Worth Living Contributor Jessie Fawcett
Hello, my name is Jessie and I’m an X University (formerly Ryerson) Alumni with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. Currently, I am pursuing my career as a Social Worker by supporting folks in securing employment and discovering opportunities based on their personal desires and needs. It has been extremely rewarding and I am excited to see where this journey takes me. Mental health has impacted my life for nearly a decade now and I have found that in sharing my experiences and my story with others that not only has it helped me cope with my mental illnesses but it has also helped others feel less alone and that in itself is a gift.
Depression is many things, but one thing that it is not is simply feeling sad all of the time. Sadness is an emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. Depression is a debilitating entity that can take over a person’s life. It is presented in many ways. It sits at the end of your bed while you’re laying there, feeling trapped and suffocated by it, unable to move. It torments you constantly, making the simplest of things like showering, getting dressed, or eating the most daunting of tasks. It drains you entirely, either making you sleep for 15 hours straight and waking up exhausted or haunting your dreams, keeping you awake all night. It makes you push people away and resent friends for not being present at the same time. It’s excruciatingly debilitating loneliness that makes you question whether life is even worth living anymore. It is more than just sadness.
Longing for the Rain
Let me tell you about what is one of the most frustrating parts of struggling with mental illness.
You see, it is no secret that I have been struggling with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder for just short of a decade now. I have been pretty candid about it. I struggled profoundly in high school which continued throughout university. Well, I have since graduated from both and things have not changed much.
The challenges I faced in high school were different from the challenges I faced in university, but I was able to overcome them (to an extent). So, you would think that in overcoming certain challenges that perhaps mental illness would lay off a bit. I can confirm that, in my case anyway, that is simply not the reality. In fact, I would say that I struggle just as much now as I did in high school except in different ways. And this is what is frustrating, being able to see how fortunate you are and how many amazing things you have accomplished and still being in the same amount of pain as before. Success does not equate happiness.
I have a lot of things in my life right now that I am extremely fortunate and grateful to have. I have a roof over my head, a reliable vehicle, a wonderful and rewarding career, food in the fridge, and a few people in my life who love me. I recognize the privileges I have and how lucky I am to have these things and people in my life which not everyone can relate to.
I may not always be able to appreciate how fortunate I am, but I try really hard to remind myself everyday of how much worse things could be, even though it is not a competition. So, with all the things I am grateful for, why is it that I am still struggling so severely? Why is it that I am still so unhappy? Why will my depression not allow me to remain content for any extended period of time? Why does my depression feel the need to constantly convince me that I am not worthy of happiness, that everything will come crumbling down, and that everyone will always leave me eventually? Why is it so difficult for me to remain happy for the moment without questioning it instead of being numb and waiting for everything to come burning down? Before, I used to agonize about going to school, (high school and university) stressing over the challenges I was experiencing and the work I had to complete. But now, it’s different.
I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is look out the window. Is it sunny or is it raining? If it is sunny, will it rain at some point? Will it rain tomorrow? Can it at least get cloudy? I don’t really understand why I ask myself these things, hoping for the rain. I think it’s because I just hope for the weather to match my mood so that I don’t feel bad about lying in bed most of the day (excluding work hours of course). Maybe it’s because I feel that crying all day on a rainy day is more acceptable than crying all day on a sunny day. Maybe it’s because my tears are a reflection of what the sky is feeling which is expressed through the rain. All I know is that I wake up disappointed if it is sunny outside because I feel like I must wear a mask again in order to hide the rain and clouds inside of me. Why does my mental illness not allow me to enjoy the sun? Because I think the majority of people would enjoy a sunny day over a rainy one on most occasions.
Why must I always keep myself busy? And I mean…always. After staring out my window in the morning, I get ready for the workday, and I work all day. Even during my lunch break, I must keep myself occupied. Whether that be by using my phone as a distraction the whole time or going to Walmart to get groceries. Why is it that after work I convince myself that I must go somewhere no matter what or do something or find someone to do something with? Why can’t I just be okay with being by myself doing nothing? Why must I always fill the silence? Why can I never enjoy a weekend by myself alone in my apartment?
It’s no secret that I go home to be with my family almost every weekend. Maybe it’s because I crawl out of my skin when I’m alone, feeling like a stagnant glass of water that’s been sitting on the counter for a week. Maybe it’s because my mind cannot and will not stop racing a million miles a minute constantly going over and over things that are out of my control. Maybe it’s because I spiral when I’m alone. Maybe it’s because my loneliness has been so debilitating that I give myself reasons to be around others with the fear that, if I don’t, I won’t be able to control my thoughts. Why does my depression make me isolate myself from others but also crave their attention and affection at the same time? Why does my depression tell me as soon as I’m alone that, all of a sudden, there is no reason to keep fighting?
Why does my depression feel the need to constantly tell me that everyone I love will leave me? Well, perhaps that one is from the trauma I have experienced both in the past and recently. I’m losing trust and faith in friends and relationships, and this makes it really hard to persevere when every fiber in my body is telling me that nobody cares, everyone hates me, and that I am a horrible and atrocious human being. I’m sorry that I was not good enough, I’m sorry that I have toxic traits, I’m sorry that I could not always be present, I’m sorry that I let so many people down. I wish you would have given me the opportunity to show you that I can be different.
My mental illnesses are not justifications or excuses for bad behaviour although they can be useful in explaining certain patterns and reactions. Please know that I am trying to be the best version of myself possible and that self-reflection is a very challenging skill to master but I am always trying.
Why can’t I just be thankful for the friends that did stay; for the friends that still care even when things are hard? Why is it so hard for me to express to my loved ones how much I love and appreciate them? Because I do. I think the world of the people that stayed, I just don’t know how to express my love into words (believe it or not). Not being able to express feelings with certain people brings this sense of guilt that I will never be able to shake.
I think that’s another challenging aspect of living with mental illness; the guilt that comes with it. The guilt of being a burden is almost always experienced by folks with mental illness, which I too possess.
But I also have another kind of guilt. The guilt of being high-functioning and depressed. I wake up in the morning, make my bed, and get ready for the day (noting that some days getting out of bed is impossible), but most days I get up, get ready, work all day, make dinner, stay busy, get ready for bed, and wash, rinse, repeat. I am able to maintain good hygiene, clean my apartment (unless things are really bad), leave the house, work, and take care of myself. And I am so lucky to be high functioning and for that I am utterly thankful. Yes, I do experience days where I can’t get out of bed, I can’t brush my teeth/hair, and showering seems just as daunting as running a marathon.
But I am still able to do these things and live a generally “normal” life for the most part. Whatever that means. But, in doing so, I always feel that because I am able to do these things, I am not sick enough and that I have to prove myself, that because people have it worse than me that my pain isn’t valid. These statements are simply untrue, and I need to remind myself of this as does anyone else with high functioning mental illness.
I guess what I’m trying to say here, as I have done in the past, is that it does not matter how many things you have in life or how privileged you are, anyone can experience mental illness, no matter their life circumstances. I have many beautiful possessions and people in my life that I am eternally grateful for. I have a job that I love and that provides me with security that not everyone is lucky enough to have. I know that I am doing well in life and that people think highly of where I currently am on this journey.
But at the same time, please try to remember that it doesn’t matter how many amazing things, opportunities, and possessions people have, folks can still be suffering. You never know what someone may be dealing with. I too am guilty of judging others and being jealous, but I try to remind myself that you never know where someone is in their journey; they may be in the best place of their life, or they may be falling apart at the seams. Be kind and remember happiness is not solely based on our accomplishments but rather through the enjoyment we find within ourselves and our lives. I’m still working on finding mine.