My double life: living with depression
Posted Friday 27 April 2012
I have sometimes wondered if having a mental illness has led to living a double life: tentatively balancing a seemingly contented existence with a life of despair, shame, and anxiety.
I have had periods of severe depression throughout my life, often wondering if it is something more. I have spent years talking to all types of people: some who are paid and duty bound to care; some who are morally bound to care; and some who just don’t care, but when you feel that low, anyone will do.
I have never found anyone or any treatments of particular use, mainly because I have been so ashamed and afraid of being judged. Even writing this, I recognise the shame and stigma inside me, destroying any sense of self-worth that I once had.
I feel I should be strong, I feel having this condition should not stop me, but it does. It has the power to overwhelm me, every time. I feel like I am locked in a dark room, where I cannot be heard, and no one outside wants to try and get inside. I feel so alone with this, yet I know I am not the only person to feel like this. I have spoken to so many people, so many times in the past that you would think someone would have taken my hand and told me that everything was going to be ok, but no, not one person did.
They judged me, because I was “weird” and “different”. I was now marked.
This mark has been with me my entire life, overshadowing the identity crisis I experienced in my younger years: I would rather be physically beaten and judged for identifying as a homosexual white male, than for them to know I carry this mark of shame.
I have kept very few friends, because I never want anyone to be close enough to hurt me, let alone judge me. It is a strategy that has enabled me to appear down-to-earth and “normal” to most outsiders.
When I am low, I am just having a bad day to those people, they do not know what is really going on inside, what is tearing me apart, what sometimes feels like a cancer eating away everything that makes me human, so that I am left an empty disaffected and disconnected shell. That is when it is time to move on and start again.
This double life is best described as similar to the likes of Superman or Spiderman. By day, I can appear to be content, ambitious, and committed, with a strong work ethic: one that ironically seeks to redress the power differential between the mentally well and the mentally unwell.
Yet, as the sun sets and the darkness sets in, I don my cape and begin my crime fighting; the difference being, there is no crime and the battle is with myself. The demons within, always win.
Of course, my entire life has not been one of misery and despair, I have had moments close to contentment such as meeting someone special and sharing many wonderful experiences with him. Yet, I cannot deny that even then, my darkest thoughts were still there, telling me how pathetic I am, how weak I am.. On the inside, this cancer is there, telling me I do not deserve to be happy and that something always happens to take away those brief moments of contentment.
Fear leads the way, always wondering if a car crash or some short illness will take away the one thing, the one person I love. Sometimes it would seem this darkness and fear is the thing I love, because it never goes away. I am obsessive, critically analytical, and filled with shame. Ashamed for just existing and embarrassed to be a part of anyone’s life.
I wonder why I am writing this; I wonder what has inspired me to do this, and to do this now. Is it, because I am at those all too familiar crossroads once more; having to make that potentially fatal choice? Or, is it because I want to share this in the hope that there is someone out there who can relate and identify with my position?
Whatever my reasons, there does feel a huge sense of peace about choosing the unfamiliar path, the one I have only ever got half down before. It brings a sense of calm deep within to think there is a way out. Yet, even today, I am conflicted.
It is certainly something I have said to my counsellor and my doctor: why would I want to stick around for more of the same, when I am so tired of fighting, of getting up every day, of having to make the bed, only to make a mess of it again several hours later. I am so, so tired of living a double life. Maybe this is what I want to achieve with this, I do not want to live a double life anymore, I just want to let the demons win like they always do, because I am so, so tired of this.
A double life has its advantages. I can act it out and I am articulate enough to do that. I have learnt how to hide me from the world, because it is the only way people have accepted me: it is the only way they have tolerated me. Am I feeling sorry for myself as I write this, I do not think so. Am I attention-seeking? Maybe I am, because I need it.
This whole blog is going to feel so familiar to some people who may read this, because they have been there with me when I have been unwell in the past, but they have also judged me, intentionally or not. I love many people, yet there are very few I would allow to know the real me. Its taken years of drip feeding my inner-self to my better half, because I could not bear for him to have rejected me like so many before him, because I have this mark, the mark of shame.
Will I win this battle? To answer that, I would have to want to win. I am doing what I can to just get through each day. I am doing what I do best and pretend to the outside world that everything is fantastic. I am living the double life, stigmatised by the very thing I have trained to fight against.
I am functioning, seeing a doctor every 2 weeks and waiting for cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). The doctor is not stereotypical, he has given me time and only once have I walked out of the surgery feeling judged and that all too familiar feeling of shame and despair, because I opened up my contaminated inner-self.
I have anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories, opiate-based painkillers, a devoted partner, two loving cats, a wellpaid job and a secure life. You would think I should be happy, but you would be so very wrong. For I am living a double life.
This week is depression awareness week. If you know someone who is dealing with depression - find out how you can help.
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