Bleeding Ink is back. Been about a year and a half since the last entry. Various reasons for not writing anything. But ultimately, I can’t not do this. A writer writes. I’ve written since I was just lil Bleeding Ink. It’s how I process things. How I remember things. I write to heal my pain. To rage. To laugh. To cry. To stop crying. To breathe. I write because I have to….
Before I go on, I should probably give a heads-up that this blog includes a picture of a brain surgery scar in the healing process. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress.
Specifically, the topic that brought me back to the blog was the death of Carrie Fisher. When I read that she had died, I teared up (ok I cried) in a way I hadn’t with other celebrities that passed in 2016.
But it wasn’t because of Star Wars. She readily admitted that she’ll always be known as Princess Leia, but that wasn’t what brought the tears. Nor was it the fact that she was a bad-ass in those movies, whether you thought of her as Princess Leia or as General Organa. Rather, it was her being a bad-ass in real life. It was that she was so open and honest about the fact that she had bipolar disorder. She was an OG advocate for mental illness, talking about it when it was a lot more taboo than it is today. She helped lessen the prejudice people have. I admired the hell outta Carrie Fisher and her bravery and candor.
Kid Cudi was also an inspiration, admitting himself for suicidal thoughts and depression, and causing men, in particular black men, to come together and create #YouGoodMan which trended on twitter for several days. Those two, as well as some fellow mental health fighters (because we do fight. Every day.) pushed me to be brave and put this out there for the world to read.
See kids the thing is, this blog post has been two years in the making. I began it the very day Robin Williams was found dead. August 2014. Started out as a tribute to him and his comedic genius. But then it evolved into talking about mental illness. The entry then sat here for a couple weeks. Unfinished. Then for a month. Then a couple months. Oh I’d come back to it. Add some stuff. Delete some stuff. Re-add the original stuff and add more. Delete it all and start over. You get the idea. But I would never dare publish it.
Oh and I had links too! So many links! Links to studies, links from peer-reviewed papers, links showing physical changes in the brain of people with chronic depression, I even had links with results of Functional MRI (fMRI) that showed what a brain in the midst of a severe depressive episode looks like vs a “normal” brain.
But the funny thing (funny/ironic, not funny/ha-ha) about having anxiety is that you are likely too anxious to write about it! And definitely too anxious to publish it! So I suppose I wanted to find link after link so y’all wouldn’t just think to yourselves, “Oh he’s crazy.” “Depression? Yeah that’s not a real thing. Just be happy.” “Anxiety? Why would you be anxious around us, we’re your friends.” Or the ever popular “Happiness is a choice.”
Figured if I had science behind it, you would all be convinced that mental illness isn’t just Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons due to old age. It isn’t just some guy hearing voices because of schizophrenia, telling him to kill people at an airport. Mental illness isn’t just someone talking to herself, convinced the aliens are coming. I suppose I hoped you’d read this entry and if I had enough links to back it up, you wouldn’t think, “Dude. That Bleeding Ink, yeah um, he cray. Wow. Who knew he was that messed up, yikes. Let’s just back away from this friendship.”
But now I realize I don’t need 9 million links. There are a few in this entry, but ultimately, I can’t change anybody’s mind. And that’s ok. It has to be. I can’t vanish the negative bias people have around it. Not by myself. I’m not a scientist working on the latest research into mental illness. I can’t show you that 40 million of us aren’t “crazy” or “just sad.” You either believe it’s a real thing and that I work my ass off every day to function as a stable human being, or you don’t.
It’s depression so bad that some days you can’t even find the energy to go outside. It’s when you develop such awful anxiety after having 2 back-to-back emergency shunt surgeries that you lose 28 lbs in a couple months because you stop eating, because your stomach hurts all the time. Meanwhile, you do that thing people do on social media where you may not flat-out lie in a post, but certainly you are giving just the “highlight reel” of your life. You only post the good stuff. So friends had no idea what you’re dealing with, and so they compliment you on your weight loss. “Yo, you look fantastic, how are you staying so slim??”
Anxiety so bad that you have thoughts that you know, you KNOW, are not logical. But you have them anyway. You have thoughts that you can’t explain to anybody because as soon as you try, it doesn’t make any sense even to you coming out of your own mouth.
“Oh um, you’re wondering whyyyyyyyyy I drove around and around your house, too anxious to stop and knock on the door even tho you’re my metaphorical sisters that I’ve known for years? Oh. Well. See. The thing is….”
And it doesn’t matter what the thing is. Because the “thing” is that unless you’ve experienced this yourself, you’ll never know. And you may have compassion for it, and you may believe mental illness is real. You may know that science says it’s complicated; that environment and your experiences both play roles. A myriad of reasons, not yet fully understood, keep you in that dark place. But you won’t know what it actually feels like. Because your brain’s not broken. So you can empathize, but never really know.
Flip-side of empathy means you’ll never know because you don’t believe it. Your emotions get the better of you and you can’t imagine how your friend, your “brother”, could suddenly create all these scenarios in his head that paralyze him from calling you, or make him drive around and around your house and not pull over and go say hi. And I can understand how it doesn’t help convince you that mental illness is real, whenever you get on social media and see a post or a picture where the person with anxiety somehow has the courage to attend a show with the spouse, or an award ceremony for a relative, but can’t go visit you in the hospital after you had your first child. You see that and hey, what else are you supposed to think?? You get angry. And I don’t blame you. It’s hard to understand what happens in a mind filled with anxiety.
For many people, including this writer, anxiety and depression can be a lifelong companion. Triggered by abuse of some kind, or sudden disability, by the loss of a child, too many trips to the ER due to chronic condition, or by nothing at all. And it more than likely comes and goes. Ebbing and flowing, sometimes kept at bay, completely asymptomatic. Sometimes overwhelming.
And it can be a lonely existence. People won’t understand you. People will think that you’re simply unmotivated or a homebody, when you’re really in the throes of another depressive episode. Or they might see you as irresponsible when actually you’re having a panic attack. Rather than in class where you’re supposed to be, you might be hiding in some corner of a building someplace, unable to breathe, freaking out about something that in all likelihood is not happening and won’t happen.
And whereas anxiety will tell you everyone is pointing and laughing at you, secretly talking about you behind your back, depression will tell you there’s no point in doing anything about it. #DepressionLies and tells you no one wants to hear you. It convinces you that even your best friend will get tired of you if you complain too much. Mental illness convinces you not to go outside and get some fresh air, not to reach out to people, don’t make that phone call. The very things you need to do to help yourself are the very things mental illness says you shouldn’t do. *That’s* irony! (And not the Alanis kind.)
Anxiety tells you that if you do make that phone call, you’ll say something completely ridiculous and look like a huge idiot. It whispers –no, it screams!– in your ear, “Say something. Don’t just sit there silent. Oh my god so awkward, you’re such a loser, just hang up.” Your humble writer was so thankful when texting became a thing. Still, I learned at 12 years old it’s difficult to keep friends when you don’t actually call them every once in a while.
So to those that have stayed, thank you. My loving wife, who knows it’s real, who has literally helped me breathe on the really bad days, thank you. My family. The friends that check in when they notice that I’m isolating again. Thank you. Thank you for staying.
And to the ones that have left, I don’t blame you. Really.