“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
“The thing you are most afraid to write, write that.”
I stumbled upon these quotes some time ago, and they immediately and lastingly resonated. For I have so many things I want to write, but I sit down to actually write those things and…
And I think the thing that probably terrifies me most to write about is living with mental illness. Not just the fact that it is a personal struggle of mine, but what that personal struggle actually looks and feels like.
Then I recently came across this post from Bored Panda, detailing a series of tweets by Pauline Palita, a young visual artist and mental health advocate, explaining why depression makes people so tired, and, well…
Quite a bit.
Because really, it’s fucking bizarre to read something written by someone else that so perfectly describes your life. It’s at once triggering, especially when discussing something like mental illness, but also comforting to be reminded yet again that you’re not alone in your experiences. Not everything she notes applies to me, of course, as mental health struggles can be as individual as the souls battling them, but much of it was, sadly, super spot on–especially when she explained that one of the reasons depression makes people so tired is that they are in a constant war with their own brain, battling their own thoughts and fears as their brain all day, every day tells them they basically fucking suck at life and will never, ever get anything right.
And for me, this battle is also joined by the relentless forces of pretty fucking crippling social anxiety, insanely insidious oppositional defiant disorder, plus several chronic medical conditions like IBS, recurrent diverticulitis, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, vertigo, blahblahblah. And since these things are all astonishingly exhausting themselves, well…
You get the idea.
And not only is actually dealing with all of this exhausting, just thinking about it is fucking exhausting, meaning talking about it can be beyond exhausting. So those of us struggling just often tend not to, meaning the phrase illustrated in the tweet series above absolutely becomes a go-to: I’m fine, just tired.
It’s certainly not untrue the vast majority of the time, but obviously doesn’t really touch on anything of substance relating to the constant struggle. But it is easier, for me and for the person asking–because you know what else is tiresome? Being constantly confronted by someone who’s not fine. And I get it. I do. Most people simply don’t know how to react or what to say. If they’re of the caring type, they really do feel bad for you and really do want to help in some way, but the litany of (often useless and overused) suggestions or placating phrases get really old and the interactions quickly move from simply unhelpful to downright frustrating. So we learn to use the catchall of just being “tired” since most everyone can relate to that, and we stuff our reality so as not to let our mental and physical exhaustion infect anyone else.
Keep that shit to yourself, right?
Except, of course, keeping that shit to ourselves leads us further into isolation, especially for someone like me, a SAHM of young children who spends so much time alone as it is. And that isolation just further compounds the problem because at that point, it’s just me and my brain, and I don’t know about yours, but my brain is a total fucking dick much of the time. I mean, I like my brain in many respects and spend lots of time just sitting and thinking about various and sundry things and making connections and coming to realizations because my brain is inquisitive and creative like that.
But it’s also a liar, my brain, a relentless, spiteful lying liar who lies, and its been working overtime the past few years.
So what does life look and feel like for a late-30s SAHM of five-year-old twins dealing with depression and anxiety (and a bunch of other obnoxious physical and mental crap)?
Well, I’ll tell you, because although the thought terrifies me, I’m doing it anyway.
My brain never shuts up. Like, ever. And when it’s not coming up with new ideas for a blog post I’ll never actually write or finish, or ideas for my book that’s still, many years after inspiration first struck, in the very beginning stages of being written, or a new DIY project that will never get past the planning stages, or contemplating the ways in which a farcical adherence to Christian “principles” and “morality” have royally fucked this country, or mulling the fascinating concept behind thermoluminescence, it’s attempting by force to make me believe all these things that are demonstrably untrue. Things like “nobody likes you, not even the people who seem to, not even the people who say they do,” and, “you are fat and hideous and disgust people,” and, “your thoughts and opinions don’t add anything of value to anything and people who hear them just think you’re obnoxious and arrogant and misguided,” and, “why the everliving fuck can’t you simply keep the house clean like normal people do?”
That last one is on a constant loop in my head, in fact, and applies to much more than just cleaning the house. Why can’t you get anywhere on time like normal people do? Why can’t you remember anything like normal people do? Why can’t you create routines and stick with them like normal people do? Why can’t you find and hold a job like normal people do? Why couldn’t you finish college like normal people do? Why can’t you regularly bring your kids out to fun events like normal people do?
And even when I do find some motivation and determination to actually “do something like normal people do,” like, say, the dishes, the negative self-talk and self-loathing bump into overdrive: Oh, my fucking gods, this is a fucking disaster situation. How did it get this bad again? Didn’t I say I’d never let it get this bad again? There is an entire, disgusting new ecosystem growing in the godsdamn sink. This is going to take forever to accomplish. Where am I even supposed to start? Why do I do this? Oh, right, because I am a horrible, awful, lazy piece of shit person who doesn’t even deserve to have a clean house in the first place.
Cue me running to the bedroom to hide under the covers and sob until I fall asleep from the sheer exhaustion of constantly being belittled by my own asshole brain.
My anxiety also keeps me from leaving the house. And I don’t just mean leaving the house to run errands or do school drop-offs and pickups or other very necessary activities (for which I generally have to sit for a minute after parking and give myself a pep talk before leaving the relative safety of my car). I mean I often can’t even bring myself to walk out of my own fucking front door, where there are likely to be people walking by or neighbours in their own front yards or cars driving by. This means the farthest I will bring a trash bag from the kitchen is to the porch just outside the front door, even though the cans are a dozen feet away on the driveway. It means if I forget to bring something in from the car, unless it’s something I need immediately, I leave it there till the next time I actually have to use my car, or at least until it’s dark. It means I rarely if ever do yard work, wash my own car, or actually sit on the porch while my kids play on the driveway (I keep an eye/ear on them through the open front kitchen window when they do bikes/scooters/chalk, and actually really like the free-range childhood aspect of it anyway, so win-win).
Why, you might be wondering? Well, enter my stupid brain and its asinine thought processes. Because if I go outside, then people might see me. And what might happen if people see me? Well, they might see me and wonder why I’m in my pajamas at noon, or why I seem to be home all the time. And then they might look at my severely unkept yard and filthy car and wonder why, if I seem to be home all the time, I never seem to actually do anything around the house or yard. Or they might notice how fat I really am right now, or how I’m not (ever if I can help it) wearing a bra. OR, horror of horrors, they might want to TALK TO ME. And then if they want to talk to me, I’ll have to TALK TO THEM. And then I’ll have to quickly flip my “ON” switch so that I can have a proper “friendly neighbour” conversation with them and do lots of smiling and joking and not reveal that I am actually SCREAMING on the inside that I just want to go back into my house as quickly as possible and lock the door.
Totally reasonable, right?
Communicating with others becomes really hard in general when you’re in a “churn” (a term from one of my favourite sci-fi series, The Expanse (READ IT, WATCH IT), used to describe a scenario in which the rules of the game change and it’s every man for himself, but which I now borrow to describe a cycle of intense mental illness because it’s so apt, in my opinion). I don’t answer the phone 99.5% of the time. At this point, I don’t even listen to messages unless it’s one with important info I absolutely need. I’m better with text and email, but they come with their own issues, mostly that just knowing I’m expected to respond stresses me out, so I avoid it for as long as possible (sometimes forever), and if I do respond, I overanalyze and edit and reread the fucking thing dozens of times, even if it’s one simple line. Then comes the stress of worrying that it won’t be well-received for whatever fantastical and assuredly untrue reason my brain has come up with, or that it will lead to further interaction or even requests for face-to-face get-togethers, for which I often can’t even contemplate the energy required to successfully plan and manage, especially if they involve my children, because holy shit, children.
And I’ve missed quite a few serious events and family gatherings over the past few years because, in the midst of attempting to soldier through and just get on with it already like normal people do, I’ve found myself dry-heaving over the toilet in full panic attack mode at just the thought of socializing for some number of hours with a group of people, any group of people, even beloved family members. The energy it takes for me to get ready for a social event–during which I will have to shower (which is like an every-few-days event for me at this point because simply willing myself to shower often takes supreme effort) and shave and do my hair and makeup and find something to wear, a routine that will bring up massive feelings of self-loathing because I have gained so much weight the past few years and never have anything decent to wear because I rarely shop for clothes anymore because looking at the tags and their numerical designation makes me want to vomit–is fairly extraordinary, let alone getting myself to the point where I can actually attend said event.
And I think this aspect of my experience with depression and anxiety is especially confounding to people who know or have met me because I am AWESOME in person. That “ON” switch I mentioned? That bitch goes up to fucking 11. Once it’s flipped, I can and will chat up anyone about anything, anywhere. I’m ridiculously engaging and gregarious and witty and empathetic, and it all comes as naturally as breathing. I’m that overly-friendly stranger chatting up store employees and waving and smiling at other people’s children and complimenting the woman in line in front of me on her awesome purse and offering to reach things for short people and saying hello to everyone I pass walking down the street on the rare occasions I actually do that. I can’t seem to not do these things.
I’m fucking EXHAUSTED.
And dude, I haven’t even gotten to addressing how my chronic pain and illness contribute to all this. I suppose for now you’ll just have to imagine if you like how rarely feeling physically 100% also affects my energy levels, as well as my mental health itself.
So if you know me and have been wondering what precisely I’ve been up to recently, as I’ve seemingly fallen off the face of the planet, or are just coming across my writing and curious to know more about my current state of being, here you go.
I’m fine, just tired.