Dear fellow human who suffers from a mood disorder/mental illness,
I know that’s a bit of a lengthy introduction, which is why I contemplated for a while how to concisely label the category of people that you and I fall under, as those who have been diagnosed with a variety of unseen illnesses. We deserve that lengthy introduction and more-- we deserve an introduction in general, in a world that may contribute more overwhelming noise in already chaotic minds, and make us feel just as invisible as our “disabilities” or “disorders”, whatever you choose to call it.
This letter isn’t a “thank you” or an “apology”.
It’s a consolation. A comforting, written equivalent to cracking open a cold one with a close friend, and for one brief moment-- hopefully even longer, you won’t feel so alone.
You, who have experienced the greatest weight, the heaviness of isolation and despair mixed with feelings of submission to the relentless waves of inexplicable sadness that not even a beautiful day or joyful moments can erase.; you, who may have heard the booming voices that are your own, but not your own, and they make you want to clamp your ears, but they’re inside of you, so you can’t escape it-- that loud, violent roaring; you, who may believe that you will never be free, and that your diagnosis defines you and will tear you apart forever--
-- I need YOU to know that you have more strength and bravery than most of the human population for being able handle all of this.
Sorry, if that description of depression was overwhelmingly vivid-- for me, it was a bridge of experiences connecting me to you, and I really hope you know that I’m not an ignorant girl who’s never tasted the salt of lithium, or heard the tired creaks of aged couches at the therapist’s office. I've felt all of that too. I promise you, I know the real monster. And I know the truth-- that you’re someone to be proud of, someone relentlessly fighting, just by breathing.
You may not even believe that you’re handling it, and think that you’re just dying everyday-- maybe even multiple times a day, surrendering to the storm in your mind-- but no matter how much you’ve “cracked”, no matter how much you’ve felt yourself give up, no matter how many times you wish for death, or have already tried to kill yourself, the fact that you’re still here shows how strong you are. You are a Herculean among all others who will never know the mental and emotional struggles that you have faced.
Imagine you and me: we raise our glasses, filled with whatever beverage you fancy, (don’t say, “bleach”-- when I was 14, I would have said that to be funny, but would have been completely serious), and we toast with the phrase, “F*** all that 'just think positive' bulls***”.
You and I both know that’s one of the worst excuses for “advice” we could be given, because happiness isn't easy-- especially when the source of difficulty lies in one's genetic makeup, and the switch between "happy" and "sad" isn't in your control-- it's not even "happy" and "sad"; it's "mania", "depression", "numbness", "passion", "suicidal", "impulsive".
Mental illness just loves extreme adjectives. Everything is a step up above the norm.
So let me step up in my attempts to reach out to you-- the more compassionate phrases to boost you up, the ones that have mattered most to me, and hopefully will for you, are this: “You are not alone. No matter how isolated you may feel."
And it’s not just because you (hopefully) have friends and family who will be there for you-- it’s because there are other people out there who also feel like mutations and monsters, who understand this specific pain-- more than 300 million people in the world, to be exact, according to a 2017 study by the World Health Organization-- that’s right, I did my research, for you :) So even if your family doesn’t get it, there are millions of others who would better understand.
Even for me, just knowing you’re out there, reader, makes me feel less lonely, more comforted. I know that you will never trivialize my struggles, and I'll never invalidate yours.
Along with those words, more sentences of friendly reassurance are: “It’s okay to feel what you feel. It’s not wrong. Feel sad, numb, despairing, exhausted-- cry, sob, SCREAM. You don’t need to force yourself to feel happy, even though it’s ‘preferred’ and being sad often isn’t 'normal'."
You’re just going to make yourself more tired-- and you need all the energy you can get. Your emotions, and your “imbalance”-- they don’t make you a freak. People will love you no matter what you’re feeling, or how many meds you need to take at night to cope.
Take a gulp of that imaginary beverage. Hear the glasses clink.
You may often hear the phrase, “life is worth living”- the Hallmark card greeting of those who seek to prevent possible suicide.
It sounds so cliché. Even I thought the phrase was useless, when I was younger. You might too. You might scoff at my cheesiness.
I don’t know if you’re at the point where you’ve begun to fear life more than death, and suicide seems like a better option than the continuous nightmare of a roller-coaster called “life”, but I feel like we-- the 300 million people previously mentioned-- all contemplate it at least once. In any case, I’d still like to share this with you.
When all is lost and death seems like the only way out of the hell that you may feel like you’re living, only you have the power to determine if you’ll end your life before you fully lived it. I’m not a therapist, psychiatrist, and most importantly, I’m not you, and you know yourself best. I can only hope you take the time to look around.
Think of the people in your life you love. If not many people, then your own dreams. What do you want to do while you’re alive? What are the things that keep the darkness at bay? If you turn to those areas of refuge, if you seek medical help, if you make the effort to take care of yourself, more options will come. More doors will open that aren’t marked “death”.
Do I have any right to say this? Hell, I tried to kill myself numerous times as a teenager, (which actually wasn't even that long ago), and now I’m telling you this. Then again, maybe that makes my argument even more valid. I’m familiar with that suicidal voice, I lived, and living now is terrifying, but as each year passes, I find that more and more of those doors open, and the voice fades away.
According to NAMI, (the National Alliance on Mental Illness), every year, in America alone, about 1 in 5 adults experience a mental illness, and according to AFSP (the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), about 45,000 American adults commit suicide.
More research, I know-- but what I’m trying to get across is that even though you fit into the mental illness category, you don’t have to fall into the suicide statistic.
I know it’s demanding, and the fact that I don’t personally know you makes me feel selfish, but I know you can do it. It might’ve been your first year dealing with depression, or your 10th year dealing with schizophrenia, and I don’t know when you’ll hit that point when your fight will become easier, and you’ll start winning more-- but you’ll never know, unless you keep going.
I know you’re fighting. Other people may not see it, but I know.
Let's keep fighting, together.
We take a sip from our half-emptied glasses.
Ahhhh. Yep. Life is difficult as f***. And it may not seem fair. In all honesty, we didn’t ask for this, and most of us were born with the illnesses that we have. Though it will be with us always, one day, we’ll shove this mental monster into a cage, and after years of nonstop battles, we’ll have won. Remember: you are not alone, and don’t push yourself too hard. You got this. The darkness won’t last forever.
Your friend, Aggie
P.S. I'm sorry if this letter didn't do much to change how you feel-- and God forbid, made you feel worse-- but I did my best, because I wish someone told me these things when I was 14. So anyway, I’m glad you’re here, not just because I needed someone to read this, but just because you exist, and in this moment, both of our struggling hearts are beating-- to live. We'll live :)