Three weeks has passed since I took a trip to Los Angeles and was fortunate enough to have received a SAMHSA Voice Award for my work with mental health advocacy. It’s still hard to believe my work would be recognized on a national scale. I’m truly humbled.
I’ve noticed a lot of mental health advocates who live with mental illness frequently talk about how much they struggle. I’ve often wondered if those of us who talk a lot about recovery are giving hope or a false sense of what it’s really like to live with a mental illness.
Here’s my reality statement – Mental Illness is very often chronic and never goes away. It’s not about false hope it’s about staying in the saddle and continuing to ride. In other words, I have to push myself to keep my head up even on the days I don’t feel well. Some days are harder than others. But I must fight to stay mentally healthy.
After I returned from Los Angeles I ended up with a really bad case of pneumonia. After ten days of being completely miserable I was just tired of being sick. To be honest I didn’t really get to enjoy the aftereffects of the award because I was incessantly coughing. In short, I was miserable.
But the one thing that stands out in my mind about having pneumonia was a comment I made to my mother. I said, “As bad as I feel…I’d rather have pneumonia than I would depression. Anytime. Any day.”
Now that I’m beginning to feel better I started to think about why I would say something like that. The truth is experiencing fatigue, feeling unmotivated, sleeping all day, and clearly not having a positive attitude are symptoms no one wants to have. I had those symptoms during my pneumonia. But it was eerily similar to having a depressive episode. And knowing this you can understand why I would never want to be depressed.
What’s funny to me is I’ve had family members say, “Isn’t there anything you can do for yourself?” There’s lots of options when you’re treating symptoms of pneumonia. There are few options when you’re going through a depressive episode. The biggest difference I have found is that pneumonia is much shorter, even though the suffering is no fun. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I knew it was going to get better.
Depression, on the other hand, lasts for months at a time. It’s dark and makes you feel terrible. But one thing I know for sure is that no matter what causes the fatigue, bad mood, lengthy sleeping…one has to fight to stay positive.
The misery depression causes is a horrible feeling. But I’ve learned eventually it will pass. The key is to not give up the fight.