- Stephanie Reidy graduated from Dalhousie and works in medical research. She lives in Halifax with her amazingly understanding husband and two sons. Her world can be loud and the writing helps block it out. You can find her at Escaping Elegance.
I just got a haircut. I know this sounds frivolous, but it’s not. It’s me caring about how I look. It’s me having the energy to style my hair in something other than a ponytail. It’s me being mentally healthy.
Looking back, I see that I’ve lived with depression since high school. All those days I thought I was pretending to be sick, I really was. In university, I almost died from it. That’s when the people became too many, the exposure constant and the expectations too great. My only coping mechanism was avoidance. I ditched my boyfriend and cut off my friends. I was getting A’s but I stopped attending classes. I spent months hiding in a distant corner of an obscure building and told myself that nobody missed me. At home I lied that classes were great. I was okay; I lied with every breath.
It takes a tremendous amount of energy to act happy when you aren’t. This energy gets sucked away and there’s no way to recharge it, no way to rebuild the façade that gets you through the day. When I got too tired, I tried to make it all end. I tried to kill myself.
Stigma and disgrace have no place in a discussion about mental illness, yet it’s still viewed as a personal weakness. I was too embarrassed to admit how I was feeling and I almost died. That should never happen to anyone.
Twenty years later, I’ve come out of the mental illness closet because it’s time break down the barriers that I spent too long building. I have an illness but it doesn’t define who I am. There are times, however, when it takes over and I become disconnected again. Sometimes the combination of drugs, therapists and sun lamps are just bandages holding me together while I walk around with a giant hole in my centre.
This winter was hard.
Everyday I’d force myself out of bed, feeling as if I was wearing a suit made of lead. It took all of my strength to wake up the kids, to kiss them good morning and send them off to school. Then I’d try to summon the strength to get myself to work. Some days I just couldn’t do it. People talked and I replied, but the words in my mouth felt off, like a lagging movie soundtrack. At home I desperately tried to act normal, all the while knowing my husband wasn’t fooled. For the sake of my family, and myself, I saw my doctor. After just a few medication changes she got me stable again and the difference is remarkable.
I have energy for the first time in a VERY long time.
At first I was manic and couldn’t sleep, but we reduced the dose and my body adjusted. I now realized this is how “normal” people must feel. It’s like getting glasses and understanding that the blurry world actually has details. I’m finally seeing the individual leaves on the trees.
I will always have depression but I’m no longer depressed. I promise to savour my “right now” because I don’t know how long it will last. All I know is that today is the first day of spring, the sun is shining, and my hair looks fantastic.