You’ve heard the phrase “sweat like a pig” right? I like to say, “sweat like a boy.” I sweat like a boy. When I go to the gym I have to make sure one of their big floor fans is blowing on me, and I take my own little, personal fan that I can clip to the elliptical. I know, I’m a nerd. But I get hot, and I sweat, and it’s uncomfortable and gross and disgusting.
One thing that makes me sweat profusely is my social anxiety. Take this morning, for example. I went to a neighbor’s house to help clean. This sweet, sweet family has gone through so many trials and tough times lately, so some other women in my church and I went over to do some cleaning for them. I was really grateful for the opportunity to give service when I’ve had so much given to me the last couple of years. That didn’t stop the sweat.
The cleaning made me hot, anyway, and even though I was with these amazing, wonderful, friendly women my anxiety was bad. I’m so awkward around groups of people and my anxiety always takes over, making me feel so insecure and stupid and worthless—and it makes me sweat. So not only was I feeling more self-conscious than usual because of my anxiety, but it became a million times worse knowing my brow was sweating, my hair was sticking to my neck with sweat, and even though I’d showered that morning I wondered if I smelled bad. I wanted to dig myself a hole to crawl into and die. Why? Why sweat? And as soon as my anxiety dies down, I stop sweating and am totally fine.
It isn’t some earth-shattering thing that I have to go through with my anxiety—the sweat. But it is annoying and does add to the anxiety I’m already feeling and dealing with. So just know, if I’m sweating like crazy—even in a nice, cool house—it could be my anxiety, and maybe try not to be too disgusted. We’ve all got our things, right? Mine just happens to be uncomfortable, gross, disgusting sweat.
I just wrote about how hopeless things can be. Then I started thinking about how far I’ve come in regards to my mental health. If people could see where I was at twelve years ago, eleven years ago, ten, five, two—hell, even less than two years ago—I can say with confidence that they would be impressed! I have learned so much—from therapists, from books, from friends, from other bloggers. I have a better handle on my depression, anxiety and OCD because of what I have learned. I have grown so much, especially in the last two years. I have become myself again, and that is huge! I deserve to be proud of myself. I deserve to give myself credit for what I have accomplished. For those of you out there who are struggling, remember the good you have done, remember the good you have accomplished. Remember that and cling onto it with every ounce of strength you’ve got left!
Do you want to know the worst part about having mental illness? The fact that it prevents and destroys relationships.
It’s hard forming real, lasting relationships when you have mental illness. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience. So here’s my experience. If I’m standing by myself at a social gathering, looking around awkwardly or I sit down by myself at church and bury my face in my phone or—again—look around awkwardly, it’s not because I don’t like you or want to talk to you, it’s because my anxiety is so bad I feel like I’m about to puke. Be by myself or puke on someone? I’ll choose the former. But even though that’s the route I’ve gone in order to prevent myself from having a panic attack (and possibly losing my breakfast, lunch or dinner all over you) it doesn’t mean I WANT to be by myself. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want the distance. I want to talk. I want to interact. I just can’t always do it—because of my stupid mental illness. It’s like this thick glass wall. I can see through it, I know what I want, but I just can’t break through.
Even harder than not being able to form relationships is when mental illness destroys one that you somehow were lucky or blessed enough to form. It always becomes the wedge that splits, fractures and disintegrates relationships. Sometimes it’s because people can’t handle the illness. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t want to be burdened by it. Sometimes it’s because the person with mental illness refuses to acknowledge or do anything about it, and that’s on them. Oftentimes it’s because the mental illness overshadows who you are. It becomes all the other person can see, so they start formulating ways to fix it, to fix you. Of course they think they are “helping” you, but when the entire relationship revolves around your mental illness, it’s not longer about the relationship. Just because I have relapses doesn’t mean I’m not trying. It doesn’t mean I’m not using the tools I’ve received and used before for many years. Just because I say something in a moment of fear, panic, obsessive thoughts or depression doesn’t mean I’m speaking in absolutes. I’m just afraid, panicked, obsessing or depressed, and I simply need you to listen and reassure me that you’re there and that it will be okay eventually. Because eventually I will come out of the moment, and I will be okay again. I’ve lived with mental illness for most of my adult life and some of my youth. I recognize it, I know what it is, and I take responsibility for it—always.
But it doesn’t matter. As many times as I have believed a person is finally going to see me—just me, all of me, as me—my mental illness drives that wedge between us and destroys it.
I’m so tired of it. I’m so tired of this thing ruining so many good things in my life. I wish I could just cut it out of me, even if it meant scarring and maiming myself in the process. But I can’t. I have to keep living with it and all of it’s consequences. It’s hard not to be hopeless at times. But I know I’m resilient, I know I’m strong, and I know I can keep going and can keep improving. I won’t let mental illness take that away from me, even if it takes everything else.
My daughter had a panic attack today. My first thought was to tell her to calm down, that she didn’t need to cry, that she could be tough. Then I remembered how I react to others telling me those things when I’m struggling with my own depression, anxiety or OCD. It doesn’t help. Period. So instead, I sat next to her, put my arm around her, let her lay her head on my shoulder and my lap. I rubbed her arm and told her it was okay to cry and to feel sad sometimes. Eventually she stopped crying and was able to breathe normally again. I even had her laughing at one point.
So here’s the deal. If someone with mental illness trusts you enough to be honest in what they are going through or how they are feeling, just be there for them. Acknowledge what they’ve told you, give them a hug or a shoulder to cry on and tell them it’s okay for them to feel the way they do. I think our first instinct is usually to give advice or try to correct. Or worse yet, ignore. But those things don’t work. They only harm. Be kind. Be educated. Just be there. That is what helps, and sometimes that is all we need.
is usually what gets me these days. It is the demon I live with on a
daily basis. Depression does rear its ugly head in the winter as SAD
takes effect, and every once in awhile I’ll get down for a little
while, but for the most part I don’t get depressed a whole lot.
Until recently, anyway.
last couple of weeks depression has attacked me. I have been
painfully stumbling through life in that dark place, and I don’t
know why. That’s the thing about mental illness—there doesn’t
have to be a reason. It just is. It just happens. And I hate it! I
hate feeling this way. I don’t want to feel like I’m worthless. I
don’t want to feel like I’m inadequate. I don’t want to feel
like I’m not enough. I don’t want to feel like I’m a terrible
person. I try. I try hard to do what I’m supposed to. I try to feel
good. I try to feel happy. But I don’t. And I wish there was a
reason. If there was a reason I could fix it, or at least have a
starting point to work with. But there’s no starting point. And
there’s no ending point. It’s just a circle that sometimes,
luckily, is in the light, and sometimes, inexplicably, rolls on in
I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to be a good mom. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m supposed to be stable. I’m supposed to do what’s right for my kids; what’s best for them. I’m supposed to serve. I’m supposed to help. I’m supposed to teach my kids. I’m supposed to be a good example to the world. I’m supposed to always know. I’m supposed to put aside my own issues. I’m supposed to pretend everything is fine. I’m supposed to be happy. I’m supposed to be more. Sometimes . . . sometimes I am some of those things, when I’m feeling really good and strong and confident. Most of the time I am none of them. I am weak. I am scared. I’m unstable. I do what I can to simply survive moment to moment. I don’t do enough for my kids. I am anxious. I am depressed. I can’t stop my mind from turning, from obsessing. I am selfish. I cry at work in front of my boss. I hurt people I love. I make mistakes. I’m unsure. I am not enough. I am alone. And I hate how I don’t know what to do. So much of the time, I feel stuck, and I don’t know how to get out of it.
Walking through that door makes the blue a little lighter. She holds space as I gently spill. We sit, we talk - we water, dig and bury. Nurturing a shoot. Aiding it in light - to find its path through thorns - Malan Wilkinson