Here’s the thing about mental health: when your mental health is poor anything can seem insurmountable.
So when you have mental health problems, you cannot compare yourself to how anyone else is coping. “I should be happy. I should care more. I shouldn’t be so perfectionistic.” I told myself that if someone else could do more than me, I wasn’t good enough to live.
But the truth is, obviously, that if you struggle with mental health, you can’t handle what other people can handle. Sometimes taking a shower is insurmountable and I just deflect and don’t take a shower. And sometimes getting food is insurmountable so I don’t eat. And sometimes everything is just so long, and exhausting, and terrifying, that I think about dying.
But you wouldn’t know that to glance at me.
I can still smile and laugh, my eyes can still sparkle, I can still have fun. Depressed people are very good at hiding depression; a lot of us have had years of practice. We know how to put up a veneer of the everyday, even of happiness.
But somewhere down the line, between what you see and what I feel inside, there is discord. If you peel back the layers, talk to me long enough and hit a chord that resonates, the veneer can slip back and reveal something haggard and worn. An expression of fear, and resignation to that fear.
It’s a very human fear that I won’t be good enough. But the depressed brain is built on a very slippery slope – it takes fear as a matter of fact and says: I will never be good enough. If I’m not good, I deserve to die. Therefore I should die.
I’ve told myself this many times. Sometimes once in a week, sometimes multiple times a day.
I’ve reworked the equation, the premises can change, but the answer is the same. Yet, the argument is built around a false premise.
Human life is not valued in some pass-or-fail dichotomy of good and bad. We all do good things and bad things, have good times and bad. This does not define us. To reuse an old turn of phrase, I am more than the sum of my parts.
I don’t think that’s an easy thing to remember. Think of some minor embarrassing moment from elementary school, and you’ll still feel shame even though it was years ago. We linger on past discomfort and future fears instead of accepting the present in its multiplicity. That is to say, we get caught up in everything we have been and everything we could be and forget that we exist right now, and are all of these things together.
Life is more than success or even happiness: it’s simply an openness to exist, to learn, to feel both joy and sorrow. Experience is existence, and put into this perspective, I’m not as afraid to keep living.
Early in December, I nearly committed suicide. I had a mental breakdown. I had to take days moment by moment to even handle living. Instead of what I’ve written here, I could have had an obituary. I won’t say that suicide is something cowardly or shameful, but it is a choice and I made the right one. I can’t promise that things will get better for anyone else, but they did for me. And through breaking down, I’ve learned how to rebuild myself.
I’ve learned that it’s okay not to know what the future has in store. In the words of W.H. Auden, “Knowledge may have its purposes, but guessing is always more fun.” I know I will change through life in ways I could never predict, but that’s part of living.
I’ve learned that I need to be kinder to myself. That yes, I cannot do what other people may be able to (some days I can’t do anything at all), but that doesn’t make me less of a person.
I’ve learned that the best way to heal yourself is to connect with other people. Talking through my problems with the ones I care about saved my life, and maybe it can save yours too, or someone you know. So keep talking, texting, tweeting, because no matter who you are, there is always someone who will listen.