I haven’t written about targeted issues on my mental illness as such since my old blog. As I said, its main focus was awareness and self-expression of mental illness and various topics around it. But I had become way more than just writing about mental illness and being defined by it and so wanted to end that chapter and focus on growth, regardless of the challenges in growth that may come. I recall doing this challenge early on when my old blog had come into existence and it was probably an approach to understanding I posted about that I remember most. So, I stumbled upon these questions again and felt like re-answering them and realising much has happened in my journey since I initially answered them. This 30 day challenge may not be one of the topics you wish to read or find interest in and so daily posting them I can understand might be somewhat annoying to you then. Just a warning then that these are coming, although it will be over about 15 days as I will do 2 days’ topics in one post. Also, it won’t be all I write about for the coming days. So with that said, let’s kick off with day 1 and 2 combined;
What illnesses do you have and how long have you had them and how have they affected your life?
My chronic illnesses are major depressive disorder (queried bipolar type 2 by the Doctors) and generalised anxiety disorder.
I developed major depressive disorder around age 14 and had my first major episode and admission to a hospital at age 15. After that my symptoms completely vanished for about 4 years and I no longer took any medication. At age 19 I had a major relapse. My second admission took place and I was much worse than at my first episode. That was when I had to start taking medication which was just one antidepressant. I did well on it and recovered and felt like myself again and was able to function cognitively as well as before. Then, when I was 23 I wanted to come off the antidepressant as it had been 4 years with no incidences. I did so and 6 months later had the worst relapse of my existence. I developed severe generalised anxiety disorder to the extent that secondarily, I developed anorexia. I had to quit school for a year due to the unremitting severe depression and panic attacks as well as, of course, starving myself. Through a terrible, arduous journey that entire year, I slowly recovered. 15 different types of medicines were tried on me with no improvement and I decided the pain was too much for me to bear and tried to take my own life. I got switched to another Doctor and admitted. To this day, I cannot be thankful enough. She started me on a combination of medications that made a world’s difference and as the depression lifted, I felt the biggest relief as the realisation set in that I really was sick and all of what happened wasn’t who I was. I had to however take 5 types of medication and they would have to be taken chronically. The next 2 years were hard, I won’t lie. I had dips and turns and lefts and rights in the struggle but I did keep climbing towards recovery and improved much with a full weight recovery in early 2016. Between June of last year and this year I was admitted twice. This was due to my ignorance and tampering with medication. I didn’t want to take it life-long and so we tried but failed miserably in starting the process to come off them. I had again tried to take my own life. Right now, it’s been 3 weeks since I was discharged from the hospital and yet again, I am on 5 types of meds. I am slowly getting back to myself. It is a very hard uphill climb. No recovery is linear. You trip over stones, fall and crawl with bloody knees, some days you smoothly manage to navigate upwards and sometimes you just drag yourself on. It takes much work from your part; far more than just swallowing meds. But I will talk about that in another post.
How has all this affected my life? As you can imagine from the above information, my life has felt interrupted. I lost myself several times as the depression clocked in and the real me clocked out for a while. I lost time and felt like all I would ever gain in life was loss. All of this put much strain on my ability to interact with people and only a few true friends stuck around and never had their views of me change. I felt inadequate though, like I wasn’t enough. Who would want to date a girl with a chronic illness as such? Who wouldn’t look at me differently? Who wouldn’t treat me differently? Am I too weak for the world? Am I just too damaged? All these questions were running around in my mind and still at times very much do. The thing is, as in any other chronic illness, you have to accept you are not like everyone else. You need to take more care of yourself than other people do of themselves. My limits are different than many of theirs. I cannot go long periods of being sleep deprived or put myself at risk of burning out. I do not have the mental stamina of many others. Mentally and physically I exhaust easily. And ironically, I study Medicine. It makes life hard. I have to be careful of triggers around me; books or shows pertaining to such issues trigger all the memories in me again, being in a negative environment, sleeping too much, boredom, isolation, physical inactivity, poor diet… All these things put me at risk, as I can imagine even mentally healthy people would be negatively affected by it.
We are not seen as brave and strong. We are easily judged and rejected by the uninformed and uneducated. All of this though, does not mean we are less. This may come as a surprise to many, but we are also talented, funny, smart, extremely loving and outgoing people. The problem is, people scare easily. The world is very much accustomed to treating a person visibly ill in a graceful way, but when people are faced with a condition that is very much emotional in its consequences, they run. It is not as easy to get a grasp on it as with seeing a physical defect right in front of them.
Alternatively, it has affected my life in a very much different way too than just purely negative. Having depression has ignited a mind in me that constantly seeks for answers. One that constantly thinks of life and the way in which one lives. When one comes out from depressive bouts, you tend to come out with more wisdom than before. You start learning to let go of that which doesn’t truly matter or make you grow. You learn independence. You live in empathy of suffering. You love incredibly hard because you know what not being loved or seen feels like. Your life purpose becomes something greater than just yourself. You start seeing beauty in broken things. For this, I will always be thankful and having this as the fuel for my life’s fight I will gladly take. That is the thing with illness or terrible things in the world we have no control over; you will forever despise it, but you have to keep seeing the things you can build from it if you’re going to live with it.
Some who suffer from a chronic illness see it as a gift. We even know of musicians, artists and writers who performed most brilliantly during depression. As much as all this may be true, I cannot say the same. No benefit would ever be worth to me as much as freedom from an unimaginable or indescribable pain one has no control over. As I told a friend earlier, I will take memory loss from medication side-effects or rather have a prosthetic limb than having to live with that pain. Mental illness is like having no limb and medication and other treatments are your prosthesis. The prosthesis may hurt you at times but it allows you to walk again. Heck, you can even run and dance with it!
So, all in all, this is my chronic illness and this is a big part of my life. I cannot ignore the ruins of the tornado or for the rest of my life pretend there aren’t any and that there never was a tornado. It will always be a big part of my life meaning, I may always have a prosthesis. But that doesn’t stop me from dancing on it and I have a greatly beautiful routine left to choreograph, all it requires is for me to get up and move, and that, I can do.