I have been recognising more and more lately just how deeply I have internalised the idea of mental health issues as being a weakness. This frustrates the hell out of me because intellectually I don't believe that. When I have friends who are dealing with mental health issues, I don't think of them as weak, or lazy, or somehow failures at life - I respect the hell out of them for just making it day to day. But when it's *me* it's different. Because while intellectually I know that what I'm going through is just as difficult as what my friends are dealing with, and that if I don't blame them for it I shouldn't blame myself, deep down I still *feel* like a failure, a weakling, someone deserving of scorn.
Growing up I lived surrounded by the notion that success in life equaled a good job, a spouse, a house with a yard, and some kids. Maybe a dog. Cats were for pathetic old spinsters. I thought I'd rejected that idea in high school, and intellectually I did. But deep down a part of me still measures success that way. When I was growing up, anyone who was past thirty and didn't have that kind of life was considered somehow lesser. In some cases, it was their fault -- they made bad choices. They didn't work hard enough in school, they followed an unrealistic dream like playing in a band or being an artist, they were too stubborn to conform to the way the world works. People with physical disabilities were pitied universally, and scorned or admired based on how they 'dealt' with their disability. Always, there was to be a sense of mourning for the opportunity for a successful life that was taken from them - because of course whatever they made of themselves could never be as good as the traditional American Dream.
People with mental health issues were also universally pitied, but there was also a sliding scale of scorn depending on the nature of the disease and how close they came to achieving the Dream anyway. People who were 'crazy' enough to be institutionalised were thought of much the same as those with physical disabilities, but with an added discomfort. It was easier somehow, more comfortable, to be around someone in a wheelchair than to be around someone who kept talking to the voices in their heads. The 'less serious' mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, were almost discounted. It was like the mental equivalent of seasonal allergies. Yeah, your eyes are itchy and watering and you're sneezing all over the place and you're very uncomfortable but you don't stay home in bed, you take your damn Allegra and go to work like a responsible, mature adult. If you have depression or anxiety problems, that's too bad, and I'm sorry things are harder for you than for other people, but still, just take your medicine and power through. Anything less is giving up, letting the disease 'win'. Anything less is weakness, laziness.
For all that I've outwardly rejected this attitude, more and more I'm finding myself confronted by how much I still hold myself to this standard. The horrible part is, the worse I feel about myself for my 'failures', the worse my depression gets, and the less I am able to 'power through'. It's a constantly self-reinforcing cycle. And I don't know how to stop it. At any given moment I might tell myself that I'm allowed to take care of myself. That the overwhelming apathy that keeps me from leaving the apartment some days isn't my fault. And for an hour or two I might believe it. And then when I find myself on the couch mindlessly watching old episodes of Castle, I'm suddenly overwhelmed by crushing guilt. Here I am again, being lazy and self-indulgent, lounging on the couch watching TV when a successful, mature adult would be at work, powering through. What a disappointment I am. Am I really that weak that I can't get up and get dressed and go into work like I'm supposed to? Or am I just selfish and self-indulgent and using my 'disease' as an excuse for yet another vacation day? What must people think of me? I was always so smart, I had everything going for me, how did I end up such a failure?
I'm trying so hard not to think like that, but it's too deep. And I look at my life from the bottom of this deep fissure and I can see 'normal' life up there in the sun but it's too dark down here and the walls are sheer and I can't climb them and I have wings but they're hanging uselessly at my side and I can't muster enough energy to fly. And I think, I'm stuck down here, and if I don't get out soon, it's going to rain, and I'm going to drown.
I look at my bank account and the money I've had to pull from savings to cover my time off work and wonder what I'm going to do when it runs out. And I look at my job and I think of how my bosses can't possibly keep being as understanding as they have been, and eventually they're going to get tired of bending over backwards to accommodate an unreliable employee and I'm going to get fired. And I look at my apartment and I think that it's a good thing I don't have friends over because the place is a mess and hell, if I don't get kicked out for being a slob I'll still have to move when I lose my job because even if I'm lucky enough to get disability it wouldn't be enough to pay the rent and I have to remind myself that I still have my job and I still have money in savings, and things aren't that bleak yet but I can't see any other path for the future. Or rather, I can see them, but they're all overgrown with roots and bushes or blocked by rocks and cutting through seems impossible.
So this is where I am. I'm at work today, for once, but other than scheduling a few meetings for later in the week I haven't accomplished anything other than surfing Facebook and reading articles on Cracked. I don't hold much hope for the rest of the afternoon. And when I'm done marking time here at work, I'll probably go home and lose myself in playing Skyrim, where I can slaughter bandits and rescue hostages and kill dragons and save the world. Where I can pretend I'm a hero, and competent, and not a failure - for a little while.