Recently I have had a few people telling me that I am ‘strong’ for talking openly about this. ‘Brave’ to publicise my illness, and that this sort of thing takes guts.
In all honesty, I do not feel any of these. Strength, bravery and guts come from being left with no other option. If I do not talk about my invisible illnesses, how on earth can I expect those around me to understand that I am ill? I have spent years getting angry, upset and frustrated with being continually labeled as lazy, but in reality what is there to go on?
I am young, I look fit, and I look healthy. I make the effort to go out, and on the days that I know I can’t bear the pain or exhaustion I hide away so that nobody has to deal with it. To the outside world I am not obviously disabled – I am normal.
The fall out from this continual cycle of putting on a mask for the world is that you begin to feel low. I have struggled with depression for over 11 years, medication has been a life saver, but it can’t do it all. In reality as much as I do need that medication, I also have to change to survive.
Recently my mood dipped again – its a deep dark world inside the head of a person with chronic pain and chronic health conditions. Who wouldn’t get depressed if life day in and day out was painful, unpredictable and lonely? Who wouldn’t get depressed when being forced onto a different path from the one you have worked so hard to be on? Depression is a very reasonable response to chronic health conditions, both physical and mental illnesses.
Although I am low, I have also been in this cycle enough to know that I will bob up again, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I put things in place to keep me safe, and I force myself to engage in the outside world. Sure, staying in bed in a numb state or crying for hours on end are the things that I want to do, but I also know it does nothing to help me climb back into the light. This particular time I have gone so far to remove any spare medication from the house. That was a massive decision to make, but I know it was the right one. I felt extremely anxious without them (oddly they are like a safety blanket to me – both for pain and depression), but with the temptation out of the way it has given me some breathing space from the darker thoughts that I was having.
I also had to find something to motivate myself. It used to be dance that I ran too when I was depressed. It was the most amazingly wonderful hobby in terms of my mental health. Any anger or sadness got ploughed strait into a class, and as my whole attention was focused on how to get better, it gave me some wonderful time out, no matter how rough things were. Unfortunately I am far from able to balance on one leg, let alone be jumping around a dance floor now, and when I started getting low, I was also hit with just how much I have lost.
I knew I had to find yet another coping mechanism, and thankfully I have found and joined up to what is effectively a community pottery studio. I have a code for the door, and can go any time. The place is filled with absolutely lovely people, and everybody has welcomed me. The clay work is therapeutic, but what is most amazing is the sense of belonging that I never usually have. They take me as I am, and I don’t hide myself away – I can spend my time chatting and creating and bonding to people – this is the gem that will pull me out of myself and back into the real world once more.
Depression for me is always followed by change because I literally couldn’t stay alive if I carried on as I was. It is not something that I will be ashamed of, and it is not something that I hide – it forces me to keep pushing myself upward when everything else is pulling me down.
This is not a choice though. Talking about this is no longer just an option. If I want to beat this depression, to cope with the pain and build a life with my illness then I absolutely have to explain the invisible to those around me.
It isn’t strength – it’s necessity.