With the new year come and gone, I looked back at the past few years of life and see how far I’ve come with my condition. 2013 was a life changing year for me. Not only did I have my longest bout of major depression in my life yet, I also made the conscious decision to fight my illness head on.
That meant no longer being the passenger in a process that usually results in confusion and lost of identity. It meant learning about what it was that was causing me so much pain. It meant tackling my bipolar head on, identifying triggers, self analysing, learning coping mechanism, and admitting to my own short comings.
To me, self-awareness in mental health isn’t just about knowing you have a problem. It’s not just about seeing a doctor either. It’s a lot more complicated than that. It’s about learning from the worst of yourself.
Before 2013, I knew I had a mental illness, but it was always sort of there. I never thought much about it, and I simply enjoyed whatever normal time I could get and save the worrying about dying stuff for when they happen.
I think that’s what it’s like for everyone. Once an episode of depression or mania is over, the memories become like a dream, in that you subconsciously try to forget them. It’s like a nightmare, where you are scared for a few minutes after waking up, and fine the rest of the day, except stretched for the span of a lifetime.
Being self-aware in mental health to me means rejecting the subconscious push to make the events a dream. You accept that it’s reality, that it really happened, that it will happen again, and prepare for it.
It become similar to the experience of lucid dreaming. For those who never experienced it before, a lucid dream is when you are dreaming but have full understanding that you are dreaming. You also have control over your own body and thoughts in your dream to a certain extent, and can shape the world around you.
It’s an intense experience, because you are so much more aware of the impossibility of the world around you. It taxes the mind as you hold onto a figment of your thoughts that tethers you to reality and it feels like if you let go of that thought, you’d fall back into a dream again.
Being aware is similar. You’re constantly holding onto the feeling of ‘normalcy’, actively and daily making sure you don’t fall back into the throes of whatever mental health issues you faced.
For me, I keep my depression close. I can feel it at the corner of my mind, and my heart gives an actual physical ache whenever I think about it. It’s a reminder that it is right there, and to not fall back into the spiral of suicidal thoughts. It also helps me write these articles.
The feeling, the actual physical feeling of what it feels like to live with a fragment of depression is a very strange instance to describe. There’s this constant tug of the heartstrings, a slight pull inside your chest like a clogged artery. And if you mentally focus on that tug, you start feeling the basics of depression. Dissociative, emotional, things like that.
I keep that pain close. I remember it, make it a part of my daily life, so that whenever the tug gets stronger, I know I’m taking a turn for the worst.
My life has changed with that decision. I live with the knowledge of suicide close to me, every day. And of course it has caused a change in lifestyle. I now work more carefully, do things in slightly more reservation than before. But I also work with more focus, and can dedicate more time to specific projects than before.
It helps that people don’t question too much about my life. Aside from my father, everyone’s pretty cool with the weird way I’ve been living. I don’t go out much either, but when I do, it’s always to have the best experience I can muster from the trip. Life in short bursts.
But there are down sides to living so self-aware of my own mortality with regards to depression and suicide. I become more critical of myself. I point out my own flaws, and know intricately of my own mistakes. That does nothing good for self-esteem. It also places unnecessary stress when I work.
At the same time though, because of how self-analytical I’ve become, I know how talented I am in certain aspects as well. Because of this, people tend to think I look down on others when those topics comes up, which is not true. I just treat other people with a high standard. I know how flawed I am, and I expect others without similar problems to be better people than me.
When that expectation isn’t met, I get gravely disappointed. Honestly though, I’d much rather it be this way than me meeting someone for the first time and treating them as idiots. It’s a logical process. Treat someone the best you think of them, so you don’t have to invest too much emotional struggle to figure them out.
I’m still willing to learn, and I’m always open to being proven wrong. After all, at this point, learning from my mistakes is the only reason I’m still alive.