Mental Illness and Me

I have a few confessions.

First, the photo of myself above is a few years old. Save for the occasional grey hair in my beard and a bit more muscle from a new gym routine, I don’t think I’ve changed too much physically.  Mentally, though…that’s a different story.

Second confession: I have mental illness, and have been suffering from various forms for most of my adult life. The photo above was taken in between various depressive episodes that year, when I was trying anything and everything to feel better.  I had decided to take an acting class and, requiring headshots to apply, I called up a photographer friend of mine (thanks Kendell) and we set a date. Many of the photos on this blog are the results of that meeting.

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Here’s another shot.

The acting class, admittedly enjoyable while it lasted, didn’t help long-term. While I was becoming better at acting like everything was OK, it was just that…acting. I had learned techniques to portray myself as someone else, when I really wanted to be a better me and not feel the crushing effects of depression and anxiety.

More time would pass that year, and with it more attempts at feeling better. I tried yoga, meditation, various over-the-counter supplements such as kava and St. John’s wort, and good old natural vitamin D – getting outside as much as possible. I was playing soccer and basketball in various leagues, and doing well – whenever I could get out of bed, that is.

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Won a soccer championship that year. Go Albion!

Depression, to most people inexperienced with the concept, is feeling sad or upset or various combinations of negative emotions and that’s it. The thing that most people don’t tell you or know about depression and other mental disorders is just how difficult it is to get yourself going when you do find yourself in that state. You struggle to do ordinary tasks that the average person would do on autopilot. Getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, going to work…it’s all orders of magnitude more difficult when you’re suffering. On top of that, you know that whatever you are feeling is irrational, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling that way and you can’t shake it.

Your relationships also suffer. You become the friend that never wants to go out anymore, the son that doesn’t speak to his mom as often, or the boyfriend that doesn’t put in as much effort as he used to.  Putting everything you feel into words isn’t easy and sometimes feels impossible, so you eventually stop trying. You shut everything out, and most times just want to be alone.

If you’re sensing a trend here, there is one. Whether it be self-confidence, interest in various activities, relationships, or otherwise, I lost a lot when I went through bouts of mental illness.  I also found some things, though. I found strength to continue pushing through, and to continue working on myself. I found out who really was in my corner, and who wasn’t. More importantly, I found that – even though it was a part of me – I didn’t have to let my mental illness define who I was as a person.

If you’re reading this and are going through some things of your own, getting help and reaching out is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you want to get better, and are willing to try.  You at least owe yourself that.

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