I’m learning to be honest with myself and others about the current state of depression I’m experiencing. I’m learning something else, too.
I used to believe that I can’t truly be of service to others who are struggling, if I’m struggling, too. Like somehow my brokenness and woundedness means I have no right and no basis for reaching out to help others who are experiencing struggles of their own.
It’s a “relapse” in my mental health recovery process, except it really isn’t. There’s an idea that being in relapse makes one’s knowledge and understanding of what recovery is somehow invalid and insignificant. However, when it comes to mental health, all it ever is is symptom management and a kind of remission. At least that’s true for me.
The brain, which is atypical, continues to be the brain it is. I was reminded of this a few months ago, when I was being very productive, feeling very good about myself, sleeping less than my already minimal sleep, and full of “grand ideas” about how I was going to go about changing my life and circumstances.
I’m as well medicated as I can be and still be cognitively and physically functional. However, I was concerned that I was experiencing a degree of hypomania. It was actually serving me in constructive ways, but, I couldn’t shake the worry that this would end like all the other times – of which there have been too many for me to remember over the past 40 years. I was fearful of the potentially impending period of depression that would follow. Especially considering that I was also entering my “traumaversary season.”
I expressed that concern to a trusted friend and mentor. He reminded me that, regardless of how well medicated I am or how many behavior modification methods and tools I have learned and acquired over the past five years, my bipolar brain, is still a bipolar brain. I needed to recognize that I may be experiencing hypomanic symptoms, but they weren’t anywhere near as severe as in the past and that the depression that might follow wouldn’t necessarily be as bad as in the past either. Plus, I do have tools and I have learned healthy coping strategies, as well as increased self-awareness.
There’s also an idea that experiencing symptoms means I lack the capacity to help others. As if being symptomatic is a weakness that, by definition, consumes all my functionality and diminishes my ability and capacity to do more than survive the symptoms.
To a degree, and in some circumstances, both of these things can be true, however, they aren’t absolute.
I am struggling with significant symptoms of depression. The depression is exacerbated by current circumstances and situations beyond my ability to control, but are inherently part of me and what I’m having to come to terms with. These things are emotionally and mentally exhausting and draining.
Yet, I’m still functioning. I’m not doing all the things that are supposedly normative for neurotypical folks: keeping a clean home, staying on top of nutrition, and generally sociable. However, I’m taking tax prep classes and attending them instead of giving up because the depression and overwhelm have gotten in the way of doing homework. I am still attending my Peer Support Specialist Training and being fully engaged with the class and processes, even when they trigger stuff. I’m still taking care of personal hygiene (mostly). I even followed through with a job interview and was offered a job.
I’m also in or near tears a lot of the time. I’m experiencing the negative voices/thoughts of self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-hate. I barely have the energy to do the things to care for my child and my dog, but I’m still doing them.
In the midst of all of this, through honest conversations, allowing the tears to fall and be seen by others, and sharing the struggles, others are letting me know that I’m helping them. They don’t feel so alone. Seeing me fight and recognizing the little “wins” offers hope and insight for themselves.
So, I’ve decided that if the depression, hypomania, and anxiety are going to fuck with me and my life, I’m going to put them to good use.