It’s difficult to say those words out loud. It’s easier to say, “I’m fine,” and leave the tightly wrapped gauze alone. The alternative is to unravel the gauze, slowly, strip by strip until the wound is exposed. When the wound is exposed, other things happen, too. Sometimes, it’s the blank looks. Other times it’s pity. There’s also sympathy. Even empathy, in rare occurrences.
All of it hurts. The kind words and the hugs have their own special kind of hurt. During those times I wish the earth would open beneath my feet and suck me in. I think, “If I wasn’t depressed, this person wouldn’t worry about me.” No matter how often I’m told I’m not a burden, that my thoughts and feelings aren’t a burden, the harder I wish I could disappear.
Let’s go back in time.
I’ve been a sensitive and emotional person for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I craved the attention, love, and acceptance of my parents. I’ve always wanted to make them proud. I was the smart and responsible kid. Criticism was hard to swallow; even the slightest bit made me cry. Bad grades made me cry. I worried a lot about disappointing my teachers, my friends, and my parents. But I didn’t worry about disappointing myself. I was pretty far down on my own list of ‘Important People.’
My anxiety also presented in a stranger way. I would lie awake at night, age 16-17, and be convinced that burglars were trying to break into the house. I would stand at my closed bedroom door in the middle of the night, listening, listening, my heartbeat pounding in my ears. I waited for imaginary killers to creep up the stairs. One night was so bad that I was a hairbreadth away from dialing 9-1-1. Somehow, though, I always felt better in the morning. Silly, but better. I didn’t mention it to anyone. I felt like I was going crazy, but I kept it to myself.
Dig the hole a little deeper each time, bury the feeling, pat the dirt back down harder than before.
I was formally diagnosed with anxiety and depression around age 19. I felt like an utter failure. Like my mental health was a test I had studied for and failed miserably at. For the past ten years I’ve tried so many things: different medication, counseling, therapy, diet/exercise changes. In these ten years, I’ve also given birth to my daughter; completed a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology; ended relationships, started relationships (ended those too); made friends, lost friends, reconnected with old friends; completed a college diploma; found jobs, lost jobs; cut ties with family members; had relatives and acquaintances die…
Life has marched on since my diagnosis. Life goes on, whether we like it or not. There are a lot of things I haven’t dealt with, people and relationships I haven’t properly mourned.
I hold on too tightly. I struggle with letting go. I feel like one giant flaw; a walking, talking gaping wound.
I’m still here.