Note: this article originally appeared on Jaclyn Aurore.
The amount of people who read, commented, and shared one of my most recent blog posts was so overwhelming I cried. I cry often, and I cry without reason, but this was different. These were happy tears.
I had people I’ve known for a while give me a hug and thank me for sharing something so personal. Not only that, but they have shared back with me: “You’re not alone. I, too, suffer.”
There are so many of us out there that appear normal because of the smiles they plant on their faces.
When people ask “How are you?”, we reply with the automatic, “Good, and you?” when the truth is that we are so far from good, it’s scary.
We hide everything on the inside because we’ve had to for so long. It’s not only for the social acceptance; it’s for us too.
If we lie to you and say we’re “fine” when we’re not, we’re lying to ourselves as well, in the hopes that maybe if we say it often enough, it’ll be true.
Like so many others, I have my good days and bad days. Some days, I might be telling the truth when I say, “I’m good, and you?” – it won’t look or sound a whole lot different than when it’s not true.
Please don’t presume.
A Suggestion of Understanding
One of the more difficult things I’ve experienced since writing the post on mental illness is having people who still don’t understand try to converse with me as if to solve all my problems.
“How are you doing today?” said in a condescending tone, and it’s the first question of many – I know where this is going.
“Today is a good day,” I’ll say, hoping to stop the forthcoming questions.
“Have you seen the doctor then?” – yes, people have asked this.
My favourite are the suggestions like they somehow have a cure for depression. “Have you tried changing your diet?” or “What are you doing for exercise?”
Yes, I know, diet and exercise are important and for sure can affect your moods in both a good and bad way. The more you exercise and the better you eat, the healthier and happier you feel. It’s not a cure for depression though.
Again, depression is a mental illness and is not synonymous with sadness.
You can feel happy and healthy and still suffer alone in this horrible glass box that is the world.
I get that these people are trying to help, or trying to be nice. But I’m not really sure what they want me to respond with.
If I say, “Oh, my diet is impeccable and I run marathons every morning”, where will their line of questions go next?
If I reply with “You know, I probably should get out of the house more, exercise, you say? Maybe I’ll try that.” The conversation might end there, true, but it might not.
It could very well lead to the dreaded, “You know, if you exercised you’d feel better. Maybe then you wouldn’t be depressed.”
More Than a “Mental Thing”
Depression is so much more. It doesn’t only affect our thoughts. It’s not only in our minds and we really should try to call it something other than a mental illness.
Depression takes over our whole bodies. There are days when I physically cannot move. There are days when I can’t get enough sleep, and after 10 hours in bed, I still don’t want to get up.
Depression is dead weight. It covers our entire bodies and clouds our minds.
It takes over.
It can crush our chests. It can fog our brains. It can feel like we’re moving through time in slow motion. It can make it impossible for us to move.
For some, it can make it impossible to sleep. For others, it can be impossible to wake.
Imagine wearing a suit of armour. Except that armour’s main ingredient is cement. Imagine moving through your daily routine wearing this cement suit.
Now imagine someone says, “Have you tried exercise?”
Every day that we leave our bedroom, that’s exercise. We’re trying so hard already. Please understand. We don’t need a magic cure. We don’t need advice.
We simply need a “I’m happy to see you.”
Listening Without Judgement
And know this: whether our smile is fake or not, we are happy to see you too. Because we did it. We made it. We left our bedroom and got out into the world.
We shed a small piece of our cement suit, waved our arms and said hello.
Thank you for saying hi back. Sometimes, that’s more than enough.
Thank you for welcoming me into your circle, despite my differences, despite my illness.
Thank you for loving me and accepting me.
Thank you for listening.
Listening without judgement – that’s the best thing that any of us can do. We should all do that for each other.
From the bottom of my heavy heart, thank you.