Editor's Note: Since time of writing, I've developed strategies to set priorities, respectful boundaries, and most of all, be kind to myself. Thank you to my family, friends and workplace for their support.
DEPRESSION TRACKS LIKE A NINJA, quietly plotting his course in the dark; muted footfalls, cagey eyes.
Living with it requires constant vigilance, self-care. Ignoring the signs can lead to disaster. I constantly calculate the costs and benefits of disclosure. I'm afraid of appearing weak.
I push through.
Deep down, I know something's wrong. I don't want to burden my family. I need to be strong, to pull my weight.
When people ask "how are you?" sometimes I lie. Good, thanks, and you?
At the end of the day, when I put my kids to bed, I take off my mask. Cuddling in their warmth, I squeeze them a little tighter. I feel safe, cocooned, as they fall to sleep in my arms.
Then I cry. Even though I'm wrapped in love, I still feel alone, afraid I'm not going to make it through the next day. Morning always comes to my chagrin.
I push through.
I get on the bus, observe my fellow commuters. Some close their eyes, catch a bit of rest. Roughly a third of them stare at their phones. The bus is packed but quiet as we approach the downtown core.
We pass bland office towers, I remark their resemblance to a Borg cube.
I get off the bus, join a stream of bodies marching in orderly, ant-like fashion. Wonder how chance collections of atoms, molecules have shaped thoughts, dreams, civilizations.
I feel anxious at what's waiting in my inbox. Drowning in a sea of demands, deadlines, "as soon as possibles." I fret, worry.
I'm scared I might lapse into full-blown depression again. Worse than scared. Petrified. I can't go through that again. Not after all the gains I've made. Not after putting my life back together.
Everyone says I'm doing a great job, but I don't feel I'm doing my best. I'm bewildered by a maze of approvals, acronyms, red tape.
I make mistakes, promise things I shouldn't. Have to backtrack. Everyone's asking for everything NOW. I can't do this.
The gloom doesn't lift. Wonder why I get up every day and put myself through the mental wringer. Mired in negative thought. Sometimes I'm paralyzed with inaction, indecisiveness. I know I have to chunk things into manageable portions, chip away at the pile. I know I have to ask for help.
It gets worse before it gets better.
I push through.
Until I find myself on the brink. Burnout, exhaustion.
So I take that step. I ask for help. But I don't disclose my condition. Allow stigma to suppress my instincts. I learn to triage. Manage expectations. Create boundaries. Eventually, I become a bit more sure of myself. Learn to take breaks. To walk away from my desk. To let go of perfection.
Doubt lingers; things get a little better.
Maybe I don't need to tell people I live with a mental health problem. Maybe I can hide it. They don't have to know.
But maybe other people are going through this. Maybe they think the same thoughts, share the same feelings. If we talked about our mental health, it might help.
Maybe we wouldn't feel as much shame.
Maybe others would want to help.
Maybe we wouldn't have to push through anymore.
Maybe we could simply—walk around.
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