A Picture of (Mental) Health.

There is nothing quite so demeaning as being crippled by depression; your body flopping into a horseshoe across your bed. Unsure if you’re going to vomit, or if you’re going to die; awash with pure exhaustion, the kind that is syrupy and unavoidable. You want to sleep like you’ve been clubbed in the head. Sometimes I lie there perfectly still, staring at a tiny crack in my white ceiling, and see how long I can hold my breath for – daring myself to do it just a little bit longer this time – before eventually rolling out of bed, ready to crawl through the day ahead.

Today you’re serving ‘hot from a distance’; a look that’s brimming with CBA. The amount of effort required for you to resemble a human of moderate levels of attraction, rather than a pile of unloved sludge, is astronomical – and ultimately pointless. As anyone with depression will tell you, when you’re having a low day you look like utter shite, regardless of what you’re wearing. Your view of yourself is smothered with layer-upon-layer of impenetrable self-loathing. Those days are the worst. The ones where you want to heap an additional block of cheddar on top of your already ludicrously cheesy macaroni. You want to inhale everything that your diet forbids, then hate yourself for it later. All you need to do is limp through today; all you want is to get better. But instead you’re ripping off outfit after outfit as you stare at your bloated, putty-grey reflection in the mirror. You know, on some level, what you’re wearing, or what you’ve ate, isn’t the issue – but it isn’t as easy changing how you think and feel as it is to switch up your outfit or alter your diet.

If glimmering mental health is the goal then what, you may ask, are you doing to achieve it? Well, for one thing, I hauled my fatigued-ridden ass out of bed this morning – that itself is an achievement. I tend to my mental health like I would an herb garden: grudgingly and in a chore-like way, but secretly I marvel when something beautiful starts to blossom. It’s all about finding little remedies that assist in fending off those ‘lower’ days and dedicating the right amount of time into practising them. I wish I could embody the traits of every secretly depressed character you see in films; the ones that are chipper and motivational. That always spit out funny remarks and act like nothing bothers them, but then collapse in a self-loathing hump at the end of the day, bed-ridden and fractured. Licking their wounds like a beaten dog. However, in real life, people tend to wear their depression on their sleeve; like it’s a regrettable and embarrassing tattoo they cannot cover up.

Depression, my depression anyway, doesn’t work the way it does in the celluloid world.  It’s not glamorous or beautifully heart-breaking. Shows like 13 Reasons Why romanticise mental illness, and that’s not an accurate portrayal of what it’s like; not for me, and not for anyone else I know that suffers from it. The show is an irresponsible dramatisation of suicide – particularly for teenagers. Sure, it paints a fairly accurate picture of the insecurities and the issues teens can face, but ultimately it discourages empathy toward suicide. I’ve even seen tweets asking when the second season is airing. If you were to spend even a minute looking at a person who has those thoughts in the eyes you’d see they are windowless and bleak. You’d gain some traction into what it is they are really feeling. The person may be harbouring suicidal thoughts, but still manages to function, but only at a very basic adult level. When all they really want – all I really want – is to dive under the covers and patiently wait for the storm to pass or for the world to implode. Instead I – we –  get up and get ready for work. Some days I count the hours until I can go back to bed, or think about feigning some sort of physical injury; I pray for a stomachache, just so I can go home but still get credit for being a hard worker. You may have been in this manic episode for four days or four months; you honestly don’t remember. When you feel like this time is condensed into a single unhappy image, one you’re desperate not to look at anymore, but you’re unable to see passed this current spell of misery.

Throughout high school I had irregular and hideous mood swings. I’d say my symptoms were more severe than a mild-irritant at times and since my early teen years I’ve it found hard to uncouple looping thoughts of doom and crippling anxiety from the devout belief that this is, somehow, all my fault. Like 13 Reasons Why, I did toy with the idea of leaving notes and messages for people that had a hand in beating me down. Unlike the show though, potential notes weren’t achingly touched up by Hollywood glamour. I thought about taking my life and imagined the reaction of everyone at my funeral; how sad they’d be, how guilty they’d feel – especially those who bullied me – over pushing me to the brink of self-destruction. What the show doesn’t illustrate is that these thoughts are severely toxic. Wanting to end your life whilst simultaneously inflicting hurt upon those who wronged you isn’t a healthy mindset; nor is it one I feel should be used for entertainment purposes.

I’ve been on anti-depressants for nearly half my life – how insane is that? My mood has been dictated for years in an almost tyrannical way by medication – it makes you wonder if you’re even yourself anymore. It started during a period where I actively wanted to be unhappy. Being sad was a shiny cool image and I wanted to adopt it so badly. My friends were miserable, and so was I; we were alone together. But then something happened; they started to grow into happier creatures, with ambition and direction. They stumbled into real relationships, ones that promised to grow in a real, tangible way. All the while I found myself paralysed. Firmly rooted to the ground on which I had planted my misery. I was stuck, and that’s when I started to notice my misery was a little bit different than that of my peers. After a very potent and very damaging heartbreak, I was unable to pick myself back up; that’s around the period where I started treatment for my depression, but because I found being sad weirdly familiar, kind of comforting, it was hard to shake it off. Depression was heaped on me like a sodden coat on a summers day. If I had someone to talk to during my depression’s infancy, then my life would have perhaps gone down a less rocky path.

From what I’ve seen of friends that suffer from depression, their journey isn’t unlike mine. Rather than assign someone to help you dig deep into the trenches of your mind and conquer the under lying issues, most doctors seem content to just hand you pills and call it a day. For some people that does solve the issues, but for others, myself included, their needs to be more focus given. Just because someone hasn’t self-harmed in years or attempted suicide doesn’t mean the thoughts and urges aren’t still lurking in the back of their mind, threatening to boil up at any moment. But we can’t talk about that, can we? We can’t talk about desires of throwing ourselves in front of cars or discuss the allure of taking ten pills too many. Instead people are left to suffer that kind of hazy, mentally-aching, embarrassed sick that makes even bingeing sixth-season Friends a nauseating chore.

It was during a recent episode of bottomless misery I started searching for destructive traits I execute during a depression flare up. Less damaging ones include changing my wardrobe, or how I wear my hair – bleaching it until it turns to straw. I stay in more, I leave nights out earlier, I sleep a little bit longer. In the past the most notable one, and it’s one I’ve written about a lot, was my taste in men – and I feel this is applicable to a lot of people I know with depression.  I liked my men how I liked my dogs – broken, afraid of commitment and completely alright with me being obsessed with them. Those guys with voices that could melt butter, but also scare a small child depending on their mood. I wanted guys that didn’t fully want me; I would lie awake and fantasise about them competing to get me; fighting for my love via a mixtape battle. It would never work out like that, and that’s why I wanted it so badly. As if it had worked out, I’d have lost interest within a week.  Depression tells you nobody will love you, and as such you actively seek someone who won’t. I’d do anything for someone to just flick a switch and completely shut the mindset off or, at least, explain in intimate detail why I thought and felt (sometimes still do) like that.

It was a relief to end that period of my and go back to seeking happiness, just as it was a relief to realise that there is nothing shameful about suffering from a mental illness, but it took over a decade to get to this place. It has taken years of undivided attention; of trial and error methods and different medications to get to the point where I know it’s not normal to feel this down, but to also be armed with knowledge that it is chemical and will (eventually) pass.

The relief offered by pills is that you really don’t care – the crushing guilt that you aren’t living your life to its full potential is replaced with the cheap and dull satisfaction of not wanting to hurt yourself. Still there’s this thudding sense that something else is wrong; an equation the pills can’t quite solve; an avenue that wasn’t explored back at the start: Therapy. I can’t help but feel that if I had been offered the proper support all those years ago, then I wouldn’t have had to depend on medication in such a crutch-like way. I understand that the waiting list to see a professional is long; I also appreciate there are other issues, an amalgamation of lack of NHS funding and indifference by some doctors being the most prominent.

As glad as I am that mental illness is being given some spotlight, with social media and being a recurring theme in TV shows, I’m fearful that it’s being illuminated in a way that younger people will see it as alluring, entertaining almost, when it really isn’t. There is nothing glamourous about suicide. Serperate entertainment from educational. My advice to anyone who feels like this: Talk to someone. Depression is a dark and lonely place, and it doesn’t add character – it breaks it.

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