I called in sick today.
I dread when I go back into work. Not because of the emails waiting for me, or the pile of work, or even the daily drama of the place, but because of the question, “what was wrong?” What am I supposed to say?
“I have Depression. Some days, I can’t get out of bed. It was one my dark days.” No. I can’t say that. Mental illness is either taken not seriously enough by minimizing one’s experience, or way too seriously in the form of whispers and rumors behind the ill one’s back.
“Oh, some days I don’t want to get out of bed either! Mondays, right?”
“I heard she is depressed. She doesn’t seem depressed. She missed work for it? Eesh.”
“You just need to change the way you think. You just need to think positively. You just need to take better care of yourself. You just need to find something you love.”
Depression is like a mold that latches on to the soft spots in my self-esteem and begins eating away at all my healthy parts until it feels like there isn’t much left of myself.
It sinks onto my chest, pressing down on my lungs until the moment swells enough to slide its way into my belly, making food unappetizing at best. It makes my arms and legs feel heavy and watery. It makes the line between me and the rest of the world stark and harsh. In the throes of Depression, I feel like I’m in the world, but not part of it. It seems like I am travelling the world encased in a glass box. I can see everything, but nothing really gets through to me. My own thoughts echo in the glass chamber and drown out any attempt to connect to the outside world. And the words of other people become my own thoughts and I find it harder and harder to find my own voice.
“You just need… You just need… You just need…”
It’s isolating, it’s painful, and it feels permanent.
The loving people close to me try to help by asking things like, “What triggered it this time?” Hormones, overwhelm, not enough rest, too much thinking, alcohol, bad memories, sickness, death, the change of season, summer’s oppressive heat, Big Life Changes… the list could go on. The truth is, I’m not really sure how much I buy into the whole “trigger” thing.
The human brain is inundated with information from the external world and internal world. The brain filters through this information, looking for patterns. In a “healthy” brain, the brain can take unpleasant, obsessive, socially inappropriate, and useless information and basically ignore it so that one can consciously pay attention to important patterns of information. This happens mostly unconsciously. In an “unhealthy” brain, unpleasant, obsessive, socially inappropriate information doesn’t get filtered the same way, if at all in severe illnesses. Sometimes, especially when I get tired, overwhelmed, exercise too little, have a change in hormones, or basically do anything that results in that filter getting “tired”, I get Depressed and/or Obsessive. Some days I need to rest so my brain filter can sort through the crap and catch up. It’s as though my brain’s immune system is run down. So, when I call in sick for Depression, yes I’m really sick. The mold has latched on and I need time and rest to be able to save the good bits of myself, to pick off the mold growing on my self-esteem and to heal the raw and newly exposed pieces of myself. Yes, I have simplified this by breaking it down, but make no mistake, episodes of Depression (and Obsession) are complicated and engrained.
I’m not sharing this because I want sympathy. This is not a cry for help. If I’m being honest, most attempt at sympathy from someone who doesn’t experience any form of mental illness tends to feel patronizing (though probably through no fault of one’s own).
I am not weak.
I don’t “just need to” do anything.
Don’t minimize my experience and please don’t ignore it.
I have a lot of shame around this. I have shame around my dark days, around my medication, around me calling in sick because, even though now as an adult I know how to best take care of myself, there is the part of me speaking VERY LOUDLY that tells me that I don’t deserve to be taking care of myself. I’m shining a light on that shame right now by writing this.
I see you, shame. And now so does everyone else who reads this.
As Glinda says to the Wicked Witch of the West, “You have no power here, be gone… before somebody drops a house on you, too.”
It doesn’t get rid of the Depression. Actually, over the years I have begun to regard my Depression as a misguided but well-meaning mold creature who is trying to point my attention toward something. What is really more painful is the shame around it. That shame keeps me from being fully authentic, and that gives the Depression mold a little more food.
I hope that by writing this, the shame surrounding it has a little less power over me.
I’m sharing this because I feel like maybe the only way I can make my own situation better is to share it. Maybe I’ll go to work tomorrow and maybe I’ll say, “I have Depression. I had my first diagnosis when I was sixteen years old. Some days are really dark.”