Mental Health Awareness

Above all else, I try to be genuine in my writing and art. Honesty is the beating heart of creative work, and I try to be truthful, if not always entirely forthcoming. Privacy is more valuable than ever in this digital world. But I do aspire to be more open. Most of what I share, particularly on Instagram, is optimistic and lighthearted. I talk a lot about moving forward, making progress, and learning from mistakes. That's certainly not an act, but it is a very incomplete picture of the way I see the world and how I move through it.

This is my third attempt at addressing the fact, however late in the game, that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In trying to capture the story of my experiences with depression, I either have to be incredibly brief or commit to writing a whole book that goes into every painful, trying, sometimes hilarious, detail. Maybe someday I'll get to that book, but here for round three of this post, I'll be brief.

I think one of the reasons we need a month of awareness and why mental health problems are so misunderstood is because they look completely different in every single person who suffers from them. That's not hard to understand. Everyone's mind is unique, so an ailment of the mind manifests in ways unique to each person. There's this stereotypical image that exists of someone suffering from depression. Someone unkempt, crying in the dark. Never getting out of bed. Forgetting to bathe. Forgetting to eat. Withdrawing from loved ones. That certainly happens. I've been there more than once. Lots of people are there every day. But a lot of the time people who are dealing with depression (or panic attacks/anxiety/bipolar disorder, etc.) are very good at hiding it or are able to put it to the back of their minds except when they're most vulnerable. They don't have a convenient little gray, cartoon cloud floating above their heads everywhere they go announcing how they feel. This is why I think it's so important to be open about it, and to be patient with everyone around us, as it's impossible to know what might be going on under the surface.

I'm not embarrassed by my depression, and I don't feel sorry for myself, either. There are elements of it and ways it has affected my life that are intensely private and that I've only shared with a select few people. But as a whole I don't believe that it makes me weaker than anyone else. It has absolutely shaped my life in ways more significant than almost any other force, and I do sometimes look back at those moments and wish I'd had more control. And yet, I can't help but be grateful, because it has made me so much better at finding joy in the everyday parts of life that might seem trivial at first glance. It also helped me fine tune the ability to read my emotions and trust myself when something doesn't feel right.

Over the years I've become pretty skilled at spotting the signs of an oncoming depressive episode. I've built up an arsenal of tools to help keep it at bay for as long as I can and to lessen its blow when it lands. Sometimes I can stop it in its tracks. Sometimes I can weaken it to a manageable inconvenience. And sometimes, despite my best efforts, it hits me full force and sends me into a paralyzing fog for months on end. I've been in a good stretch for just over a year now, for which I am deeply grateful. I don't take a single clear-minded day for granted. It's tempting sometimes to take the highs as an ominous sign that the lows are coming, but that's an exhausting cycle I can't permit myself to get caught in. The lows are hard enough without letting them creep into the good days.

So many of the pivotal, path-changing moments I've had were directly tied to my depression, so it's inevitable that I'll talk about it in more specific detail as I continue to share stories here. I suppose I just wanted to take this moment to introduce the idea that this is a large part of who I am, and it's okay, but it may influence both my writing and my art. If I seem very sunny some days, it's real. I am generally a happy, optimistic, patient person. But my clouds are very dark indeed, so they'll cast a shadow now and then. (My use of this metaphor is silly to me, because the fact is I vastly prefer cloudy, rainy days when it comes to real weather. Oh well.) In the interest of being as transparent as possible, I wanted to put that out there, and encourage everyone to take a few minutes to remember that you can't always tell when someone is struggling. I'm also happy to answer questions, or listen for a while if you want to talk about it too. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.