I want you to imagine something for me:
Your skin feels numb. It’s hardly noticeable at first — the shower doesn’t feel too hot, you don’t need a sweater when everyone else does. Then it starts getting worse. You can’t really feel anything. There is pressure and some distant recognition of touch, but no real sensation.
You ask yourself this. As it worsens you begin to worry, anxiety building in the pit of your stomach.
Next, your muscles begin to seize. They clench, tightly, as if your body is trying to collapse on itself. Your heart races. Maybe because you’re scared. Maybe not.
Your appetite disappears. Or maybe it grows and all you can think about is food. You can’t sleep, dragging your rigid and exhausted body that refuses to rest. Or maybe all you can do is sleep, the difficulty of lifting your sick bones too overwhelming.
Your vision changes. Colours disappear until everything is in black, grey, and white. “Can’t you see the beautiful colours of the fall leaves?” “No.”
Pain radiates on the edges of your perception. Low and constant, sometimes flaring for no reason you can discern. The numbness fading only for the moments of pain.
You feel guilty. That dinner you were supposed to cook. That moment you were supposed to enjoy. All put on hold for something beyond your understanding. Did you do something to cause this? If you had exercised more… eaten better…
Eventually, you are paralyzed. Frozen in place. All you want to do is scream for help, for the pain to stop… but you can’t.
Now, I want you to imagine the same scenario but with some slight differences. It is not your skin that grows numb, but your emotions. Happiness is elusive. So is desire. Even sadness. The smiling face of your daughter, the person you know means everything in the world to you, elicits only the faintest blip of a feeling.
The result is the same. You ask yourself: Why? Then the anxiety. Guilt. Eating or not. Sleeping or not.
It is not colours you are blind to, but positivity. It is no longer in the spectrum of your emotional vision. No matter how long someone points at something and says “Can’t you see this happiness?” the true answer will still be, “No.”
And the paralysis. Not a physical one, but a mental one. Your decision-making processes shut down. Your communication comes to a halt. And here you are, wanting to scream for help, for the pain to stop… .
Is this any less frightening?
This is mental illness. To be specific, this is my mental illness, but there are many people who share the same or similar experiences. I’m lucky in that I have a vague notion of why this is happening. I know I am sick, I know this will pass and — most of the time — I know it’s not my fault. A lot of people don’t have this benefit. Maybe this is the first time they’ve experienced it. Maybe the people around them tell them mental illness is not a true “illness.” Maybe they have been experiencing it for years but still don’t understand – Why?
I know this is a writing blog, but one of my aims in writing is to break down stigmas surrounding mental illness. Secrets and Skin was a way to give a face to self-harm, to give those of us who never thought we could be heroes a chance. To talk about healing and relapse. I try to be candid about these issues.
Today, this is how I felt. I went for a walk. I meditated. I tried to look at all the beauty in my life, but I was blind to it. So I expressed it. Writing from the inside out to try to share my experience. For those who are going through it — so you don’t feel alone. For those who have never felt it — to help you understand.
Depression is not sadness. Anxiety is not negative thinking. Just because the pain and dysfunction are not physical, doesn’t mean they are any less overwhelming or in need of treatment (whether medical or therapeutic.) If a muscle becomes damaged, you move it and train it to a point of health. If a nerve becomes pinched, you have surgery or take medication to cope. This is no different.
Please, be supportive to those living this right now. Try to understand.
And if this was your day today too — you can do this. It will hurt. It will take time. But that’s okay, all healing does. You are not alone.
If you or a loved one are in need of immediate help, please see the following resources: