Sometimes writing these love lists is difficult. One reason is because I never remember to write down the good things after they happen and when the times comes around to compile them, I’m mentally scrambling trying to remember them all. Another reason is because well, sometimes I don’t feel positive at all. Sure, there are still good things that happen, but my perception of them is skewed. I don’t always interpret them as being things that make me feel really good, even though I know that they should. Sometimes I’ll have a really positive experience in the moment, and then afterwards I’ll feel ambivalent about it. Intellectually, I know that “yes, these are really awesome experiences and I am so lucky to have these present in my near-daily life“, but my mind/body doesn’t always act according to this knowledge – there is a disconnect sometimes.
A friend of mine is the editor of the university and community alternative newspaper. The editorial this week was about mental illness and stigma, reflecting on an event that was held in the community about the topic. In this editorial, she spoke candidly about her own personal experiences with anxiety and depression. This was powerful! I thought about it all day.
“For the first time, I allowed myself to believe that I wasn’t overreacting, and I wasn’t making everything up. There was real support out there for what I was dealing with, and it was okay to access this support. That was a revolutionary moment, and my first good day in a long while.”
This story spoke directly to the stigma attached to these topics that keeps people silent about their experiences. Stigma makes people hide/cover up/ignore/make light of/deflect/get defensive/numb these realities. Stigma makes people (such as myself) feel guilty about feeling bad sometimes – to feel guilty about feeling this way when “life is good”, or when “I am so privileged, I don’t have the right to feel this way”. Stigma prevents people from connecting to one another, from sharing experiences, from learning and growing, from building community, from healing.
“Mental health stigma isn’t about just hiding our symptoms or diagnoses from others. Mental health stigma is about not being able to understand your own experiences”
I am generally open about my struggle with anxiety. I am less open about struggles with depression. Depression is not always present in my life. It occurs in bursts and bouts, usually mild, but sometimes more. It’s not always obvious, even to me. Sometimes it just manifests in feelings of lethargy, feeling a loss of some sort (like something is missing), feeling disconnected from others (not wanting to be social) and feeling really negative and overwhelmed about life. I am generally an optimistic and enthusiastic person, but sometimes I need to fight for it.
Admitting this is difficult. I have even tried to lie to myself sometimes (though I am a really terrible liar, even on good days.)
I know when other people admit to their own experiences (whether they choose to name it or not-name it), it instantly connects me to that person. Rather than weak, this type of raw honesty makes them strong in my eyes – they seem more “real” to me. Depression is a very complicated subject and everyone’s experiences are uniquely different, but sharing them can help open up this dialogue and can hopefully lead us to being able to say, without shame, “IT’S OKAY.”
The love lists I write shouldn’t be used as a tool to hide my experiences, to sweep them under a guise of consistent positivity. These lists are meant to be a celebration of life as I live it – the things I’ve done & seen & tasted & touched, the people I adore, the little things that make me smile and make the world beautiful. They also serve as a reminder of these awesome things when I am feeling like utter crap. And that’s okay.