The Dark Lens of Mental Illness

Mental illness can change your reality.

I don’t hear actual voices, but there is a war raging between two, sometimes more, completely different narratives of my life. The basic facts are the same — I am where I am, and I’m with who I’m with, doing what we’re doing, and we say what we say. Sometimes I see myself as a talented, smart, confident guy who can make people laugh and hold a great conversation. But, thinking back, was I just a loudmouth, cocky know-it-all who couldn’t make out the polite chuckles over the sound of his own laughter? My confidence goes into a tailspin, so I’ll stop engaging with other people (why would they want to hang out with loud, arrogant me?). It builds from there. I don’t see myself as a functional, mentally ill person who is taking some time to check in and ground myself. I see a coward who has all the privileges and gifts he could ask for, yet somehow still finds a way to sit in a dark room and mope, and I hate myself for it. It’s easy to get stuck in the most vicious of cycles.

When things are going well, I’m surrounded by people who, knowingly or not, check in with me to ground my reality. When things aren’t going well, I become convinced that those darkest narratives of myself are the only correct ones; convinced that the people around me, who love me, are blowing sunshine up my ass because they know a depressed person needs to hear good things. Why bother asking a question when you already know you’ll hear a lie in response? At some point, it ceases to occur to me that I’m seeing myself through a darkened lens and I begin to think, to know, that I am finally just seeing myself.

I’m lucky to have an extremely stubborn partner and wife in Tori, who refuses to be closed out and refuses to let me see myself only as the worst I could possibly be. And even without a helpful push, it always swings back. It always gets better. Sometimes I judge my past self for knowing how depression works and still allowing it to swallow me up day after day. But that, that judgement — that is how depression works; it sits quietly and waits until I ask myself a scary, vulnerable question and then it provides the loudest, most devastating possible answer. A most convincing lie.

There aren’t any special solutions available to me. I haven’t learned some mental trick to beat depression so I won’t bother pretending to have any new solutions. I just hope this might help someone out there feel a little bit less alone.

Check in with your loved ones, especially the ones who seem most distant. It doesn’t matter if they say “I’m fine” and end the conversation. The question is an act of love, and sometimes it’s all a person needs to see.

If you are suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, free help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

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