For those who don’t know, I am a recovering anorexic with depression and hallucinations when I’m in the middle of an episode. in 2011 I decided to write openly about my condition and also when I’m in a bad spot to give solidarity to other people in my shoes and to provide some perspective for those who aren’t.
People wrongly assume that depressed people are depressed for a reason. Actually, there’s no more reason for a strike of mental illness than for any other type. Cancer doesn’t show up because your cat died, it just shows up. Today is my first depressed for no reason day in a while (which says loads about how far I’ve come in recovery). Just crying for no reason. This is what separates clinical depression from sadness.
You know how you get that scratch in your throat before you come down with a full cold? Once you’ve lived with depression long enough, you get the first little tingles and know what’s coming. Before you get treatment and come to grips with the fact that you’re sick, it’s just terrifying because you know what’s coming and you don’t know what to do. The fear is as bad as the depression. Having dealt with this for years, it still sucks to know what’s coming but it gives me time to prepare. It lets me know I need to tell Michaelyn and to start controlling my environment.
I thought exercising would help, so Michaelyn and I went to the workout room. But that just reminded me how I’m not in as good of shape as I used to be. Coming back to shower I made the mistake of looking in the mirror and, sure enough, I’m hallucinating again. It’s funny how something you know isn’t real can still affect you as though it were. That was most definitely a mistake on my part. The trick to getting through a bad episode is controlling your environment and I should’ve known better.
But when you’re in the middle, it’s so tiring. I think that’s part of why people don’t leave the house when they’re depressed and untreated. It takes so much out of you. Even after an episode has subsided I still find myself spacing out for a day afterward.
Everybody always asks what they can do to help when I talk about this. The answer is, unfortunately, not much. In my case I just have to wait it out and let people know. It’s like being led around blindfolded. When your brain is telling you things that aren’t true, you need to trust others to lead you around. I’m lucky I have a fiancee who understands this. Otherwise, I’d be very tempted to try and conceal things from her, which would be very risky. Sadly, many similarly afflicted people don’t feel they can tell anybody, and are then left at the mercy of a mind that isn’t delivering reality to them. Even after years of dealing with this and talking about it publicly, knowing full well that when I’m on my way into an episode that I need to tell someone (and that they’d want to be told), it’s still difficult to do.
And then there’s the frantic search for self-worth. Despite applying the full force of my will to the contrary, when I’m like this it’s difficult not to overvalue physical beauty. So I race through my cranium trying to identify some facet of myself that would make people want to be around me even though I’m a burden in my depressed state (I know I’m not, but tell my brain that). The temptation is to think “So you’re fat, but at least…”. But what is there? I’m not an idiot, but I’m not as sharp as Matt Dillahunty or as eloquent as Greta Christina. I’m not particularly lame, but I’m also not particularly special. I’m actually just…average, and so my life as a public figure often feels like more luck than anything. Why would a woman like Michaelyn want someone like me when she could have anybody? Why would people want to spend time with me when there are more interesting people?
When the veil has lifted, these questions will seem as transparently silly as Christianity – just like they were eight hours ago. Even now, I know they’re the product of a malfunctioning mind. But when it all seems so real, it’s hard to keep the rush of insecurity at bay.
I know it’s hard for a lot of people to imagine, but I’ve eaten less than a thousand calories today and still can’t even force myself to eat a strawberry.
I love my life. I’ve become friends with some of my heroes. I’m engaged to the woman of my dreams, I make a living writing and public speaking, and I have an amazing family life. I could not ask for more. But depression doesn’t respect the quality of somebody’s life anymore than the flu. I’m grateful that I can now have an episode and not feel like I’m being ungrateful for all I have, because who the fuck has time for guilt? It’s much better on my conscience to lament being sick. There’s no fault there, no weakness. Just the will to be better.
And tomorrow I will be.