One writer paints a picture of her struggle with mental health
This morning Depression and Anxiety arrived for a visit. Unlike other guests, they do not knock on the door, and I wake to find them sat on either side of my bed, staring into my face as I open my eyes.
I try to sit up, but my body refuses to respond, had it turned to lead? I take a deep breath only to feel suffocated. Have I died? Is this the afterlife?
‘You can’t do this day’ Anxiety says. ‘I can’t do this day’ repeats the voice inside me.
‘You’re a failure’ says Depression. ‘I’m a failure’ comes the affirmation from within.
I lie there. For hours? For minutes? I don’t know, until Anxiety taps my shoulder. ‘Check your phone, see what’s going on! You’re missing out, hurry up’.
Depression leans in, ‘There’s no point checking your phone, no one cares about you. Why bother?’
The battle is won. I grab my phone and open Facebook.
‘Maria is now in a relationship’. Anxiety and Depression take a collective sigh. ‘Maria in a relationship and look at you! You’re going to be alone forever! Who would want you anyway, you’re such a defective piece!’
‘Raj Jones is excited to announce that I’ve brought my own flat! Housewarming invites coming your way!’
Anxiety takes on a panicked tone. ‘You’re borrowing money from your parents just to be able to meet basic expenses and look at him making something of himself! You need to do something and now. Oh my god. Oh my god.’
Like picking at a scab, I continue to scroll down and see that Natalia Bonsu has put up six new photos in the album ‘Our new baby boy’. Depression eyes me up and down. ‘You would be a failure as a parent, it would be a miserable existence, you’re better off alone.’
I muster the strength to stand up. Anxiety hugs me from the front, Depression from behind. I slouch under the extra weight and catch sight of myself in the mirror.
‘So fat, look at that belly. This is why you don’t have a job, you need to go to the gym right now.’ ‘Get dressed’ orders Anxiety. Depression pulls me back into bed, ‘No point going to the gym, no point to anything.’
I turn to one side and Anxiety stares back, I turn over and Depression strokes my hair.
My phone alerts me to a text message; it’s Zainab, asking if we are on for dinner tonight. A hurricane unleashes in my brain, both Anxiety and Depression start speaking at once, ‘You’ve cancelled on her before if you do it again she’ll hate you!
Depression disagrees, ‘She won’t care if you come or not, she’s probably hoping you’ll say no, who wants to be around you anyway.’
I put the phone away, and determined to meet a deadline reach for my laptop. Anxiety stands in my way ‘You’re a shit worker, you won’t be able to get this done. No one will like it and if they do you’ll get criticised because you are a fraud.’
I head to the kitchen. Insatiable Depression pulls out a half-baked frozen pizza from the oven, disciplined Anxiety eats the mushrooms off it and bins the rest.
Without warning both begin to shout.
‘You are lazy, an avoidant and making all this mental health stuff up. You don’t have anything to be unhappy about, why are you not more grateful. You are a disappointment to your loved ones, a burden.’
I cry. I shout in agony. I curl into a ball, seeking ether for this painful numbness.
Sometimes hours, sometimes days, sometimes weeks later, the two guests will leave. Pushed out by medicinal help, evicted through the words of loved ones, defeated by the hands of time. Perhaps it is a temporary departure, maybe a long-term break, but leave they do.
Day-to-day survival can sometimes feel like a battle, particularly in this post-Brexit, post-Trump, Voldemort-ruled bizarre reality we seem to be living in. For those prone to depression and anxiety, this can further trigger symptoms.
This, combined with the stigma surrounding mental illness in many communities, makes the burden of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues feels heavier; often it feels like taking a long sigh, yet there not being enough air to inhale.
Depression and anxiety affect people in different ways, symptoms are different and so are solutions. This is a simplified account of my own experience with it. For some medication helps, for others therapy. Engaging in radical self-care has been known to ease my symptoms, be it being in nature, having a support system, taking long baths or watching back to back episodes of Murder She Wrote.
Often when feeling depressed or anxious I push people away, something which can be quite common. It is compassion and patience from those around me during these times which can ease things, for their ability to give me this helps me to be compassionate and patient with myself.
What does your depression and anxiety look like? Mine is a tapestry of colour, blues and greens, amniotic fluid, surging around in waves, a still life painting come alive. A splash of red, monsters and mermaids, Warsan Shire’s poetry, Frank Ocean’s voice, my mother’s hugs, a stranger’s smile, a child fleeing war washed ashore, a young man giving his train seat up for a pregnant stranger, the laughter of my nieces.
Living with a mental health issue does not make me or you any less smart, funny, fierce, intelligent, beautiful or strong. This is not about bravery, it is not about failure or success. It just is.
So to anyone struggling with living with anxiety or depression, just remember I am too.
You are not alone.
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Featured image: Adi Sujiwo