The Monster Within Depression and Anxiety: I AM NOT FINE
Depression is such a horrible beast! It takes hold of its victim and attempts to suck the life from every orifice of its body. As its definition dictates, depression burdens its victim with feelings of severe despondency and dejection (which feel one and the same). This mood disorder is extremely complicated and a difficult space to escape from because like the planet, its gravitational pull on its victim is meant to keep them in a continuous cycle of pain and self-doubt.
But unlike the gravitational pull of the earth, depression does not intend to bring objects together. Instead, it causes the sufferer to become isolated and disconnected. Depression, often accompanied by anxiety, can produce within a person a rapid downward spiral of conflicting emotions accompanied by dark thoughts and often reckless behavior. Depression also can leave its victim feeling paralyzed, unable to function, and refusing all forms of social contact.
However, as debilitating as depression can be, it can as be equally as sneaky, doing its dirty work inside of a person, and leaving its mess and destruction on the inside out of sight, while the sufferer continues to force themselves to “function normally” in everyday situations.
“People with ongoing mood or anxiety disorders become survivors, and accepting limitations is in conflict with the code of survivors live by. No one wants to feel depressed, anxious, fearful or overwhelmed. No one enthusiastically chooses to give up those things in life that bring joy.” [But You LOOK Just Fine, Abdulaziz, 2013]
As one who suffers from bouts of severe depression, I have had to pretend to be justfinein spaces where I felt the complete opposite. For instance, I would attend a gathering, and most everyone would immediately anticipate me being the, life of the party, because of my life-long pattern of wearing the “make everyone laugh to hide my pain” mask. Please don’t get me wrong––making people smile and forget their pain simply to have a great time is wonderful. But at the same time, it left me exhausted, depleted, and lonely.
“Being told to “appreciate what you do have” and “look on the bright side” by well-meaning friends and family members simply adds insult to injury. Positive platitudes and quick-fix suggestions only wind up trivializing depression, anxiety, and other mood symptoms and grossly underestimates the impact of these difficult and relentless challenges.” [But You LOOK Just Fine, Abdulaziz, 2013]
Since then, I have begun to recognize when I am using the fake mask as a shield against myself –––if that makes sense. And just like the insidious monster that wreaks havoc on its unsuspecting prey, depression’s purpose is to exhaust its victim into compliance and eventually corner her––literally going in for the kill. I repeat verbatim, going in for the kill until there is nothing left but discarded remnants of the person I longed to be.
I recently read a book entitled, But You LOOK Just Fine: Unmasking Depression, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Seasonal Affective Disorder by Sahar Abdulaziz, MS., which provided a welcomed glimpse into the world of depression. As I read through the various experiences of others also challenged by many aspects of depression and anxiety, I began to realize how we are all connected. That in our souls, we all share universal truths, space, and time, even if we are unaware of the next person’s existence. At various pages, written more like a support group in a book, I began to understand why I felt the way I did. This new insight made me so excited, understood, and valued. What I had been battling had a name, a diagnosis––and I no longer felt alone. This realization became the answer to my prayers!
Looking back, it’s ironic that I was going through a tough time while reading this book. With each story, I experienced every word coursing through my veins. At the time, as exhilarated as I felt, I was also terrified –– reading about my life in someone’s words, but I had to keep going to see if the end would guide me out of the suffocating darkness I longed to escape. In those moments, alone with my thoughts, the end to the feelings shadowing me, it finally arrived. For the first time, I knew I was not alone; but there was also still something missing. For the life of me, I could not understand how I could be so blessed and have almost everything that I needed and wanted, but continue to feel so empty. Something inside of me remained hollow, void of meaning, but it was at that point I knew for sure there was a light at the end of my tunnel.
“Sadly, most people who live with a chronic mental illness and are in the midst of suffering are not able to think proactively, yet they are often left to seek out mental health resources on their own. It is incredibly hard to be resourceful when one is physically and psychologically challenged.” [But You LOOK Just Fine, Abdulaziz, 2013]
By the end of the book, I realized that the mask that I had been dutifully wearing was a mask of falsehood. This disguise had allowed me to sneak undetected through the days… heck, by the minute!It allowed me to mask my pain, hiding behind the façade of a person who everyone wanted me to be…who I wanted me to be, while all along, I was dying inside.
“The pleasure of living can easily become lost in the fog of depression.” (Abdulaziz/2013)
Since opening this door, the question remains, what am I to do? How am I supposed to move forward and make this thing called life, right again? I feel torn between spiraling into the abyss of darkness and swimming to the top for air. If I manage to float to the top, what will be waiting for me? In the end, I find that I am continually asking myself this question, but to no avail. However, I have come to realize that this disease called depression has no quick fixes––no instructions on how to fix it. But what I did discover was the missing piece to the puzzle I needed to begin my journey toward recovery. To HEALING!
ABOUT THE WRITER
Kali Merritt was born and raised on Long Island in New York but lives in Baltimore, Maryland. A mother of three and grandmother of two, Kali earned two master’s degrees, one in Early Childhood Studies, the other in Education, utilizing these to work and advocate for better educational conditions for children in Baltimore city. She is currently a full-time writer and plans to dedicate her time, in addition to writing, to establishing better out-of-school time programs for the children of Baltimore city, as well as continue to use writing and speaking as platforms to address the issues in mental illness.
Often referred to as “a support group in a book”, the authors present a remarkable series of personal portraits and telling profiles, sharing the stories and experiences of men and women who each live with various mood disorders and mental health challenges. These poignant examples – once anonymous faces seen in a crowd, or perhaps within one’s own circle of family, friends or coworkers – will serve as a valuable reminder to those facing depression and anxiety disorders that they are not alone.
By making these individual stories available and familiar, there is hope that a greater understanding and awareness of those experiencing chronic and unseen challenges might be realized.
If you want to know what it’s like to live with a mental illness, you ask the people living with one. Abdulaziz and Sveilich asked. Prepare to be surprised. Prepare to be enlightened. This book won’t disappoint. – John McManamy, author,
Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Finally…a first-rate resource to hand to patients or to those with family members living with depression or any anxiety disorder. A SUPPORT GROUP IN A BOOK! – Sidney Cassell, MD
This book literally puts a FACE on mood disorders. My clients and colleagues will greatly benefit from this resource. – Nancy Gordon, LCSW