I was recently asked to write about when I first realized I was suffering from depression. Normally, my words flow freely and abundantly. I often joke that while most people only put in their two cents, I don’t stop until I reach a quarter. However, looking back at my life, I found myself at a loss for words.
The truth is that I have felt this way for as long as I can remember and long before there was a name to it. My mother suffered, as well, though it was never discussed openly, only whispered about in corners out of her earshot. Mental illness was a dirty family secret. As life has it, dysfunction breeds dysfunction. Her often untreated or undertreated bipolar disorder gave birth to my depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
I had always felt something was wrong with me, in part from the abuses, I endured but also because I never seemed to feel the way others did. I never felt happy inside. I never felt anyone understood me or truly cared. I felt completely alone. Yet, I held tightly to our dirty family secret. The first rule of living in a family full of mental illness was that you do not talk about it. I learned to wear a smiling mask and tell the world everything was forever peachy. Meanwhile, I was dying inside.
When my mother shot my father, her secret shame was bared for the whole world to see. I saw friends and family that once sang her praises distance themselves. I saw the power of the stigma of mental illness firsthand. No one took her mental illness seriously. She was labeled as “crazy”, “damaged”, “batty” and “deranged”. I will never deny that what she did was wrong but mental illness should NEVER be a joke.
Seeing how others reacted to her actions and diagnosis only served to seal my lips more firmly shut. I was terrified of being labeled. I did not want to be like her. I suffered in silence. I bolted on that smiling mask so the world would see I was okay. But I truly wasn’t. There was not a day that went by that I did not sneak off to the bathroom to cry out of earshot of my children. There was not a single week that I did not secretly wish to just fade away so my pain would end.
Meanwhile, I tried to box up all my suffering and lock it away to be dealt with on another day. There’s only so many boxes you can stack, however, before they begin to wobble and fall. Periodically, everything would collapse around me. I began having breakdowns.
I would spiral down into utter hopelessness. For days, I barely had the strength to get out of bed. All I wanted to do was cry. Cry or die. Nothing in the world made any sense. Everything I felt was either unadulterated, agonizing pain or the completely empty void of nothingness and numbness. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was drowning in depression.
Finding my voice saved my life. I began to talk and to write about all I have been through in life. Looking back at all I had endured, I saw an amazing strength and resiliency I never realized I possessed. Surviving no longer was enough for me. I wanted to live and to flourish. More than that, I wanted to reach out to others and make a difference.
My heart goes out to each and every person I meet who has struggled with mental illness. I feel their pain because I have walked that path myself. I understand that soul-crushing loneliness and that hopelessness that oozes over everything. I know all too well that deep-set fear of the being judged or labeled because of the stigma attached. I am well acquainted with that feeling of just wanting the pain to go away and wondering if the world would just be better off without me in it.
Please know, however, that none of us are alone. The world is full of others who are struggling, suffering and understand our pain. The world is also full of hope and promise. We can each take the worst moments of our lives and transform them into something positive. If we each reach out to at least one person with compassion, empathy, and kindness and say, “I am here. I understand. You are not alone.” one by one, we can change the world. When I began writing, it was because I desperately wanted to live and to heal. Today, I write because I want to be the voice of change. I want to let others who are struggling know that they are not alone and to inspire them to find their own voices; Speak up, get help and heal. I want to fight the stigma and help those who do not understand mental illness better understand the battles we face every day. One by one, we can each make a difference. Life is worth living. Please never let anyone forget that.
Buy B.L. Acker’s book, Unlovable: A Story of Abuse & Depression from Someone Drowning in the Abyss can be found by clicking here:
Follow her blog here: https://unlovablebook.wordpress.com/
On her blog, there are many resources about depression and other emotional disorders.