support system

This hasn’t been an easy road. I’ve wondered if this roller coaster is worth it because, wow, it really is a roller coaster. When you go up a hill, you feel that little twinge of excitement, fear and apprehension. You’re not really sure what to expect. It could be thrilling or it could be absolutely terrible. And that drop where everything on the inside stops…. imagine just being on a roller coaster all day. Sure, a 2 minute ride is fun and thrilling. But imagine now that you’re stuck on it. You can’t get off. You need to wait at least 3 months before you can get off and back on somewhat solid ground.

How fun is THAT, right?

The problem with mental illness is that people don’t see it quite like a regular disease. As much as I have believed that things have gotten better, there’s still a lot of stigma and fear. Sure, we’re a lot more open-minded than my parents’ generation used to be, but of course I still hear people ask, “Why can’t you take care of it on your own? It’s all just in your head, right?”

Yes. Yes, I am fortunate that I am not schizophrenic. I am fortunate that I am severely bipolar. It’s depression. It’s sadness. It’s just a low unhappiness that everyone will go through at least once in his or her lifetime. And maybe that’s why people have a hard time seeing “depression” as an actual disease. Why get worried over something that seems to be a normal emotional range?

But it should be alarming. We shouldn’t dismiss it. It’s not okay to just say, “Oh get over it. Deal with it. You’ll be fine. This won’t last long.” Or my personal favorite that I get as a girl: “It’s just that time of the month. ALL girls get like that.”

It’s tough. What is this lack of support? Why do people so easily dismiss this? That’s a somewhat rhetorical question because I kind of know the answer. Part of it, as I see it, is because it’s hard to figure out when people complain for attention or when they’re actually depressed. I’ve dealt with both and given my time and energy to both and both were equally exhausting. After years and years, I finally cut off the attention-seeker because things became so toxic and draining. I was upset, hurt and annoyed that I had tried to be supportive to someone who actually didn’t need my support. She just wanted to brag.

But for the friend that truly needed me, I didn’t mind. For the attention-seeker, I spent 10 years. For the one who needed me, less than a year. Yeah. I can see why people want to dismiss it.

Support isn’t everything. But it’s just so important. Support can’t save everyone. Sometimes, mental illness is so severe that just as with any physical illness, that person cannot be saved. But sometimes, more than hospitalization, more than medication, support can be all someone needs to survive.

I can attest to that. Since I was 9, I took it upon my awkward, preteen (not even preteen!), hormone-confused self to shoulder my depression on my own. I thought it was something I can handle and work through. It was in my head. It was puberty. Puberty was distracting me from school and I was getting bad grades and THAT was why I felt so depressed. It had nothing to do with my mental well-being. And it was brutal hell. More times than I can count, I hit rock-bottom. Hurting myself was pretty common. I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop. What pain? The pain of having no idea of what was going on with me. Remind me to get more into that one day.

But I managed to survive. How? I want to say I was smart. I didn’t go too far with the hurting. That’s why most suicides are labeled “accidental”; they didn’t mean for it to go too far. And I was able to barely survive through school.

Then I started graduate school. And this program, good grief, it brought out the worst in me. Every day, I questioned myself about my self-worth. Everything. EVERYTHING. Blew up. I was this close. THISCLOSE to losing it all.

Then… through some great miraculous intervention, I found a tiny group of support. It trickled in one person at a time, but within three months, I had a small, compact, solid group of support that helped me get back to a reasonable level. Things began to stabilize.

I don’t know if i would have survived the last three months without my support. I can see a very bleak end in the parallel universe, one that I’m very glad that I avoided. Things aren’t perfect. I still have my moods. I still feel the emotional pain. But at least now, I have people who will be there and hear me out. I know they won’t judge me. I know they’ll listen. I know they’ll offer their ear, even if they can’t offer any advice. I’m still here now because I had people who would just listen to me.

I can’t encourage it enough with all of you guys out there, too. I didn’t want it. I spent 17 years avoiding support. But I now know it’s not really weakness. It’s vulnerability. They aren’t the same.

You don’t have to know how to deal with a person who is depressed. You don’t have to share your life story with friends. We just need someone who will listen and be there. Just like with the medications, if you can find that one right group that will understand, things can stay afloat.

Support systems. Who knew how much of an impact the right people could make.

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