Sometimes I think,
I need a spare heart to feel
all the things I feel.
― Sanober Khan, A Thousand Flamingos
The more I think about my mental health and where it comes from, the more I realise that it’s impossible to make a clear distinction between the healthy and less healthy parts of me. I’m not sure it’s possible to change your fundamental temperament or your personality but maybe by understanding ourselves we can have some control about how this impacts on us.
I am naturally a positive and happy person. I am usually hopeful and my natural state is to be optimistic and excited about life. This is the me that most people see, and it certainly is real. This is the me who feels good about herself and her relationships. I just also have this other side to me, the anxious and depressed me who feels hopeless and trapped and altogether much gloomier about the world. I think I (and people around me) would find it easier to understand if I was miserable all the time but it just doesn’t work like that for me.
So where does it come from? I take medication for my depression which largely works to keep me feeling OK. My mood is certainly linked to my physical wellbeing and hormones so there is definitely a physical component to it. I haven’t been abused or suffered any massive trauma which would explain it. I have loving parents and had a good childhood. So there must be something else.
I am a really sensitive person. I’m very intuitive. I feel things very strongly and I think very deeply. I hated that about myself as a kid. Sometimes I still do. Sensitive means to me that I cried too easily, I cared too much what people thought, that I didn’t cope very well with difficult things. These are the things that come out when my depression has the upper hand. When I’m OK I know that my sensitivity is a good thing. It’s what makes me a good friend. It makes me good at the work that I do. It makes me a good person. It makes me want to make the world a better place. But wow is it a bit much sometimes. Sometimes I just wish I could turn my brain off.
Anxiety is what comes when I am overwhelmed. It makes me restless. It’s what makes me feel like I need to be more, do better, be perfect. To the outside world I am motivated and always have a something that I’m working on. The problem is on the inside, never feeling good enough, satisfied or contented is exhausting, and that’s usually when depression has to cut in to slow me down. So there’s the overlap, perfectionism, a personality trait, contributes to my anxiety, mental health, which results in depression, mental illness.
One of the things that happens when I am depressed is that I believe that it is a personality trait rather than an illness. Every time I have a relapse I feel like it is a personal failure, flaw or defect in my character. Why is it that if I was suffering from a physical health condition that had flareups and periods of remission I would happily accept the episodic nature of it and the lack of control that I have, yet with depression I have a very different narrative?
So I can’t change who I am. I am sensitive. I get overwhelmed, and I’m a perfectionist. I have anxiety and I have depression. And that’s OK. What I can change is how I feel about it. By writing this blog I am already starting to understand myself a bit more. I am believing in myself enough to put myself out into the world. I am changing my narrative. Today, just for a minute I am totally feeling this…
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
“This is me” from the Greatest Showman sung by Keala Settle.
If you don’t know what this is, where have you been?