- being triggered is literal torture, not mere dislike or discomfort.
- your thoughts can get stuck in loops that take outside intervention to fix.
- pressuring someone into a sensory experience (taste touch smell sound sight) may force people to relive trauma. don't.
- The wrong therapist is a waste of time and it will wear you down trying to get help from them. if you don't click, move on as quickly as you can.
- it can look like laziness when people are literally doing their best because people have different amounts of energy.
- falling in love or experiencing lots of joy doesn't cure chemical depression. Not even if it is literally the best thing you have ever experienced.
- after a depression crisis is over, the recovery starts, but it can be long.
- survival stress is cumulative and causes depression. If someone is scrambling to survive, expecting them to be reliable and present at any given point is unrealistic and sometimes cruel.
Anika prompted me to share my experience with mental illness and how it has influenced [my] life or personality.
I don't know exactly when I first became depressed but it developed between age 8 and 12, and by the time I was 13 I was praying almost all day every day for God to kill me. I didn't feel like I had the right to end my life or I would have. It eased up somewhat when I finally got my first real friend at 13, but it was still a fairly constant state for me until after I got out of my parents' house, got married, and went through 2 years of therapy for the sexual abuse I experienced as a child.
[CN trigger: terror of unknown men, panic]
--- trigger: fear of unknown men, panic ---
During that 2 years, I was deeply afraid of all male strangers. When the apartment sent men around with leaf-blowers, I hid in the bedroom to put 2 doors between us. I held the axe and my breath and waited until I couldn't hear them any more. I knew, logically, that these people were unlikely to attack me. But logic didn't enter into it because I was in a state of triggered panic. I use the word triggered only very deliberately. Each time I knew men were within 10 feet of my doors or windows I was in a state of utter unthinking panic until they left. Heart pounding panic like you might feel if a bear is that close and staring right at you and growling. I couldn't go out alone. For months even going to the mailbox was too terrifying. (when I finally did go that 200 feet alone, I felt so proud of myself!).
--- end TW about terror of unknown men ---
[CN trigger: penetrative sex causing flashback-like thoughts]
--- trigger: penetrative sex causing flashback-like thoughts ---
The worst part was the triggers that would happen every time I had sex, starting with the first time I tried to have consensual penetrative sex. My body reacted by closing up. It felt horrible and I felt so guilty for not being able to do it, but I literally could not, no matter how much I wanted to! It got worse from there -- I started having horrible intrusive visions of children being violated whenever I would try to have sex that involved penetration. It was extremely difficult to think of sex as anything other than a source of pain, shame, loneliness, terror, and guilt. And I was so disappointed because with my conscious self, I wanted it! but my subconscious was much stronger.
--- end TW about penetrative sex ---
Relatedly, memories attach to weird things so don't ever insist that someone watch, listen to, smell, or taste things! because maybe that makes them feel a violation again in their mind, and they shouldn't have to tell you about it to get you to stop. Sometimes mental avoidance is an absolutely necessary coping strategy and if someone has to tell you "that makes me remember [traumatic event]" then you may be breaking their ability to stay out of a horrible loop of trauma replay.
The fear and intrusive thoughts were my main issue in that period of mental illness, but the amount of work I had to do on those things was so much that it made me feel hopeless. I felt like I would never get better. I wondered why bother living if every future day was going to involve reliving the worst feelings I had ever experienced. I kept going because I had a supportive partner who treated my healing as an important contribution he was making to the world.
Then about a year in, after three failed therapists and one therapist retiring, I found a therapist that I actually clicked with: one who had experienced worse trauma than I had and was now so free of triggers that they could sit next to their abuser without fear. The fact that they had healed that much made me feel that surely I could too, but it still was a long journey with a lot of pain in it.
Eventually we worked through a lot of previous traumas and I started to feel less scared and I was able to control my thoughts again. I started to feel normal, back to my old self. I still was sensitive to certain words, and movies with realistic (true to the experience of a victim, not glamorized rape myths) sexual abuse or rape would trigger me and make it so that my mind was trapped in a loop feeling that experience over and over, but those instances happened less and less often. I was able to go back to work. I was able to interact with strangers and go places by myself. I was able to perform the minimum required, like I had been before I started therapy.
[being not-depressed is amazing]
Then there came a day when I suddenly realized that doing things didn't feel like slogging through cold mud. I even had energy to spare! I could be cheerful in the face of grumpiness! I could be social with strangers for hours and still do stuff when I got home - LOTS of stuff! I suddenly realized that I had never been lazy -- it was actually that I had lacked the energy to do more. All my energy had been going to running coping programs for the abuse that I endured.
When I didn't need to spend energy coping because I had processed enough of it, all that energy welled up and sprang out of me. I was so magical, so loving, so creative. I was outgoing, as I always knew my true self was. I felt able. I was not-depressed from 2006 to 2010, then had 8 months of depression, then was not-depressed again from mid-2011 to mid-2012. I was so, so active and productive in those 6 years, to the point that it boggles my mind now.
So through all that I learned that sometimes a thing you think everyone can do is literally impossible for some people, and that when people say they can't, it's not just an irresponsible way of saying "won't." If you can understand only one thing about mental illness, I want you to understand that you can't tell WHY someone can't do a thing and there isn't always external proof. You just have to trust them.
Later, I went into depression again because I spent more energy than I had, day after day, without getting nourished. It sounds like nothing, but I was more depressed from that than I was about the abuse, because with the abuse at least I got a clear path to healing, I got reassurance that healing was possible, and all kind people were supportive. Even kind people are generally not supportive of healing from depression that has "no real reason" and the acceptable "real" reasons are very limited. The attitude is "get over it already."
Not long after I realized the cause of that depression, I fixed the cause and began the most nourishing and healing connection of my life -- the thing I had always yearned for since I was small. Even though I had this new source of brilliant joy, I couldn't really feel it because the pain had worn such a rut in my brain that I couldn't get out. I could not access the happiness I knew my experiences should be giving me.
[every day I thought it could not get worse]
Every day I thought surely this is the worst it can get -- and then the next day was worse. It was so bad that I could not access any feelings except despair; I could not even care about the suffering of others, which has always been one of my primary motivations. When I thought about injustice and suffering and had no emotional response, I felt I had died inside and was no longer a person.
Finally I got desperate enough to go to the clinic and get medicine, which formed a protective layer over the bottom of the rut and allowed me to slowly heal, layer by layer, until the rut was gone. But then the protective layer kept me from feeling things deeply which started to make me feel like life was pointless, so I weaned myself off against medical advice. I know my own brain and I knew I no longer needed it because it had started to cause me harm rather than good.
That experience taught me that even with a perfect situation, even in a time that should be your happiest, if the chemicals in your brain are messed up you are not going to be able to be happy. The chemistry of your brain is stronger than the strongest will. Just like you can't will yourself out of mono, you can't will yourself out of depression.
Even though the crisis-level depression was over after 8 months of medication, the depression was not gone. It's like after a long illness when it finally breaks -- the healing is not done because the sickness is over, because your body has to recover from the battle. My mind had to recover, and that process was slowed by the constant and massive amount of energy I had to put into surviving because my job didn't pay enough for me to live on. For a while that process was not just slowed but reversed by the exhaustion of scraping a survival on what I could beg from my biofamily while I tried to convince employers that I was a valuable person and they should hire me and pay me a living wage.
When your ability to feed and shelter yourself is in constant doubt, there is no rest from the emotional and mental drain. Even when you are not actively worrying, it takes so much energy to keep it out of your conscious mind. Daily survival stress is cumulative and from myself and others I have seen, it always creates depression. Extra energy exists in a world of unicorns and dragons, and to think that you can have it while fighting to survive is a laugh.
A year ago I finally found a job that is perfect for me and pays me a living wage. Since then I have begun healing again, very slowly. I have only just now started feeling like I can actually count on this job, despite always doing my best and often getting appreciative comments from coworkers. I have only in the past few months started feeling like I can count on being able to stay in the place where I live.
I also have SAD (seasonal affective depression) but I have mostly learned how to cope with this so that it doesn't affect me too much. The most important part is that I have to get enough sleep on a fairly regular sleep schedule, and I HAVE to get up at LEAST three hours before dark. I have to get outside every day even if it's just 5 min, even if there is no sun. I need to drink lots of hot drinks (coffee, hot chocolate, tea) and try to stay as warm as possible. I need to eat regularly. I need to use my sunlight lamp as close to daily as I can manage.