My name is Emily, and I have a mental illness. I think.
I've only recently started calling it that. I think about and write about and refer to it in my head as my mental illness. There are elements of depression and elements of anxiety, and there's an underlying problem with anger that I'm getting better with but don't want to discount or ignore. But I've never actually been diagnosed. Probably because I've only seen one therapist, for three or four sessions in 2014, right after I graduated college and right before I moved to a different state and never got around to calling a new one.
When you're in a good place, it's really easy not to think about it. When you're not in the middle of an episode, it doesn't occur to you that you really do need help. At least, it doesn't for me. I've always thought of my behaviors as extremely mild. Like, depression has never stopped me from getting out of bed and going to work. There was a time that I would sometimes be socially anxious enough that I wouldn't go out and do something I wanted to do, but that hasn't really happened since high school. I'm basically okay, I tell myself.
The truth is, I have no idea how bad it is. There's no way for me to know if this is normal. Is it healthy to deal with your feelings by crying? As much as I do? Here's a representative sample of things I've cried about recently:
I've always known I was sensitive and vulnerable. I've always been that way. But is this degree of it really healthy? Some of these things seem like they are. Things that just tug on my heartstrings and make me verklempt. That seems okay. But I'm starting to think that a lot of these things cause this reaction in me because, contrary to what I constantly present to the world, I might actually be totally insecure and never feel like I'm good enough.
I think sometimes about how women who have endometriosis are rarely diagnosed early, because when they seek help for their pain they are told that that's what periods are supposed to feel like. Menstrual cramps are normal, so they should just take some Advil and get over it. Or else, they never seek help for their pain in the first place, because they've already internalized that they're just supposed to suffer. I feel like something similar might be affecting my perception of my mental illness. "You've always been emotional, Emily. Crying about stuff is just your thing. Being worried all the time and unable to relax is your thing. It's not like it's real depression." - My brain to me, every time I start to think that maybe I should be happier.
I'm like this about most aspects of my health, the same way my mom is. She works constantly - 80-hour weeks at her company, dinners on the table, clean counters and carpets and coffee tables. She never can convince herself to stop long enough to go to a doctor's office. Similarly, if I choose to watch something on Netflix or read a book instead of write or look for auditions, I kick myself for it almost immediately. The full-time job I have to support myself takes a huge chunk of time away from being an artist. If I waste the only time I have to be an artist (a.k.a., "free time," as it is known to most working adults) on frivolous things like 'relaxing' or 'self-care', I'll never get anywhere. This, incidentally, is a major aspect of the anxiety side of my mental illness.
So, I work, pretty much all the time. So do most women I know. So did my mom. Until about six months ago, when she finally did go to a doctor and was told that she has MS. She's doing pretty well, now that she's on the right medication and has stopped working. But she told me recently that the doctors discovered she has had it for over five years. If she had gone in for a check-up during that time, if she had asked somebody to look into why her legs ached or why her fingers sometimes went numb, she would have known that.
After that conversation (and after I cried about it, natch), I decided it would be a good idea to get out of the habit of ignoring my own well-being. It's incredibly overwhelming, actually. I can think of five doctors, right off the bat, that I should see, if I treated my pain like it was worth fixing (physician, psychologist, ENT, dentist, gynecologist, and this is just my first pass). Thinking about how much time it'll take to go through all these processes makes me extremely anxious about the opportunity costs.
But I've decided to start treating myself like I matter more than my work. That means appointments. That means taking it easy on myself. Vacations. Relaxing. Reading. Journaling. Yoga. Meditation. Whatever it takes. Whatever I have to do to be both happy and productive, and, hopefully, have a long enough life to enjoy both as much as possible.
Next stop: therapy. I've just emailed two psychologists in my area.
Here's to feeling better.