I didn’t just wake up one day feeling like an incomplete puzzle. I always felt like I had the corner pieces in place, most of the framework and some areas of togetherness within the body of the picture, though there have always been gaps. Sometimes the gaps felt small and insignificant and I knew that I could come back to them at a later time, I would surely find the pieces I needed. Other times, the gaps were so colossal that I felt like giving up on this puzzle, that the picture wasn’t worth completing. All this time I hadn’t considered that the gaps were there because the pieces were missing entirely, until now. These missing pieces that were balance, emotional stability, self esteem and true happiness had always been assumed to be on the floor, accidentally tucked beneath the corner of a rug or unknowingly swiped off of the table. I never realised that these pieces were never to be found, not because they were lost but because they were never in the puzzle box to begin with.
This is my story. This is where I learn to heal.
I think back to a day in my mother’s kitchen, not too long ago, only a few years. A moment that has stayed with me up until this point of realisation as a pivotal confrontation in my journey thus far. A heated conversation between siblings resulted in some raised voices and a release of some pent up frustration, though not violent or threatening. I don’t remember the subject of the argument nor how it started, I only remember my mother’s words to me after some time… ‘Are you sure you’re not depressed?’. I remember how utterly insulted I felt and how defensive I became. I needed to stand up and fight for my mental stability, I needed to prove that there was nothing wrong with my emotional health because how could anyone accuse me of such a thing? I remember the look of defeat that fluttered on my mom’s face, the hint of dishearten and hurt that flashed and left as quickly as it came. We have never again discussed this moment, we probably never will, but Mom you were not wrong. I just didn’t see it sooner.
I have always experienced very strong anxiety in highly pressured situations, I also used to be exceptionally good at hiding it. (Operative words being USED to) From a young age, any emotionally charged situation instantly resulted in a physical and mental lock down. I learned to protect myself by hiding myself, by faking it until I made it. So many experiences in my childhood into adolescence and right though adulthood should have broken me, they would’ve broken a weaker person – or so I told myself. When I felt that I was slipping down into wells of despair, I would make myself feel better by telling myself that my experiences and circumstances were often extreme and it was completely understandable that I wandered around feeling broken and lost. I threw myself into many things, into any thing, often starting something but not finishing it. I lost interest quickly and changed my mind often, very little kept my busy mind occupied – except writing. I have always loved writing and I would throw myself into writing poetry, blogs and online articles. In high school, I spent a lot of time writing and performing songs to myself, keeping journals and penning stories. I wrote because it was my escape from the real world, a place to tell my truth without having to explain myself. A place I could be myself without judgement or fear, where I could be weak and no one would know.
The problem with never allowing yourself to be weak is that you never allow yourself to be weak, you also have little to no tolerance for anyone else to be weak. I had conditioned my body and my mind into thinking and acting a certain way and I had extremely high expectations that those around me do the same. When the people I surrounded myself with could not live up to that expectation, I excluded myself entirely. I convinced myself (and still am convinced) that I didn’t like people. Human beings as a species are weak, a representation of something I’ve spent my entire life trying to avoid. People are a constant reminder to me that I’ve lived my life behind a mask, behind a manmade shield of strength and certainty, behind a facade of stability and success.
The truth is, I’ve never felt good enough. At anything, anywhere, anytime. I spend my life putting myself down no matter how many times my supporters pick me back up again. A lifetime of sadness and puzzle piecing will do that to a person. A lifetime of constant self doubt, of low self esteem, of anxiety and social ineptitude. If there is nothing to worry about, my mind (never calm or quiet) will find something to worry about. Anxiety will creep into every facet of my life in any form it can, from a midnight panic attack to a morning bout of OCD.
I didn’t have it easy growing up, I’m not sure anyone does in their own way. I always hoped and dreamed that when I was older, I would make something of myself. I would show the world that I would not be a victim of circumstance, another statistic for another book on broken homes. And I did. I grew up, I have a career, a home, a family, I moved countries, I chased the dream. Despite all that I have endured in my short time on this earth, I am a success and I should be able to recognise that. I should be able to see the good, I should be able to appreciate the great and all of this should make me happy…
It doesn’t NOT make me happy, only now I’m of the opinion that I am not sure my body is chemically designed to be happy. The puzzle pieces aren’t on the floor, they’re not on the table, I’ve spent my life looking and they’re nowhere to be found. It’s time to start accepting that the box was never properly packaged, a few pieces were left out.
It took a year and a half of hormone therapy and surgery to kickstart the realisation. I have never really been able to sleep well but now more than ever, my hormone imbalance was wreaking havoc on my sleep cycles and emotional well-being. Fast forward past a very long recovery, another injury, a life threatening diagnosis and the toughest medical decision of my life and I now know that even though this would have affected anyone of sound mind, all of this has taken me deeper into a rabbit hole for which I don’t have a shrinking potion to escape.
You have to know, I don’t want to hurt myself and I definitely don’t want to exit stage left earlier than my time. I have children who depend on my emotional wellbeing, I have people that encourage and support me always, I have friends and family that have my back no matter what. It is only fair that everyone know what they are dealing with, allow the healing to begin.
I suffer from a mental illness, I suffer from depression.
Over the years I’ve told myself that I have anxiety issues and that is all, various doctors have told me that I have an anxiety disorder and I should manage this by eating healthily and exercising, removing myself from anxious situations and doing the best I can to stay as healthy as I can. In my early twenties I had a brief stint on antidepressants for the treatment of depression, which I decided against in the hopes that the doctors had been too quick to medicate instead of counsel. In the lead up to today, I have had bouts of clarity pointing me in the direction of depression but I have always talked myself out of this self diagnosis. The stigma was too real, the shame too haunting, the realisation too frightening. I did not want people to know that I was a weak soul, unable to process the chemicals / hormones / emotions in my own body, failing at something that should be natural to my brain and body. I did not want people to think that I was going to do something drastic, that I was going to follow a dark path as my late uncle did and leave my children without a parent. I was afraid that if I said something, the worst conclusion would be jumped too and no one would take the time to understand my illness.
My plate is so full, I feel like a hungry teenage boy at an all you can eat buffet. The spoons upon spoons of food keep piling high on this plate and the topple is only moments away. The lack of sleep, the anxiety levels, the physical pain and stress of my current medical situation, the financial stress and my constant feeling of sadness and defeat is testing me every second of every minute in every day. All of this in the lead up to my 33rd birthday, a mere baby in the grand scheme of things. A baby with the weight of the world on her very small shoulders.
I’m not giving up hope but I’m not sitting here saying that I can get over this either. I know that I will not follow in the footsteps of Chester Bennington no matter how real his situation has made my situation become. This is not an illness for which an easy cure is prescribed. This is not a disease which sympathy will make better. I am not asking to be told I will fight this, I am not asking to be told I will make it through. I am offering my truth to the world in the hope that the world will understand and forgive me for being an incomplete puzzle in a universe of artworks. I have overcome the stigma, I will overcome the judgement and I will show that my depression is an illness and not a weakness.
It was recently world mental health awareness day and for some reason, I’ve become very active on Twitter again. The universe has its ways of talking to me and it was no coincidence that I was online and involved in many conversations about depression and anxiety in the wake of my realisation. I have been able to talk to so many people who also suffer with depression, so many people to talk to about a shared illness in varying degrees. I’ve watched people hurt and cry and I’ve watched the same people fight and stand up against this disease. Most of all, I’m learning to be kinder to myself whether I am hurting or crying or standing and fighting. Each day is a climb, I have little control over the ascent or decent but no matter the direction, it is up to me to put my all into the fight.
- Depression will tell me I am worthless, it will tell me I am weak.
- It will wake me at night after hours of struggling to sleep and it will keep me from getting up in the morning as it reminds me of all the missing puzzle pieces it represents.
- If I am sad, depression will make me feel like I could not possibly be any more miserable.
- If I am angry, depression will turn me into Hulk.
- Depression will force me to look in the mirror and hate what I see.
- It will take all the good things and overshadow them will all the bad.
- Depression is the lifelong shadow I didn’t ask for, only now it’s the shadow I know exists and it will not define me no matter how hard it tries.
- Depression is being surrounded by people and never feeling more alone.
- It is the disconnect between my reality and the reality it wants me to believe is real.
- Depression is the reason I allow myself to settle for less than I deserve and believe I’ve achieved all that I can in a world that deserves more of me.
The box may have been missing a few pieces but I have learned to function without a complete picture, I have a lot of work ahead of me but now is the time.
My name is Siobhán and I suffer from depression. I am no longer in hiding.
All my love