"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Thursday, September 12, 2013

my demons.

Now Playing: Fire & Rain by James Taylor (I've seen fire and I've seen rain, I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end, I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I could see you again)

I have had depression for about six years now. In retrospect, I've always been a pretty anxious person, but it has escalated into full-blown anxiety in the last year or so. These are my demons.

I knew I was depressed pretty quickly, once it set in in a big way; it's just like you know you've got a flu even before you start hurling or before your thermometer tells you that you should technically be on fire. It's really hard to explain depression; it's like...you forget how to be happy. The things that used to make you happy don't have any effect on you and you try, you try so hard, to have an appropriate reaction but it just seems really fake and performed and doesn't fill you with that warm glow. And the tiniest, pettiest, most trivial things can send you down the rabbit hole of despair and hopelessness and worthlessness.

Depression isn't like a cold, though; you can't catch it, it isn't caused by anything, and you can't cure it by 'manning up' or popping a few pills. Depression is more like cancer; it never fully goes away, it just goes into remission. Depression is something that is on and off, for most people; there are times when you can be happy and sad like a normal person, but it's always lurking in the background. It's something I have to recognise and accept in myself, and learn how to manage it. I have been suicidal before. I have seriously considered taking my life before. It's scary.

There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings about depression; that it's just a mood thing, it's just weak people unable to cope with the normal trials and traumas of life. But just like how cancer is caused by cells mutating and multiplying, and diseases are caused by germs attacking your body, mental illnesses is an actual physiological thing; it is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert, but basically our moods and how we process and react to things are controlled by a careful balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters that impact how we process and store data; the effects of caffeine or alcohol or recreational drugs is a result of increasing or decreasing the level of chemicals in the brain. Mental illnesses does that for you; there is significant evidence and research to show that people with mental illnesses have different levels of neurotransmitters than people without mental illnesses. Antidepressants work by attempting to fix the neurotransmitters back to normal levels. It's all science and chemicals.

The hardest part about having depression is that nobody takes you seriously. Unlike breaking your leg or being punched in the face depression doesn't have physical symptoms, usually; it's all up in your brain. People can't see that your neurotransmitters are fucked up, so they simply don't believe it. That's the hardest part. People tell you to snap out of it, to grow out of it - but they'd never ask you to snap out of having a broken leg. Having a mental illness isn't about being weak or pathetic or unable to cope. Having a mental illness is being sick; it needs care and treatment and empathy just like any other kind of sickness.

My anxiety is a little more complicated. I don't know what makes other people upset. To me, people seem to behave irrationally and unpredictably, and so I'm always afraid of people, or of upsetting them. I find it really hard to talk to strangers, and I find loud, crowded places extremely stressful and upsetting. I can't deal with language barriers and sometimes I can't maintain eye contact. I get upset easily and I can't control my reactions to certain things, and my relationships are defined by uncontrollable insecurity and paranoia. I get panic attacks and I have lots of phobias; most obvious is my fear of needles.

When I was younger I don't think my family really understood mental illnesses or recognised that I had them; I don't blame them, because people in general know so little about mental illnesses and even less on how to cope with them; also, mental illnesses are highly taboo and unspoken topics in Asian cultures. I have had to deal with my demons on my own, for a long time; but I think now that I am better able to articulate my needs and problems and they are becoming more informed about these things they are becoming more accepting and supportive, which I am unbelievably thankful for. My only advice when someone tells you that they have a mental illness is to keep an open mind. It is incredibly difficult to admit to people that you have a mental illness; I have never met anyone who lied or bragged about having a mental illness. Even if someone isn't 'clinically' depressed or doesn't actually have an anxiety 'disorder', the fact that they think they do means that they are obviously troubled and definitely need support.

I know it is difficult to be friends with someone with demons like mine; but only if you forget or trivialize their problems. We accept that people with diabetes need to test their blood every day and might suddenly faint and need sugar. We accept that people with epilepsy might not be able to drive and might have a fit at any random moment. What we don't accept is that people with mental illnesses can lash out or be unable to behave appropriately. Everyone is capable and deserving of love regardless of their physical or mental incapacitations. Just because someone is sensitive and struggles with demons doesn't mean they don't love you, or care about you, or would do anything for you. All friends sometimes feel burdened or heavy or unloved or uncared for, and it is easy to blame mental illnesses. But nobody ever said friendship was easy. It's when friendship gets tough you realize who your true friends are.

I just lost my dearest friend because he couldn't deal with my having demons. I tried so hard to tell him that I cannot help but be upset and irrational and I try my hardest to manage it, but there are some things that are simply out of my control. I tried my hardest to tell him that I always loved him and cared for him, but he didn't believe me. I tried to tell him that I am going to feel insecure and paranoid unless we communicate openly, but we didn't. In the end we were very different people and perhaps we are better off not being friends. But it hurts beyond belief that he left to punish me for being sick. I am such a mess right now; every day it takes so much effort to get out of bed, do my work, smile and face the day. If it were not for my family and friends I could not do it. I miss him, of course, and I regret that we have parted ways. But I can get over that; this is not the first or last time someone has flitted in and out of my life. What hurts the most is not his absence, but the reason for it. I trusted him with everything; he told me to always be honest with him, about how I was feeling, and that he'd always be there for me. He told me to be myself, that I didn't have to pretend to smile with him, that I didn't have to be insecure or paranoid, because he wouldn't leave. I told him about my demons, I was open about when I was upset and why, I was open about what I needed for our friendship to work. In the times I had better control over myself I told him how much I cared about him, and would do anything for him; and that whenever I treated him badly I did not mean it, I could not help it, and that I was sorry. I told him that if I was doing anything to hurt him all he had to do was tell me, and we could work it out. I did the best I could do and in return he said that I wasn't a good enough friend for him because I'm sick. Who am I supposed to trust now, when my best friend has abandoned me because of my demons?    

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