I don’t understand how living in a world of opportunity so many people still find themselves thinking they’re victims of so much injustice and misfortune. It’s almost as if the more opportunities people have the more blind to them they become. I don’t want to be so disconnected from knowing the privileges in my life that I can’t see how much opportunity I possess. I don’t believe life is easy for anyone, but I also won’t stand for people dwelling in their own self pity as they type overly dramatic things into their iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid to broadcast over Twitter. First World problems need a First World reality check.
“Because if this is gonna be a Christian nation that DOESN’T help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”—Stephen Colbert (via technipol)
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a mental illness as a student. School has been and continues to be a double-edged sword. My fragile self-esteem is built up by earning good grades, but is just as easily crushed by mediocre grades and slightly condescending criticism. I sometimes forget having depression means I have a disability, albeit a hidden one. I wish I could say the same about the stigma surrounding mental illness.
I’ve come to realize in the last few days I have put an inordinate amount of investment into academics. But why? I trace these feelings back to being so crippled by depression in high school I would need to sleep for 16 hours a night on weekends to recuperate. The extra activities and classes that competitive schools demanded on their applications simply weren’t an option for me. I could manage making good grades, but anything beyond studying and the odd service hour was too much. It didn’t help that I felt like I was a drift mentally in high school and only a handful of people even noticed, let alone acknowledged I may need help. Since my depression is caused by some ill-paced dance between my neurotransmitters and a genetic predisposition, I blame myself. Subconsciously I believe if I’m able to appear normal and successful on the outside the internal will align to my ideal: emotional equilibrium.
Yet once again I find myself pouring and obsessing over work that won’t matter a year from now because school is so much of who I’ve been. It’s been one of the few constants I’ve had since approximately 1993…something I could always wrangle and manage one way or another. Then again, there were the places where I faltered academically. The sting of my 8th grade algebra teacher’s comments on why I wasn’t qualified to continue onto Geometry in high school can still bring tears to my eyes nine years later. It probably was a preliminary trigger to my breakdown six months later.
I’m lucky enough to be able to function as well as I do, but sometimes I wish I could ask for accommodations without feeling shame or having to produce inappropriate amounts of “evidence” of my mental illness.
I wish someone had told me. I wish someone had told me that I had a disease. This disease has no cure. This disease can be fatal. I will fight this disease until the day I die. Some days will feel healthier than others, but this disease will never fully go away. This disease is a disability that very few people will consider to be legitimate. No one ever said these things to me. Instead they told me at 13 years-old that I was depressed and prescribed me medication I do not believe I will ever stop taking.
I wish someone had told me that it wasn’t my fault. People love to say that I am depressed because I am not exercising enough or not eating right or watching too much TV. I wish someone had told me that it is the other way around; it is my depression that causes me to eat junk, lie around all day and watch daytime talk shows and infomercials instead of doing homework or going out with friends. If someone had explained this to me I would not have had to carry the guilt of causing my own illness. Then I might have felt less helpless.
I wish someone had told me that depression is not simply being too sad to function. Sometimes I function just fine even when I feel my worst. But sometimes I find myself physically unable to move, like someone has pumped lead into my veins and made all my limbs unbelievably heavy. I am exhausted all the time, I get chronic headaches and backaches, sometimes my hands shake uncontrollably, sometimes I am nauseous for hours at a time and sometimes I throw up. My immune system refuses to fight a New England winter and I always have a mild to moderate head cold. These are all symptoms of my depression. These are all elements of a disease. But no one told me that. I just thought I was lazy and a hypochondriac.
I wish no one had ever said that I would feel better in a few weeks. I wish no one had pretended that this would eventually go away. I wish no one had suggested that the pills were magic and would heal me. Over the years I have had many, many doctors, some of whom were fantastic and helpful. I can probably credit a few with saving my life. But, while rarely coming right out and saying it, everyone implied that if we found the right combination of therapy and medications and diet and exercise and sleep patterns then the depression might leave my life forever. I now realize that it is not pessimistic or fatalistic or admitting defeat to say that I will never be cured or healed or fixed. My depression shows up year after year, after medication changes and life changes, and it has been hard not to view this as a failure. To instead prepare myself for the reality of coping with a debilitating disease for the rest of my life is to save myself from the annual despair of still being sick.
More than anything I wish someone had told me I have a disability. Now it makes sense. I am unable to get out of bed in the morning, I am unable to complete everyday tasks, I am unable to do school work, I am unable to do anything but watch TV and cry. I don’t say that for pity; I know it paints a pathetic picture. It’s just a reality of my life. But so much guilt and stress and shame and disgust with myself could have been avoided if only someone had validated me with the label of disabled. I wish I had known that Disability Services on this campus is set up to help with depression. This is legitimate, this is real, and I am far from the only one who suffers like this.
When I reflect on my years of living with this disease I cannot help but feel like things could have been different. The only way we can make the lives of depressed people more livable is by taking away the shame and stigma. If I knew in advance that missing weeks of class due to my failing psychological health would be treated the same way as missing weeks of class due to mono, I would be more inclined to just let myself stay in bed instead of dragging myself through the increasingly difficult and stressful process of facing the world. My depression might not get worse and worse under the weight of all the responsibilities I am unable to fulfill. I might be able to be upfront with my teachers and bosses about where I am and what I am able to do. I might not be boxed in by a world that views me as lazy, whiney, pathetic, and helpless.
I wish someone had told me that every day I wake up is a victory. I wish someone had told me that simply living is being strong. I wish someone had told me, even when I am in bed surrounded by candy bar wrappers with season after season of 30 Rock cued up on my Netflix, I am fighting. If I am fighting instead of failing, if I am struggling against instead of crumbling under, if I am really sick instead of faking it for an easier time, then life will be less of an impossible feat with only one way out.