Happiness is not a choice, no matter how many times you tell me that it is.
You know how I know? About once a year I step into wet cement . I keep walking, struggling, until I’m up to my chest before I realize that I can hardly breathe anymore. In less metaphorical words, there are days (weeks, months) where I am not-so-mentally-healthy. It’s been about seven years now and the pattern is always the same.
First, I start to forget little things. My thoughts begin to slow way down and I find it difficult to sustain a train of thought. Work becomes difficult. Not long after, I struggle to get out of bed. My commitments begin to feel overwhelming. Work becomes even more difficult. I begin to get irritable; I think everyone else is simply getting more annoying… because it’s definitely not me. I start to misinterpret everything as being malicious and I stay irate for hours, even when I am thinking, “You really shouldn’t be this mad about that.”In turn, socializing becomes more difficult. (Props to my boyfriend for dealing with this better than anyone else ever has.)
Within the next couple weeks my thoughts begin to change. Instead of being excited for people to read what I write, I start to think, “Why would anyone care what I have to say anyway? They probably all just think I’m a narcissist. Am I really conceited enough to think that people care what I think?” Or “How have I convinced people that I am a worthwhile person? Things are about to come crashing down all around me.” (Actual thoughts I have had.)
I start to think in repetitions that are so uncontrollable that I have to speak out loud to force my mind to something else. Anything else. I begin to feel slighted constantly and judged by everyone. I lose my ability to handle stress and I start to get headaches. My whole body aches. I can’t keep commitments because I feel overwhelmed, and then I get anxiety from my lack of dependability.
And this is the point that I realize something is wrong. Depression is a sneaky bastard.
This is also when people start to notice, when people start asking if I am okay, if I am sick.
This is when my boyfriend begins to understand that mental illness is really really real, and that depression isn’t caused by circumstance. This is when he sees the value of medication.
And this is also when naïve but well-meaning people start hurling “encouragement” at me.
“You just have to choose to be happy!”
“It’s always darkest before the dawn!”
“You just need a distraction!”
But instead of inspiring me, each one carves a little more out of me. Happiness is choice? So what is wrong with me? It must be my fault. How can I find a distraction when my mind is three steps behind what is happening in front of me? I can’t even read a book and follow the plotline.
Objectively I know there is nothing wrong in my life, which also kind of makes it worse. I should be happy. Still, regardless of the frantic thoughts clawing their way through my brain, my body feels like it has melted into the floor. I lie there without moving for hours. One sentence repeating continuously. Sometimes it’s something arbitrary, like a line from a movie. Sometimes it’s something that was said to me that day or ten years ago. Sometimes it’s my own self-immolation: “No one is going to love you after this.”
And for me, this lasts for a month—two weeks for the worst of it—until I go back on medication and I feel better. I stop taking meds another two months later because, “it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I overreacted.”
In August I get high, high, high. I sleep less, I am lot more productive, and I sign up for all the things that will overwhelm me in March. My mind is sharper than a diamond and I have the unjustifiable confidence of D. Trump. This is the divine comedy that is my life.
Now, I finally have someone holding me accountable to taking my drugs. I haven’t blown off the top of the chart yet (and it’s the beginning of August!) so apparently they are working. All I know is that I dread November every year because it marks the beginning of a white-knuckled downward spiral. The end of daylight savings is like a checkpoint for my mood, and I know something up ahead might kill me.
But it has been long enough now that at least I can brace myself for it, if nothing else. I know now that feelings eventually dissipate. And now I can talk about it because I know what it is. People I talk to don’t usually understand it much, but that’s okay. That’s what I would rather hear from them. Nothing is more demoralizing than someone saying, “Yeah I was depressed last week when my dog went missing.” No, you weren’t.
And now I wear a jade necklace because it’s a Mercury stone. I know it means nothing—I don’t believe in the “power” of stones and crystals—but as someone who is profoundly mercurial, I find the symbolism to be poetic. And I write to keep my mind in order. I have been writing since I was in fourth grade, so it has always steadied me. I know that sometimes I see things through a lens that is clouded (and occasionally one that is tinted rose), so it helps to have a healthier-minded Allie contained in an old notebook.
In the end, I’m not sure why I am writing this. It’s not going to do anything good for me and it could actually be rather damaging, but maybe it will help someone else. Maybe it will clear up a little bit of misperception. Maybe it will reduce a tiny bit of stigma. Here’s hoping, at least.
So, anyway… that’s that.