A cloak of shame surrounds depression and mental illness; the stigma that’s attached to depression frequently causes more damage than the illness itself. I comprehend the damaging effects of this stigma as I have suffered intermittent bouts of severe depression since my teens.
These sporadic black periods became more frequent as I waved goodbye to my teenage years and culminated in a terrifying mental disintegration that has forever changed the course of my life. The ravenous black dog consumed my early twenties; my days were spent in bed, wishing I were dead but not having the energy to make my morose dream a reality. On occasions, I summoned the energy to imbibe copious amounts of caustic budget whisky and a toxic rainbow of stockpiled pills. I dearly longed to be free from my afflicted mind and lumbering body. Each incident resulted in an identical outcome; I awoke to an abhorrent smell and comprehended that my body had dispelled the malignant substances, thus condemning me to continue my walk on the dark and lonely path.
I told no one of my failed suicide attempts, I was too ashamed. My family knew I was on a downward spiral but could not comprehend the daily torture I endured. I was broken, my mind was severely malfunctioning. I consumed ‘medicinal saviours’, despite my aversion to pharmaceuticals, in the hope that they would even out my moods. My erratic emotions were driving me demented; I cycled from energetic highs to debilitating lows with terrifying regularity. I was unable to keep my mood in check, one minute I could be bouncing round the kitchen babbling nonsense, the next I could be curled up in the corner, wailing and wishing the roof would plummet on top of me to free me from my misery.
I have received numerous diagnoses in the last decade:
- Severe Depression
- Severe Depression coupled with Body Dysmorphic Disorder
- Depression and Bulimia
- Bipolar Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
Upon receiving each diagnosis, I reacted like the majority of sufferers and pushed the idea of possessing a mental illness down to the deepest recesses of my mind. I was terrified of being branded crazy and subsequently tossed on the scrapheap. I began to isolate myself from family and friends in a desperate attempt to conceal my secret, I was unable to even utter the word ‘depression’ due to the immense shame I held deep within me.
I sporadically kept a dairy during my early depressive episodes, the battered old copy that contained my rambling held a mirror up to my dark days. During my bleakest hours I was barely able to summon up the energy to get dressed, never mind to scrawl down my incoherent thoughts. Some days the black clouds would ascend for a brief period and allow me to pen some entries.
I set fire to my journal on the day I received word that I had passed my first year college exams. I surmised that if my mental state had held up during the pressure of long study sessions then I had overcome my problems. I didn’t believe then that depression would be a constant companion, waiting in the shadows, ready to shove me into a puddle at any given moment. I felt ready to embark upon a new chapter in my life, burning my book of depression induced nonsense seemed like the ideal way yo cleanse myself of all the bad memories that the episodes that bestowed upon me.
The experience was immensely cathartic, the flames gently danced around the paper and reduced it to a collection of ash. I collected the cinders and catapulted them towards the heavens, the dust gently floated in to the ether and with them my pain, my sadness was temporarily purged. Before I condemned my diary to its fiery fate I recorded some of the more coherent entries:
Today a professional, who possessed the most spectacularly bushy eyebrows, informed me that I am crazy. Am I crazy? Surely if I am crazy I would not punctuate my sentences, there would be an abundance of unpunctuated nonsense.
This punctuated nonsense is proof that I have my faculties.
I cannot focus. I have purchased six books in the last four weeks; I have been unable to get past the first chapter in any of them. Have I become an imbecile? Books were my escape route, somewhere I could lose myself, now that freedom has been chemically obstructed. Back to daytime television. God help me.
I am sitting in a deserted airport on my own. It is 4am and I am in a foreign country. I am too terrified to go to my campus. Why? I have no idea. I seem to be falling to pieces. I have become introverted; people irritate and alarm me in equal measures. I have lost myself; the fun loving person I used to be is no more. Maybe I am depressed. Brilliant, I have succumbed to my faulty genes.
How to rid myself of the ‘black dog’? If only throwing a stick and running away also worked for metaphorical dogs.
I have engaged in numerous destructive activities in a futile attempt to assuage my pain. I spent days and weeks glued to a computer screen gambling away my mental health. During a depressive spell I gambled to cocoon myself from a harsh world, escapism without a hangover. I also hoped that a win would bring elation and lift me out of my funk, alas any joy was fleeting. Victory only delayed the inevitable; crushing defeat. I had no concept of the money I was gambling, when you see zeros on a screen they don’t seem real. Each loss only compounded my misery and inched me closer to the precipice.
My depression has led to a litany of crumbled relationships, forced me to quit a masters degree and stunted my ability to realise my potential. I battle with depression each and every day, leaving the sanctuary of my bed often seems like a herculean task. The ceaseless assistance of my family has enabled me to at least stumble through life, attain a college degree and achieve a semblance of normality. We must engage in a meaningful national conversation on mental illness and suicide, otherwise we will continue to lose our brightest and best because of the scourge of this stigma.
Many people still view mental illness sufferers as weak and helpless, that they must be pathetic to succumb to such an illness, to be defeated by their own mind. This attitude is archaic, the reality is that many sufferers of mental illness are courageous as they battle their demons on a daily basis while trying to carve out fulfilling and successful lives. Eliminating the debilitating stigma will assist them in their road to recovery.
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