“Are you enjoying your time off?” asks the uninformed. A simple and kind query. However, if you are suffering from depression and are not capable of getting dressed in the mornings, let alone function in the work place, it’s like fingernails on a blackboard.
I am currently on week 4 of leave from work due to clinical depression. The first week, I slept, ate and drooled a lot thanks to an increase in my groovy medications. The second week was marginally better, except when I wasn’t sleeping, I was crying or eating my body weight in junk food. Last week was pretty good, I managed to get up and get dressed and actually see real live people (gasp!). This week – well, it’s early yet.
I have a sign on my desk that says ‘I am a recovering people pleaser – is that okay?’ – in other words, I have to work very hard to not worry about what others think of me. So, when someone asks me if I’m enjoying my time off, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and internally, I become very defensive, and, oddly enough – guilty. Now, I’ve always been very open about my bouts of depression, so, very patiently I explain why I’m away from work and that I’m doing everything I can to get better. Some people get it; others sort of give me the ‘stink eye’ – that look of scepticism that says ‘but you don’t SEEM sick’. I told one person that it would be much easier for me to have a broken leg, because people could see that. They can’t see my broken brain.
Mental illness is very real. It is painful, it is inhibiting, it changes relationships and it can be the complete undoing of a soul. I had a mother who suffered from depression, but she made it her identity; if she wasn’t depressed, then nobody would care for her. Yikes. I fight tooth and nail (and other bits) to ensure that I never wind up like that.
Now, I’m not one of those women who flings themselves dramatically onto a chaise lounge and declares loudly – ‘Oh, my I’m SO depressed, I just can’t STAND it.’ Nope, I’m more of the ‘Shit, my boss caught me crying under my desk, I guess I’d better come clean with him so he doesn’t think I’m a complete lunatic.’ Which is exactly what I did, and why I’m now sitting at home in my sweats, drinking too much coffee and watching daytime TV (that in itself, is depressing – seriously, how many times can Nikki and Victor get married on YNR?)
There is nothing specific that triggers depression (well, in my case). It just IS. It’s something that sneaks up on me like bad underwear and then one day – SNAP! The elastic unravels and I find my granny panties down around my ankles for the world to see. At the time, it’s humiliating, embarrassing and overwhelming. It takes everything I can to gather up what’s left of my undies (and my pride) and safely ensconce myself at home. My safe place. A place where I’m not judged. A place where I can just be me.
I should probably mention that I’m overweight. Actually, according to the medical profession, I’m obese. I’ve been fretting about my weight since I was six years old, when I was wearing a bikini bathing suit and running through the sprinklers in our front yard with my friends, when one of the neighbourhood boys called me ‘fatso’. That was 40 years ago, and I still hear that voice. My teen years, I was a healthy size 14, but I remember thinking that I was HIDEOUS. I mean, really…a size 14? I might as well have just shopped at Northwest Tent and Awning. As I’m sure you all know, the teenage years can be particularly cruel – but looking back, the cruellest person of them all – was me. “You’re ugly.” “You’re fat.” “You’re disgusting.” “No man is ever going to want you.” Oh my GOD, that record has worn a permanent groove in my psyche. It didn’t matter that my friends thought I was beautiful. I didn’t believe a man when he told me I was beautiful. I couldn’t believe those things from others, because I couldn’t believe them from me.
Welcome to the age of Facebook, where every second message is gooey, touchy feely and well sometimes, downright creepy. You can repeat mantras until you’re blue in the face – but if you don’t believe them – they don’t work. Well, they don’t for me, at least. I have a lifetime of shame and self hatred to muddle through – chanting ‘YOU ARE AMAZING’ to myself in the mirror makes me feel like and idiot (and then I usually find a wayward eyebrow that’s sticking straight up like it belonged to Ernest Borgnine).
This is a journey. I just have to find the proper place to start. I have no idea where I’ll wind up or if I’ll find my way out, but step by step, day by day, mistake by mistake…hopefully I can learn to see what others see in me.