventions every day. Even so, when things get too hard, I know when to seek outside help.

For some people, nonchemical therapies are not enough. My friend JT relies on a little pill every night to keep his illness (anorexia accompanied by depression) in check. This pill performs wonders in that it increases his quality of life and allows him to live free of a multitude of anxieties that before would have sent him spiraling out of control. I recently saw a wonderful episode of 'Glee' wherein one of the characters finaly seeks help for their mental illness. She tries  to say she doesn't need help, because her OCD is part of who she is. The doctor she is talking to says a wonderful line: "Your illness isn't who you are; it is preventing you from being who you are." That line struck me as beautifully true and to-the-point. Not everyone can rely on habitual therapies to allow them to be themselves, so they must rely of drugs that force their illness into submission. Those drugs don't change them, they allow them to be free.

My illness does not define who I am. I am not the illness that has been a burden on me my entire life. I am my own person, with interests and passions and dreams and goals. My depression has at times been a hinderance to my ability to experience who I am. Seeking treatment is painful and a lot of hard work, but going untreated is far too dangerous. The stigma in our society is that having a mental illness means you are weak, that you chose to be sick. We hush up whenever someone's illness is addressed. It is something that we are ashamed of. That shame has dire consequences

I have lost friends, family members, and classmates to depression. My family at one point could have very likely lost me as well had I gone on hiding how sick I was. I contemplated suicide countless occasions, planning for the right opportunity to carry out my various plans of how to end my life. Seeking treatment, no matter how hard it may be, no matter how hopeless it may seem, is always the right course of action if you or someone you know is suffering from any mental illness.

Sometimes, we need some help in learning how to live.

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