It's hard to know how to start one of these conversations. Mental illness is not like other illnesses. In nearly all cases, there is no outwardly obvious illness. There is not stuffy nose, no open wounds, no physical demarcations that there is anything functionally wrong with the individual. It can cause people to doubt their own experience, to question whether they actually are struggling with what they think they are. Often, you are forced to defend your illness to people who don't believe you, particularly if you have been able to be relatively successful thus far in life. Especially when you come from a background that doesn't immediately lend itself to obvious trauma or predispositions.
You've all known me long enough to know that I've never been the life of the party. I've never been bubbly, captain sunshine, or generally an outgoing and positive person. I can often come off as cold, disinterested, cynical, possibly even self-important. And yet internally these descriptors could not be further from what I would describe myself. I'm immensely interested in others. I don't have self-importance. Not just I don't have some, I don't have it. Most of my adult life, and well before then, I have made a habit of serving others behind the scenes. I avoid the spotlight in many cases because I don't know how to handle praise, and will generally flatly reject it. I don't know how to handle praise because I don't think I deserve it. Not that I don't think humans deserve to be praised, on the contrary I think people crave and deserve it far more often than we give it. I just don't physically or emotionally have the capacity to tolerate praise.
I grew up in a home where my father drank far more than anyone was comfortable with yet no one talked about. Because we all avoided the elephant in the room, I quickly learned to avoid my own feelings too. I learned that if I didn't have strong feelings, then I couldn't be upset with his drinking, or the fact that no one talked about it. I became resentful and bitter. Many of you are aware that I rarely visit home, and perhaps it makes more sense now. I'm anxious and on edge the entire time I'm home. I just don't feel comfortable there. Don't get me wrong, I love my parents, but it's the kind of love that is surrounded by hurt, and an inability to communicate that hurt. It's a love that longs for approval, for understanding, and for acceptance. To be told that I did enough. I was never physically abused. I just wasn't given the scaffolding for effective emotional development.
Sophomore year of college, I struggled with pretty severe depression. Ian and Andrew might remember that I dealt with crippling headaches that had no medical explanation. What they probably didn't know is that headaches, particularly headaches that aren't caused by any specific thing, are a somatic symptom of internalized depression. I've also dealt in the past with extreme thoughts of worthlessness and unimportance. In highschool, I would fantasize about my funeral and wonder if anyone would show up. I would wonder if my death would impact anyone. I scared myself when I realized that my immediate gut feeling was no. Later in life I came to understand those thoughts to be passive suicidal ideation (a general desire to die without specific intent to end one's own life). I have had those thoughts sporadically throughout my life, however I have been fortunate enough to not experience that in the last couple of years.
As you guys are aware, I've been attending therapy for the last year and 3/4. I was diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder, a disorder best described as a constant or near-constant state of depression lasting at least 2 years, and a very mild form of avoidant personality disorder, a personality disorder marked by a desire to have interpersonal relationships but an immense fear of rejection causing limited social behavior. Basically, although I want to have close relationships with people, I get in my own way and prevent them from deepening because I fear that if people knew me, the real me underneath everything, they'd be scared aware. So I perform a version of myself that is inoffensive enough to not push people aware, but inauthentic to the point that people don't know how to get close to me. One of the most telling markers of this is the fact that people often struggle with knowing what gifts to get me, because they realize they don't know enough about me to come up with an idea on their own. It's not that I don't want to talk about myself, I just don't know how. If you ask me questions I will happily and unflinchingly ask, because I take your question to be permission to open up. However, I have significant difficulties initiating self-disclosure. It probably helps a lot in my career, I never have the urge to tell clients about myself, but it doesn't make for a very healthy or reciprocal relationship.
I'm writing this post because, first, I can't even begin to contemplate having this conversation in person, and second, because I'm tired of being alone with myself. I am my own worst critic, and I'm pretty shit company when I'm having a rough day and needing support. I will never be good enough for myself, and I want desperate to at least be good enough for someone else. However, through therapy I've come to recognize that I will never be good enough for someone else if I can't be good enough for myself. And part of being good enough for myself is admitting to others that I struggle, and need help.
Please don't mistake this post as a cry for help, or asking for pity. I'm not asking you guys to move heaven and earth and make me better, because I know that you can't fix me. If other people could fix me, it would have happened a long time ago. I am writing this post so that other people can be aware that I'm not okay and so that I force myself to stop hiding behind a facade of wellness. You are all honestly my closest friends, you are the only people I talk to every single day without fail and at this point in my life know me better than anyone else, even those of you that might feel like connected to me.
Thank you for taking the time to read all the way to this point, I know it was long and not the most fun thing to read.