Many people who experience depression or mood disorders feel “worse” in the winter with the darker, dreary days and from being exposed to less sunlight. Sure, we can buy light therapy lamps (ask me how often I use mine), wonder if we actually have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – what a great acronym right?), and then have people tell us that we will feel better when spring arrives.
“You will feel better when the weather gets better!”
“You’re usually better in the summer.”
Am I? How do you know? Is every year the same? No. Is every month, day, week, or hour the same? No.
No one knows what goes on inside my head except for me, so unless you are my psychiatrist, don’t try to psychoanalyze me. Ever. Don’t ever tell me when I will feel better, when I should feel better, what will make me feel better, or what I should do to feel better. Let me figure it out for myself.
I am ready to admit that I am in a state of depression and it is exhausting. It has been going on for years; I have been suppressing it and maybe I don’t look “sad” most of the time, but I am. I hurt. I am in pain. I struggle to calm my mind every night before bed. I battle with my brain every day. Depression makes you doubt yourself and makes you hate yourself, makes you forgetful, makes you feel worthless, selfish, guilty, and all kinds of horrible. But I choose to hold on. I will get to the things I have been avoiding doing WHEN I CAN. Not when others want me to or tell me to. If it is important or urgent, I can do it. But if it isn’t, please let me be.
I appreciate that there is more sunlight now and that I don’t have to drive home from work in the dark. But more sun does not automatically make me happy. In theory, I have all the things in my life that “should” make a person happy – but I am not happy because I have a chemical imbalance called depression and a mood disorder called bipolar disorder.
There were a few traumatic and sad events that happened over the past few years that I never had the chance to process, grieve or deal with because I was so busy with starting a new job and planning a wedding. I never had much time for myself and put everyone else’s needs before mine because it was easier that way. Compartmentalizing is an easy way to “deal” with things you do not want to deal with.
I follow a lot of bloggers on Twitter, and one of them who I really relate to, Natasha Tracy (@natasha_tracy), recently posted a blog, “Why People Forget Bipolar Disorder Is a Physical Illness“. Natasha writes,
For my part, as I said, I never forgot, really, but I acted, in my own life, like I didn’t understand the physical basis for bipolar disorder. I beat myself up for having bipolar. I begged a deity I didn’t believe in to fix my bipolar. I felt guilty for having bipolar. I felt like a lesser person because of having bipolar. I didn’t think I wasn’t good enough to be around others because of bipolar. All of these things suggested that bipolar disorder was somehow my fault and unlike all other physical illnesses – but, of course, it isn’t. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder – physical – and my actions should betray that fact.
But, like I said, bipolar is a big liar and I am not immune to its effects. Just because I know otherwise, it doesn’t mean that other forces can’t convince me, for moments, that I’m a horrible, bad, no good, awful, weak, messed up person to exhibit the signs of this illness and not be able to “pick myself up by my bootstraps” and just get on with life….
That said, I think it’s important to fight back against this. When we see ourselves doing something that suggests bipolar disorder isn’t physical – like beating ourselves up about bipolar – then we need to confront those feelings with logic and knowledge and remind ourselves that the brain can be sick, just like any other organ, and we just are unlucky enough to have that happen to us.
Perhaps you can read a bit here to help you remember. Or maybe there’s a book that helps you. Or maybe writing helps you. Or maybe doing art helps you. I don’t know. What I do know is that standing up to this idea is important because not believing that bipolar is a physical illness hurts us – and we already hurt enough already.
Yes. The brain can be sick, just like any other organ. A mental illness is just as real as a physical illness. We must remind ourselves of this and remind others of this, because this is one step towards eradicating stigma.
Stigma, myths and misconceptions are what we fight against. I want to correct everyone who calls the weather depressing or bipolar. I was posting an inspirational quote about owning your story on Twitter last week, and when I went to add hashtags, this is what came up:
I guess #bipolarweather is a popular hashtag?
It’s not just the use of the words ‘bipolar’ and ‘depression’ as adjectives, it’s the word ‘anxiety’ too. People describe themselves as “so anxious” when they are confusing the word with ‘worry’. The word ‘anxious’ sounds more severe and serious. What is the difference? According to an article from Psychology Today, there are 10 crucial differences between anxiety and worry, and they are very different psychological states. To name a few differences:
- We experience worry in our heads and anxiety in our bodies
- Worry is specific while anxiety is more diffuse
- Worry is verbally focused while anxiety includes verbal thoughts and mental imagery
- Worry creates mild emotional distress and anxiety can create severe emotional distress
- Worry tends to be a temporary state but anxiety can linger
This is my journey. It’s my life and I will live it how I want to. And if you are experiencing a mental illness, remember to take care of you, and learn what works for you – even if it means that you reject the advice of well-meaning people. You may not realize it, but you know yourself best.
About Melanie Luxenberg
My name is Melanie Luxenberg and I am finally ready to live openly with mental illness. I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2003, which I still experience. At the same time, I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety (which I also still experience), and then briefly experienced Agoraphobia. I have had depression on and off since I was 13 years old. In July 2010 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II. Shortly after it was realized that I experienced rapid cycling. I can experience multiple cycles in a week. Despite my diagnosis, I completed a university degree and then a college program. I have always held stable employment, regularly taken my medication and regularly attended my doctor’s appointments. There have been times of hopelessness, but I have always found support from my family, husband and 3 dogs. I am a law clerk, social media/content writer and of course, mental health advocate. My Twitter feed is full of mental health advocacy messages. I hope one day to see the end of stigma towards mental illness, because stigma has to stop!