Your parents didn’t lie to you.
There is no monster under your bed. He doesn’t lurk in the shadows, or the cupboard. He isn’t waiting in the back seat of your car, or in dark alleys, ready to feed off your fear, your pain, your sadness. Rearing his ugly head to drain you of every drop of happiness. Making it dark. Making it cold. Stealing your soul.
It’s true, he’s not under your bed.
He is in my head.
He hasn’t always been there.
It was a slow invasion; so slow I barely noticed it was happening. I could hear him, here and there, his thoughts; the kind that take small pieces of you… feed off you… until you are completely empty. It was small things at first… Fleeting. Barely enough to even mention. A muted echo… a hushed whisper.
But now… now I am held captive.
Like a virus, I am infected.
I see things. Things I couldn’t see before. I see through people. I see their souls. I hear their thoughts. I feel their hate… their judgement… their disgust. I see myself… every inch, laid bare. I see every flaw.
I can see people. But they can’t see me. I am not blind… I am invisible.
I feel everything… and yet, I feel nothing. That is the beauty, and the curse, of this gift. It is a blessing to be able to feel everything so deeply… and sometimes it would seem a blessing to be able to turn it all off.
The curse is that I cannot choose.
He chooses for me.
He chooses cruelly.
When there is pain, sadness, or fear… they are magnified beyond measure. I get chilled to my very core. It is always the same. He always chooses the same. Where there is pain, I drown in it. Where there is happiness, it is so stifled that I can hardly hear it at all.
He is my dirty secret. My worst kept secret. He taints me. He has become so much a part of me, that I now feel that somehow, I need him. I feed off him as much as he feeds off me. We need each other, my secret and I.”
The above is an excerpt from a novel I am currently writing, in order to raise awareness about mental health, particularly depression, and suicidal ideation. It began as a way for me to voice how I was feeling, cloaked in the guise of a story – something that wasn’t real. Something that people could relate to because it was detached and distorted. A fairytale where no one actually got hurt.
But I am actually hurting. This isn’t a fairytale. And I feel like the reality of depression needs to be talked about – it effects so many people in so many ways… and it is still something we hide… something we are ashamed of.
So, after many hours of internal debate, tears, and finally some feelings of liberation… I have decided to give you a glimpse into my reality… my story – but certainly not my fairytale.
I decided a few weeks ago, that I would photograph some of the journey for me… I think some people need that – to have it right there, raw, real, and unapologetic. I guess it is also helpful for me to portray some of the story in images; not only because it is a medium I use often to tell stories and capture moments in time… but also because I truly believe that a photograph can say a thousand things that a million words could not.
My story started, unoriginally, in my workplace, where bullying was rife and my capacity to bully back was limited. And so I rolled with the punches for far too long… and paid the price for my lack of self care, with a diagnosis of severe depression. My first admission to a mental health facility was frightening, and lonely. As someone with a fear of hospitals – the thought of having to stay in one, when my ability to be brave was reduced to 0, was horrifying.
It was during this stay that I made the decision to leave my workplace… and was left feeling lost. A huge portion of my identity had been taken away from me. A decade’s worth of education, career building, and work – gone. Who was I without that? What was I worth without that? I really was disposable; replaceable; worthless.
I spent so many nights watching the sun come up, as my head raced with thoughts. I was tired. I was beyond tired. But not with a tiredness that sleep could cure. I needed my head to be turned off for a while. I needed someone to unplug me for a week or two, then restart me with some fresh upgraded material. Unfortunately, unplugging is only an option if you don’t mind the idea that you might not be re-plugged in… and whilst it had crossed my mind that being unplugged forever wouldn’t be so bad… I hadn’t quite decided on it as a legitimate option for me.
I did, however, find a way to momentarily turn it all off.
And so… That part of my journey began.
I didn’t want to hurt myself. I knew it was not a healthy coping strategy. But it was the only one I had that worked. I could be free from my own head for a few minutes – and it was bliss.
With everything that was going on, I felt so out of control of my own life. I had lost my career, I was losing my mind, I was hospitalised with people dictating when I woke, what I did, where I went… I was smart and capable and strong… and yet, here I was – reduced to this. So I decided I needed to get back in control… I tried to find something, anything, that would put me back in control of something.
I found food.
Thus began a long and enduring unhealthy relationship with my source of nutrition, and a secondary symptom of the depression, which would happily reintroduce itself whenever I began to relapse. It would become one of the first things I would notice about my functioning that would alert me that I was on a downward spiral.
Now, whilst engaging in my second admission – having doctors and nurses monitor my food intake… having rules around what I eat and when I can return to my room… I have to wonder if my coping mechanism to regain some control, is actually in control of me.
So now I am sitting on a bed, a few photos on my wall of my friends, unsure of when I can go home. I have elastic bands around my ankles. I have three cups of cold tea on my bedside table because I can’t seem to remember to drink them. I miss my dog. I am officially considered a ‘risk to my own safety’.
I disagree. I am not a risk to my own safety – it is just an unfortunate truth that I cannot kill this beast inside me, without destroying myself. This illness is a risk to my safety. My thoughts are a risk to my safety.
I think this sentiment is best described by JM Storm;
“Before you pass judgement on one who is self destructing, it’s important to remember they usually aren’t trying to destroy themselves. They’re trying to destroy something inside them that doesn’t belong.”
Someone once said to me that it is difficult to have sympathy for someone who self harms, because the wounds are self inflicted. Personally, I believe that the term ‘self harm’ is the most ill-defined term in the arena of mental health. These wounds are the symptoms of an illness, they are the result of the slow erosion of self that depression creates. I didn’t create these scars. My illness did.
I do not believe, and I do not think it would be the belief of many, that a person ‘self harms’ because they have suddenly decided that self mutilation is appealing. A person who has reached an unendurable level of agony will take the actions needed to survive, just as someone with their leg caught between two rocks would eventually try to cut it off instead of starving to death. Make no mistake about the person who cuts their own limb off; their terror of cutting through their flesh and the thought of disability/scar/etc is just as great as anyone’s would be had they a blade pressed to their skin. The variable here is the other terror. The fear of death by starvation. The severed limb becomes the slightly less terrible of the two terrors. And nobody… nobody can understand. Not really. You’d have to personally have had your ankle trapped, and be faced with starvation, to truly understand a terror beyond putting a blade to your skin.
And now, once again, I am trying to find my path to recovery. So many people want to know what the ‘plan’ is. How do we ‘fix’ this. And I cannot answer that question. My days are fought hour by hour, minute by minute. I think the issue is that my acceptable ‘fix’… and their acceptable ‘fix’, are not on par. And as Marya Hornbacher puts it, “The problem is that you don’t just choose recovery. You have to keep choosing recovery, over and over and over again. You have to make that choice 5 or 6 times each day. You have to make that choice even when you don’t really want to. It’s not a single choice, and it’s not an easy one.”