I have often talked about my anxiety, and my continual effort to live with it, but I hardly ever talk about my battle with depression and suicidal thoughts, nor do I talk about what recovery means to me. These are things that weigh on my heart and on my mind daily, but I don't ever vocalize them for a variety of reasons.
There is still such a stigma around mental health issues, and it's never been more obvious to me than it is now. I have been extremely open and honest about my anxiety issues (largely because those are easier for me to reconcile with myself), and I still have so many people tell me to "stop being weird," or ask if I've "tried yoga," or wonder why I don't just "pray harder." In December, I read a book called Reasons to Stay Alive, thinking that it would be about literally anything else besides how one man patronizes everyone who takes medication to help with their mental illness because he was able to "exercise the depression away." The doctor who diagnosed me with anxiety didn't want to give me actual anti-anxiety meds because I was a twenty-one-year-old college senior and he was afraid I'd "sell them on the streets." Instead he gave me an anti-depressant because those are the same, right?
Every single time there is a mass shooting in this country, people want to pretend to be concerned about mental health, because God forbid we talk about guns. When this happens, it just solidifies this idea that the mentally ill are violent and dangerous, when that's the farthest thing from the truth. Studies have shown that even the mentally ill who are violent largely only harm themselves. Frankly, if we want to label every person who goes on a killing sprees "mentally ill," we have a lot of serial killers to let out of jail because they're not guilty by reason of insanity, right? No. The fact of the matter is, some people are monsters, and there's no convenient diagnosis to slap on them to make you feel better. Stop pretending to care about mental health, because we all know you care more about your guns than you do my right to go to work without wondering if I'm going to die today.
Okay, that got away from me a little. Back to the topic at hand. One of the reason I don't talk about my more serious mental health issues or my recovery process is because of the stigma. Another reason is because it hurts. Being vulnerable is an incredibly painful experience. It essentially requires you to rip your heart out and hand it to the world at large. Being candid about my mental health means dredging up a lot of memories I have intentionally buried because it's what I needed to do to survive. They're things I locked inside of myself because allowing them space to grow would mean allowing them to creep into every aspect of my life like ivy, until I could no longer disentangle myself from the darker parts of my life. In order to recover, I can't dwell; talking about my problems often feels like dwelling.
However, I can see that airing out the grievances with my life isn't dwelling because I'm recovering. Yes, I once tried to kill myself. Yes, I'm often held captive by my depression. Yes, I once had a two-hour-long panic attack at a frat party that was so intense it caused me to black out. Yes, getting out of bed is often a monumental task. Yes, going to work and dealing with teenagers is the absolute last thing I want to do most of the time. Yes, my mental health often leaves me so exhausted that my physical health declines. And while I spend a lot of time being frustrated with myself for thinking that little things like putting the sheets on my bed feel like climbing Everest, the fact is that I'm getting better.
The hardest part of recovery, for me, is that it is a never-ending process. It's not some discernible point you reach and boom you're all better forever. Instead, it's this sprawling maze with no real end goal in sight. My depression and anxiety will never go away; as hard as it has been for me, I've come to terms that they're a part of me. Recovery is very much a one step forward, two steps back kind of deal. There are days when I'm really productive and outgoing, days when I feel wholly myself. There are also days where I literally only get out of bed to take care of my dog and stare at my ceiling for hours, wondering if I hit rock bottom (for the record, though, the answer is always no; I hit rock bottom that time I tried to kill myself, and for all the bad I've dealt with since that day, I've never once gone back to that place).
I don't talk about recovery because it's messy and complicated and hard to articulate. It's hard to understand that making a phone call is a huge win for me. It's hard to grasp that not spending my weekends watching The Good Place on a loop is an accomplishment. These all seem like small things, and occasionally, they are. Most of the time, though, these are daily struggles that I have to get past in order to be functional.
I don't talk about recovery because it makes me feel weak, the fact that I have to recover from my brain's constant sabotage. I don't talk about recovery because when I say depressed, most people hear a little sad and a lot lazy. I don't talk about recovery because when I say anxious, most people hear a little stressed right now. I don't talk about recovery because it makes people uncomfortable; no one really wants to hear about that one time I almost took a handful of pills (also, no one really appreciates the depression humor that I deal almost exclusively in).
Mostly, though, I don't talk about recovery because I never actually feel like I'm getting any better. Objectively, I know that I am. I can understand logically that I've learned to cope with and manage my mental illnesses. It's reconciling my emotions with that. Emotionally, I feel like I'm still at step one. In my heart, I still view recovery as a fixed location that I may never reach. As always, I'm harsher on myself than the rest of the world. It's one of the many things I'm working on. Much like recovery, being kinder to myself is a journey, not a destination.