Kevin Breel is absolutely brilliant. I can’t get over his eloquence, his passion, and his representation of depression well hidden through fear of stigma. His is a clear and powerful voice for those living with mental illness. I wish him all the best.

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You have to find it yourself. No cheating. I’m certainly not going to help ya. Couldn’t if I wanted to. So many people claimed wanting to find it. They lied. They only wanted to have found it, and only then when they thought it would be easy to beat. I’ve stopped trying to show them. You won’t find it alone unless you already know the way.

***

Getting to know me beyond the surface persona is a lot like the Third Task in the Triwizard Tournament. People love the idea of finding the shining cup at the center of the maze, regardless of the traps and beasts set to guard it. It’s all a (relatively) safe, staged challenge. So they enter the maze, and most are kept away with the shift of a few hedges. Some make it a little deeper but send up red sparks at the first sign of anything more intimidating than shrubbery. Some show promise, but then they encounter a sphinx who sets a riddle too tricky and they would rather turn back than risk her attack. And then there are the couple of people who have actually made it to the center of the maze, reached out to take that shining cup they’ve dreamed of…

… only to come face to face with a resurrected Voldemort and an army of Death Eaters.

Run, as fast as you possibly can. Any sane person would. I’ll stay, in the nightmare of the graveyard, devastated but not surprised. Everyone forgets to take me with them when they run.

People want to tackle the maze if they need only to cast a few spells and be met with a winner’s trophy and celebratory feast on the other side. Everyone wants to help, but no one wants to fight. A person’s priorities are revealed when met with a challenge far greater than they imagined. Most want the champion’s prestige more than the victory and will readily sacrifice prestige when the opponent is too fearsome. The exceptions—the true heroes—exist, but they are nowhere to be found.

The southern US can be a lovely place. Holding doors, using ma’am and sir to address anyone older than you (and using those regardless of age when addressing customers), chomping at the bit to help a pack of wayward tourists and then sending them off with a robust “Y’all have fun!” We pride ourselves on being friendly. (Of course there are times when this doesn’t always apply, but come on. Work with me, people.) We’re just as friendly to each other, especially if, oh, let’s say you work in an area dominated by family-owned businesses and you pass the same people on the street morning, noon, and evening. You get that familiar-stranger vibe going with them. Or, you’re supposed to. I have social anxiety, and I can’t bring myself to make eye contact with anyone I pass.

A few times it’s been my boss. (Yikes.) I’m sure he thinks my behavior bizarre since I’m open and friendly at work. I’m comfortable there, so I can usually pull from the small well of extroversion I reserve for such occasions.

By now I’m sure you can tell I am not living with the worst social anxiety. I’ve only had two panic attacks in my entire life, and more often than not I can get to social events (and even enjoy them) rather than sitting home with my anxiety. For me, it manifests itself in the fear of others perceiving me negatively. That fear is so enormous that I have a filter on everything: actions, words, thoughts. For a long time I didn’t feel like I was living my own life. I was watching interactions, weighing options, executing commands, and analyzing the results. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s gotten much better in the past few years. (Thanks in large part to CBT.) However, it’s so engrained that there are things that may take a lifetime to change, one of those being stranger eye contact. Can’t find negativity where you don’t look, right? Wrong.

So, back to friendly interactions on the street. I always worry people will think I’m avoiding them specifically for [insert your insecurity or inflicted stigma here]. If they’re dealing with their own demons or body image issues or discrimination and they pass me on the street, do they think I see it too? Do they think my hunched shoulders and downcast eyes are intentionally shutting out a person I’d rather not see? That thought upsets and bothers me, even more so than the anxiety I sit with. That thought is what pulls my eyes upward. Some days they might only travel from a person’s shoes to their shoulder, or they just might meet the other pair of eyes. Some days that eye contact may only come with the smallest of strained smiles. And, every once and a while, that eye contact will be accompanied by a proper smile and a genuine “Good morning!”

While interpersonal interactions prod anxiety, they’re also the catalyst for change. I’ll keep trying in the hopes that one day I’ll forever embody the warmth of Southern hospitality.

So I missed nearly a month of posts because of a wedding, and then another wedding, and then because I’m an undisciplined ass. Come on, self! Get your shit together.

I’d intended my next post to be a frolicking romp through the joys and woes of living with social anxiety in the South. (Southern hospitality and being unable to meet a person’s gaze on the street do not mix.) However, I’m feeling particularly awful tonight, so that post will have to wait. Here’s another somewhat pointless rant.

It really is shit-tastic to have no one who understands what you’re going through. The internet is a phenomenal tool to bring together groups that have difficulty connecting in real life, but for some of us it can only do so much. I have some great friends online who can relate to my experiences with depression. They are fantastic and have helped me so much. However, there’s always something missing: verbal conversation, expressions, being located in the same physical space and not needing to communicate through a glowing screen. Those real-life bonds have historically been the most desirable and least attainable for me. Isn’t that just life? Le sigh.

In an ideal world I think there would be plenty of active social gatherings for people living with depression and every kind of mental illness. (Of course, an ideal world wouldn’t devalue and silence; it would embrace and support. The need to interact with people like myself might not be so great.) There would be a different vibe with social gatherings compared to support groups. The latter focuses solely on fixing the bad through group affirmation and experience sharing; the former would incorporate the same solutions through casual interaction, the formation of friendships outside of a clinical setting, and simply getting its participants out of the house and into a social setting where they wouldn’t be pressured to be “on” all of the time. If it took every ounce of themselves just to put on clean clothes and drag themselves down there, everyone would understand. They wouldn’t have to be sparkling and put together. They could be whatever version of themselves they could handle at the moment without the fear of judgment or the questions “What’s wrong? Aren’t you having a good time? Why are you so quiet?”

These are the things I think about alone on a crap night after a crap day.

Apologizing in advance for this rather long and ranty post that sort of flails about. I just have a lot of feels, y’all.

***

So. We’re gathered here today to talk about dealing with the ebb and flow of depression and how the outside world interprets (and often tries to invalidate) my experience. I’m not talking about a serious bout of depression. What I’m talking about is more akin to the beginnings of one of those bouts: that first second of momentum at the top of the roller coaster before you plummet. The one crucial difference from the analogy is that at this point in my depression, I can still choose to get off. I can hop the exit gate without ever having to take the ride. It all depends on whether I can motivate myself to do something that will bring the gears grinding to a halt. Exercise, a friendly face or party (sometimes), a patch of sunlight at an outdoor café, a wry British comedy, any of them may help. If I can convince myself to find or do these things, I can usually stop the ride.

That is what my depression looks like now for the most part. (At its worst, it was one miles-long coaster from hell.) I can’t always avoid it, but my skill in doing so has improved greatly over the years, and I’m proud of that. However, it has made confiding in others about my depression all the more difficult.

It was hard enough to tell anyone before as I’ve always been the hide-behind-a-happy-face-while-you-die-inside kind of person. Since childhood I’ve gone out of my way to avoid any display of “negative” emotions like sadness. I’ve never self-harmed, never abused drugs or alcohol, never concretely considered suicide. When you don’t exhibit any of these blatantly scary symptoms and you never let others see your despair and self-loathing, people apparently have a hard time believing you are depressed. Even after you finally decide they are ready to know, and you’re sure they will want to listen and help. Even when you set up a very private meeting, make it clear that you have something important to tell them, and they arrive wearing their most concerned and genuine face. (Because they are concerned and genuine. They are your friend after all.) Even after all that, and after you finally force the words out—“I feel so lost,” “I have depression,” “I’ve been seeing a therapist.” Even after your friend—who knows you so well, who always complains that you’re so closed off, who wishes you would confide more—hears this, they don’t believe. And God, does that hurt.

I had this conversation with two of the people closest to me, and seemingly all they heard was “I’m really, really sad right now, but it’s probably regular college life stuff. I just need you to pat me on the back and tell me everything will be fine.” I don’t now how they heard this. (And, being so hurt by their reactions, I never mentioned it again. They surely think I’m all fixed up now.) I sometimes wish I had a recording of what was actually said so I could see where I went wrong. But I know, deep down, it wasn’t anything I said. It’s society’s pinhole view of depression. I didn’t break down and sob, I didn’t show them the bodily remnants of self-harm, and I didn’t tell them I wish I were dead, so I must be a fucking ball of rainbows and sunshine, right? Media, pop culture, and the handful of public health programs aimed solely at suicide prevention don’t come close to the scope of mental health education we need. But, that is another post for another time.

***

 No post next week as I have a wedding to take part in. Yay, valid excuses!

Beth Evans is one of my favorite artists on tumblr. Her comics are always honest and (often hilariously) relatable. This one, though not hilarious, strikes a deep chord.

http://butthorn.tumblr.com/post/55885004257/a-mini-diary-comic-about-being-bipolar-click

Learning to live with mental illness will be a lifelong journey for many of us. There are days when we may not know how we’ll make it to the next waking minute. We must acknowledge what we are able to do, the fact that we have made it to that next minute, the fact that we are trying at all, the fact that we function or just plain survive when we feel so terrible. We should be proud of ourselves in those moments. Not a beaming pride, mind you: just a small glimmer of it. We are taking steps toward a healthier existence; we are not giving in to that which tears us down. And we should always try to remember that we will “get there one day.”

Thanks, Beth. Wishing you all the best.

Hello! I know it’s been a while. From now on I’ll do my best to post at least once a week. Discipline is key!

Much has happened since my last proper post at Thanksgiving, the most important of which being the sharp drop in the frequency and severity of my symptoms. I spent months working through the jumbled mess in my head: my failure to perform at my AmeriCorps position, the opinion of everyone and their mother on what I should do with my life, what I could possibly do with my life that wouldn’t end in misery. Once I decided to go back to the same school for my master’s degree, there was also a lot of time spent biding. Yep, biding. Biding my time until the moment when I would be back in the city I loved and away from the toxicity of other’s opinions. Not that I was surrounded by awful people. No, no, never think that. I’m just highly sensitive to what other people think, so much so that I may forget to check in with my own feelings and ideas. And of course that isn’t healthy, because the only person who will always know what’s best for me is me.

I think that’s the easiest (and cheesiest, most cornball) way to describe why my depression is simmering down. I’m becoming my own person. Finally. FINALLY. Twenty-three years late. But, to really become a proper human being, to really make it stick, I need a lot more time alone. The opinions of others really are my Kryptonite.

So! I’m back in school with a few classes this summer and a lovely apartment all to myself. I love being able to scream-sing along to my favorite songs, to screw up the simplest attempts at cooking, and to do whatever the hell I want without being forever concerned about what roommates or family members think of me. And I think little bits of authentic me are beginning to stick outside of the safety of the apartment. I see her in the little interactions I have with strangers on the street and in casual hangouts with my friends. I’m beginning to genuinely like this person. And that, that is good.

***

Next time on Depression SNAFU: When our heroine finds herself walking the murky divide between the darkest depths of depression and the hallowed heights of happiness, how will she cope with rejection on both sides? (Spoilers: She’ll probably do it with a somewhat rant-ish blog post.) Stay tuned!