I think cultural training for your new job is either one or the other, viewed as a waste of time or find it interesting. Personally, I’m the latter of the two, but I could live without forced interactions. I enjoy learning about myself and gaining perspective, it keeps me grounded. Plus, free food? Sold! It was the second and last day of training and I needed to excuse myself. The last topic before I excused myself was related to accountability. The instructor asked us to think of a time in our careers when we couldn’t complete a task because someone or something got in our way. Many stories were shared with a common theme, a lot of misplaced blame with no accountability. The whole lesson spiel followed. What happened was that in the time provided and while others were sharing stories, I couldn’t think of a single one. I couldn’t think of a time that someone or something was to blame, other than myself. I couldn’t think of a time it was not my fault. The instructor had a visual in which one side was victim (it’s never your fault) and the other was accountability. What if I’m on the other side of victim (it’s always your fault)… what would that be? Was I the only one thinking this? Was there someone else in that room who felt as warm as I did? Was anyone else starting to feel faint? Mental illness controls your brain. I could not think of a time I did something right or well. I could only remember every time that I felt this empty-hearted curiosity and knew what was going to follow.
Why do I do this? I’m hurt and I’m lonely yet, I push you away. I cancel our plans, I ignore your texts, I ignore you. I feel like I’m a bother to everyone and the only thing I can do to feel secure in this situation is to stay at home and be alone. That’s how I keep you safe. That’s how I save our relationship. That’s how I make you happy. All I want is for you to be happy. But now I’m alone with my thoughts. My thoughts of unworthiness, confusion, hopelessness. I feel like I suddenly lost my purpose. I forget my good qualities and devalue every memory and experience I have. I don’t remember feeling loved. I don’t remember creating happiness in others. I am numb. I feel like a hollow shell and I don’t belong… So why am I alive?
Notice how quickly these thoughts I experienced turned so very dark. Notice that I had an insightful and enjoyable day prior to and the morning before my depression flared. It’s painful to read now, days later, knowing that I was typing my thoughts in order to help me cope and in the span of these 5 minutes I became so consumed and lifeless. In hopes of building a community to help remind me I am not alone, I set a personal goal to reach out to 5 individuals each week to learn their story and to share mine. I happened to come across a trending video on social media mocking mental illness and misleading followers about depression (the whole simple solution spiel – if you are unhappy, change it.) These topics are heavy but they need to be talked about. I’m happy to be part of the movement towards normalizing these discussions, but I’d like to take this opportunity to remind all that your voice deserves to be heard, but to please do so in a mindful way. I, for one, am incredibly thankful for coming across this video because it gave me the opportunity to reach out to 5 strong voices that spoke out in the comments. I have been completely overwhelmed by their responses. Beyond words, their stories are changing my life. I would like to share a piece of the discussion I had with a romantically-involved couple that has experienced a pain that I was able to resonate with.
Things had been really bad for a while, so I’d taken her scissors and any sharp objects away from her beforehand. I can’t remember what sparked it but we were in a fight – nothing major, and suddenly it became huge. She completely lost control and stormed to her room, locking the door. She wouldn’t answer the door and I could hear her crying. She told me to just leave her alone, that I don’t care about her, asked why I would ever want to help her after that. She told me to leave, to go and be happier, to have an easier life without her. She told me I was making it worse by staying there and refusing to leave. All I could think was that if I do leave and she hurts herself, that’s my fault. I kept asking her to please just open the door. This went on for just over an hour. Eventually she stopped responding at all, but I could hear noise occasionally, like she was in pain. I unlocked it, warning her beforehand, and found her with some broken glass to her wrist, cuts over her wrists and neck, and she was sobbing. I walked over slowly and took the glass away, then just held her and we both totally collapsed into tears. It was a horrible experience. I felt so powerless, but like I had to do something to keep her alive, even if she hated me for it. I thought she did hate me, but she said afterwards that she was glad I was there. Now she’s on the way to recovery and I couldn’t be happier. But during all of that I could only think about how to stop it from happening, literally doing anything possible even if it means holding her down to stop her. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, so I can’t imagine how she felt. – Gavin W.
I’ve never felt comfortable talking about my suicidal thoughts with anyone or letting anyone be around when I have them. I beg you to leave me alone and sometimes I am in control and do need time to process, but most of the time I need you to stay. I need you to help me fight because I’m not strong enough in that moment. Why don’t I just say that? It twists my insides and makes me feel completely sick. The voice you hear is my illness, my lips are sewed shut. I realize that isolation is for protection, but not for myself, for you. It’s self-sacrificing in a way. My disease takes control and I’d rather save you than save myself. I am so numb that I cannot feel love and I cannot feel happiness, but what I can do is helplessly watch. I can see myself struggling, crying for help, wanting to live. But I cannot do anything. There is a package of emotions with this. I feel pity for myself. I feel weak. I feel crazy. I feel guilt. I feel unworthy. I feel dead inside.
When I was at my lowest, I didn’t believe that I deserved to get better. I didn’t think I was worth saving. My intrusive thoughts told me I was such a waste that I didn’t deserve to get better. You cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel, recovery seems so far away. I remember when I plucked up the courage to go to the doctors and said “I think I’m depressed.” They asked me to explain how I feel, stopped me after literally 30 seconds and said “Pills or counseling?” I was stunned. I couldn’t bare talking to anyone so I just replied “Pills I guess?” Just after a few days on meds I dropped extremely low. I was desperate for them to work, so one night I just kept taking them, and drinking, and crying. I didn’t want to kill myself. I just wanted to be numb. I was in the hospital for two days and told if I hadn’t been found by my flatmate when I was, I would have died. I attended counseling, I was put on suicide watch and had to have security check on me every night, and a flatmate kept my meds and gave me one each day. I educated myself on depression and anxiety and learned to recognize what was happening. I didn’t have any huge dips after that for just over a year. My anxiety flared up horribly at the beginning of my second year, I was having debilitating panic attacks most days and I ended up dropping out. I got into the wrong crowd and started coping by taking drugs and drinking constantly. I completely shut myself down. I didn’t want to feel anything anymore. I felt like I’d never get better, like I didn’t deserve it, I wasn’t worth saving. My boyfriend stopped me from throwing myself out of my window, cutting myself, and overdosing. I hated myself. – Chloe G.
If there’s anything I learned through speaking out it is: regardless how strongly you believe that you are alone, know that there are so many people that are in the same boat just wishing to know someone like you to relate to. I encourage you to talk about your mental health with others, build a community, and give yourself permission to lean on each other. The piece below was written when I was trying to explain my experience with mental illness. It has become a healing piece that I look back on to remind me of the progress I have made. I learned through sharing it that there are actually other people that can relate. To me this was shocking. It is my most personable piece and I was doubtful that anyone would understand. I want to share with the intention to give you hope today and every day.
H O P E
Sometimes being alone is a choice.
When it’s the only option I lose my voice.
Isolation takes the best of me.
I promised to stay but I’m ready to leave.
Intoxicate me until my words are slurred.
Try to forget, my thoughts are blurred.
How do I explain what I don’t understand.
Can’t escape from my own wasteland.
I fantasize there’s no tomorrow.
Can’t handle this feeling of being hollow.
I tell you to go but I need you to stay.
Self-destructive talent to push you away.
Making up reasons for why you’re not here.
Brainstorming ways I could disappear.
Making believe that you wouldn’t care.
Living with mental illness is not fair.
Blood dripping from my freshest cut.
Sick satisfaction in the pit of my gut.
Can’t help but think I deserve the pain.
Stuck at rock bottom and feeling insane.
You keep focusing on ways to persuade
Me to give in and admit I need aid.
It took so long for me to agree.
That it’s not my fault and I am worthy.
This illness will always be a part of me.
Keeping me captive with no trace of the key.
But therapy is encouraging me to forgive.
Learn self-compassion, love and positive cognitive.
Happiness some days will still be a struggle.
A list with few tasks could be too much to juggle.
So each day I will celebrate my small victories.
May not seem like much to you but it’s huge to me.
For the first time, I want more time.
Hoping for more tomorrows in my lifetime.
I’m fighting the good fight and I don’t want to quit.
I’m picking myself up and will love myself through it.