I Am Mentally Ill
(This was originally posted in October 2015 by Evan Smith (me) and was republished with permission here in June 2016)
This is weird. But I guess it’s time. It’s the next step I suppose. I’m sorry if I skip around a bit. I’ve sort of been avoiding it for so long but I’ve never tried to hide it. It’s something I’ve needed to do for a while, I think. Maybe. I don’t know. I guess, I’m coming out.
I suffer from mental illness.
Early in my life, I was both purposefully and accidentally isolated from people. I had my friends, don’t get me wrong, but I often spent long periods of summers cooped up in the house, crying, wondering why no one liked me. I’m a pretty average person – I know that now. It shouldn’t have been hard for me to make friends. A couple of incidents that happened early in my life made it much harder for me to reassemble friendships. However it’s not something that should have been impossible, but it definitely felt that way.
I spent a portion of my life (about 4 years) afraid to walk to the end of the road because of anxiety and fear. That made things difficult. I can only imagine how frustrated my parents felt. They often asked if I’d just go down around the corner to the shop for milk or eggs or whatever mundane thing we needed. I always said no. I’m sure they thought I was lazy a lot of the time (and sometimes I was – I was a teenager) but I just could never muster up the courage to say the words “I’m scared“.
Looking back, it was extremely hard to feel like I wasn’t a burden. I often cancelled plans because I chickened out at the last second, fearing the awkwardness of general life. This is honestly still something I do now. I’m nearly always the kind of guy who goes to a party with a friend and ends up following them around the whole time, crutching on their company. Anxiety is one of the worst kind of things to deal with because people already have labels for all the symptoms. It’s easy to just say someone is awkward or that they’re just shy. What’s hard is to accept the fact that this person is fundamentally uncomfortable and, for me at least, scared of their surroundings.
It’s not nice to feel panicked and scared. I think everyone has different triggers. Mine are definitely crowds. I hate small gigs. For me, they’re the Fear Factor of all social events. I love music, I really do. However, dealing with crowds of people all moving and flowing like an ocean of bodies freaks me out and scares me. It overwhelms all of my senses until I’m acutely aware of the terribleness I feel inside myself. It’s that kind of feeling you’d get if you entered a black, deathly silent room and could only hear the rushing of your blood and the grinding of your limbs as you moved. It’s an impending feeling of dread and sickness that crashes over you, splitting against your skull and marbling the stones beyond.
It took me a long time to find the people that would help me feel confident again – to give me purpose – and, I guess, I properly knew I had depression around the age of 16. I felt alone. Very numb all the time. Kind of distant – out-of-body kind of distant. I often thought of an escape. It wasn’t suicide or ascension. It was just freedom. Freedom from the burdens of life. Freedom from being a burden on the people who least deserved it.
Around the time when I felt at my lowest, I met someone wonderful. I met someone a little like me. I spent hours walking and talking with them. No problem was too little or large and it wasn’t one-sided. We exchanged our problems and talked them through. I actually felt like I had a proper friend for once. I had other friends, sort of, for the most part, but this felt like the support I’d needed for so long. It let me properly feel like I wasn’t alone – that I was allowed to feel happy.
I don’t think I can accurately describe how it felt to cope with the spells of sadness alongside happiness. Sometimes it just hit like a lightning strike and motivation seeped from my body, leaving me empty. Whereas, other times it drifts in slowly like grey clouds, often at my highest points – congealing over these positive emotions until this weird, mouldy pit remains in your stomach. I often found myself actively isolating myself from everyone in the hopes that I’d recover quickly and could jump right back into those positive emotions but… it just doesn’t work like that. I was driving myself further and further into my sadness and loudening the voice in my head that told me I was worthless; I was useless; I was nothing. There wasn’t necessarily a sadness that existed like tears but it felt more like a lack of happiness in my body.
Being able to talk to someone really helped to make those feelings into a physical thing I could tackle – no longer ethereal and beyond my grasp. It made my life so much easier.
“ It’s often better to fail at something and take the long way round than it is to succeed first time. ” – Margaret Smith
My leaving cert year was hell. Between stress, responsibility and personal relationships – I often looked for that same out from anxiety and fear. My parents helped me immensely. I loved (still do) chilli and my mother made it nearly every week whenever she saw me look so unhappy. And they both talked to me about my plans for the future and took away any pressure that they could. Something my mother said, that will stand to me forever, is “it’s often better to fail at something and take the long way round than it is to succeed first time”. My parents did everything they could to make sure that no matter what happened, I would still be okay – even if that meant doing nothing at all.
My life pretty much did a full 180 once I hit college. I was in my element from day one. Surrounded by people with the same kind of passions and interests as me drove me further than I’d ever felt I could go before. I built things for people and relished the enjoyment from both building a solution and solving a problem. There’s an amazing happiness that overcomes me when I see someone use something I’ve built to make their lives easier. And that’s my passion now. I want to build something that goes beyond myself, that changes the world.
I still experience bad periods and intense doubts about my actions. Moreso recently than before but that’s because I’m loving too many things and burning myself out every other week – so don’t worry about me, please. I just want you to know that it’s not something that you grow out of, or that it fades away. This is something I may have to deal with for a very long time but I’m so very glad to have the people I do for when the world caves in and little Evan retreats into his duvet burrito to recuperate and tackle the world again tomorrow.
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed. ” – Invictus by William E. Henley
Reading back over what I’ve written, I realise it may seem hard to plot on a timeline when I was up and when I was down but that’s sort of the point. Sometimes, they are their own definite, distinct points in time and other times they interfere or collide in different amounts and variations in different places with different people. And, just like this post, it’s hard to detangle depression and anxiety from the happy moments – but it’s not impossible.