I often hear the Gnarls Barkley song Crazy in my head…“I remember when I lost my mind.” How many of us can say that they remember when they lost their mind? I can. I wish I didn’t, but I do. Perhaps I have always been prone to depression and anxiety, it is genetic after all. Perhaps it was my life circumstances of living through a war as a child, seeing a loved one die, or immigrating to a new country – whatever the reason, it happened. Losing control of ones’ mind is like losing control of your limbs, being stuck in one place: in a looped replay of the scariest, darkest, exhausting and most debilitating thoughts and emotions without the ability to move forward or run away. You can’t just snap out of it. You can’t “unthink” what is in your head, there is no undo, or reboot – just a constant struggle to climb out of the pit and maybe see the light.
My first episode of major depression and general anxiety was triggered by hormonal therapy prescribed to me to manage extremely painful primary dysmenorrhea. I was against it from the onset, partly because of religious reasons and partly because introducing synthetic hormones into my system didn’t really sound like the smartest idea. Either way, I took it and while it immediately helped with the pain, it also just as fast took control of my mind. I did not recognize myself. It was as if someone turned on the depression switch and nothing I did helped lift the darkness. I was in so much pain. Yes, depression really does hurt. I needed to use my hands to lift my legs out of bed. I simply did not want to move and when I did it was with more effort than I can describe. I had no interest in life and I was completely OK with never waking up.
I remember walking through downtown Toronto on my way to St. Michael’s Cathedral. As I passed by a scaffold I purposely slowed down, hoping it would fall on me and put me out of my misery. Luckily, this did not happen. However, what did happen was a moment of realization, likely through the grace of God – that something was seriously wrong with me. I needed help and I needed it fast.
While I did stop the hormonal therapy about two months in, the effect of going through such a traumatic mental experience haunts me to this day. Over the past five years, I have had a number of recurring episodes, often combined with paralyzing general anxiety and even OCD. The fear of depression often triggers a new episode, which then turns into a viscous cycle. Almost five years from my first breakdown, I am currently going through severe post postpartum anxiety after the birth of my second child and I am really, truly struggling.
Depression is an isolating illness. Sufferers feel hopeless, helpless and alone. We often feel like a burden to our friends and families so we keep our thoughts and struggles to ourselves. Because of my mental illness, I have in the past been labeled everything from negative and anti-social to passive aggressive – all labels that are rooted in personal and perceptual biases of individuals who find it easier to just slap an inaccurate label on a fellow human being rather than offer the benefit of the doubt or a kind word. It is what it is though; I don’t feel that I need to explain to everyone that as positive and optimistic as I’d like to be, sometimes my brain will just not allow it. I’d like to find someone out there who lived through a war as a child who doesn’t have moments of negativity or pessimism flow through his or her mind.
My depression episodes and ongoing general anxiety have deeply affected many of my relationships. Mental illness tears families apart, it infuses tension into every facet of sufferers’ lives and affects our ability to truly connect with others and most importantly enjoy life. Unfortunately, many of us who suffer are too busy trying to survive and fight for our minds and lives every second of every day to be able to take the time to invest in personal relationships that extend outside the circle of immediate family. Someone who has never experienced mental illness truly cannot relate and it’s not fair to expect that they should; but relatability is secondary to compassion and empathy, something we all as humans are morally obliged to show one another. No questions asked, no judgments passed, just love and compassion.
I am fully aware that I will never be “normal” again. I know that for the rest of my life I will deal with recurring episodes of varying degrees of intensity and devastation that can last for months at a time. However, I also know that having a support system of people who will not judge you, no matter how crazy your thoughts might be, is critical. If you are going through something similar, no matter what the trigger, no matter what the reason just know – I understand you and millions of others who suffer from a form of mental illness understand you. It is devastating but it can be OK, and eventually it will be OK.
If you need someone to talk to or know someone who needs help, make sure to check out the following sites.