Our newest Community Champion, Joel, shares his journey with mental illness and how he came to wear his label. Original post on Joel's blog here.
I’m familiar with the seasonal affects of depression, when the days shorten and the moon hangs longer in the sky I feel my own emotions starting to hibernate, I become quieter and a bit more withdrawn. This routine, during the winter months isn’t unusual but it was a surprise for me to feel the same things happening in the mid-summer.
Depression is a frustrating illness. It manifests itself in so many different ways and it’s easy to cover up. I’m able to wear my depression label underneath the other labels I associate with myself; cheerful, outgoing, helpful. I’ve learned to mask my anxiety, my depression and my difficulties underneath what I’ve been taught are “good things”. But masks, no matter how realistic they are, no matter how much they look like us, are still masks and they begin to wear.
I’ve kept myself busy the last few months, on purpose to keep the sadness at bay. On paper, I have nothing to be upset about. I have a passion that allows me to travel, to meet incredible people and gives me a chance to express myself. I live in a wonderful home with kind people, I have loving family and friends. But all those things are like wearing a warm blanket, but still with your barefeet in the snow. It’s comforting, but there’s still something needing to be fixed.
It’s difficult for me to open up and be honest, but I feel that this conversation is an attempt at wearing my label and talking about it, about being vulnerable and honest with everyone so I don’t have to carry the weight alone. The last few days have been the tough climb of this recent struggle, I’m climbing up a mountain with a heavy pack of emotions, fears, regrets and hurt that I’m hoping to toss aside once I get to the top. I’ve been withdrawing, removing myself away from real life mostly because I’m embarrassed to have this sadness, but partly because I want to face it head on and I think spending my time with myself is the best way to do that. It’s difficult and scary but it’s slowly getting me through. I know that I’ll get through it, and I want you to know that you can get through your climb too.
We’ve been brought up in a society that fears weakness, that fears emotion. That believes it’s fine to feel anxious or sad or depressed but not to talk about it. Our labels must be ones that aren’t visible, and when they are people don’t know how to react. This reason is why I’ve kept my cards close to my chest, kept the heavy balloon of depression as concealed as I could. Because it’s almost as scary to open up and feel the weight of your words hang in the air with no resolution than it is to keep it inside.
I said the words “I’m just really really lost and depressed” for the first time in a long time the other night, on a late night walk that I took so I could cry without anyone hearing me. I walked along the river and tears started forming as I felt the weight of my moods sink. I sat in the grass and reflected on everything I was feeling the last few weeks. I haven’t been sleeping, I wake up 15 or 20 times a night and I lay awake in the morning just waiting until the “right” time to actually get out of bed. I don’t eat and when I do I don’t care that I am. I’ve stopped running, I rush through photoshoots, I drift through days waiting for something to happen and when it doesn’t I try to sleep until the next day. All of this I’d been doing every single day for a few weeks and it wasn’t until I had attached the words depression to this reflection that I knew it was all connected. I had an anxiety attack there in the dark, I couldn’t breathe, I felt lost and alone and I let myself cry it out until I had nothing else inside, there was nothing else I could do.
My own fear of attaching the Depression label to my life was keeping me from moving past it. I called it a funk, I called it being grumpy, I called it stress or lack of sleep. But it wasn’t, it was depression that I’d been afraid to label because I was scared of what it meant, how other people would react and what I’d do being so far away from everyone that I usually relied on. But I realized that I needed to not only wear my label, but talk about it. I am not depression, but I am depressed. With that said, I’m happy, I have happiness every day in my life but I also have a weight of anxiety and frustration that I’m carrying in my veins and I’m working through it. There are days where I feel fulfilled and then days that I can’t imagine having energy again.
I’ve been in a limbo in my heart, my mind, my passion and my energy for the last few months. Floating through my life without much solidity or real attachment. I’ve pushed myself away from other people, I’ve limited myself on purpose because I’ve been afraid that I was a liability. Now I’m finished with that, I’m ready to move on and let the heaviness go.
That it’s ok to have these feelings and the wide spectrum of feelings that depression brings, and that they’re not alone. That the climb is just a temporary one and the view from the top is worth the walk. I know that in a few days, after I’ve let this all out, after the photos I’ll take as a therapy, after some nights of solid sleep and some honest reflection on my emotions and some conversations that I’m ready to have, I’ll feel lighter again. I’ll feel the light inside get brighter and I’ll be back to wearing all my other labels just as proudly as I want to.
This blog post isn’t a call for help, it’s not a poor me or a desire for attention. It’s a post I’m making to be honest with myself, to be accountable to my emotions and to know that I can be all the parts of myself without fear. I’m ok, I’ll be ok.
- Joel, joelrobison.com