I spent the whole day in mental health first aid training on Tuesday, it was extremely exhausting and overwhelming for me. As a person who has struggled with mental health and suicidal thoughts, the topic is such an eggshell experience. I realise now that i’m scared of being triggered more than anything else.
That same evening, I also had bible study, it so happened that the conversations at bible study was around the same thing, mental health and the concept of a prospering soul. I had a conversation with a friend of mine afterwards and she was quite taken back by what she called a coincidence. I had already talked to her after work about how the training made me feel, and was now explaining that because of bible study I now feel much better.
My friend then said something that I have heard so many times and just used to dislike, she said “I wouldn’t have thought that something like that would bother you, you always seem to be so strong and handle everything well”…..
and so here we are talking about mental health, and identity..
Growing up in Africa, depression or anxiety is not something you have its an excuse you use to avoid working and getting your life together. I’m willing to bet I have had depression from a very young age, I just didn’t know it. The first time someone mentioned depression to me, I had just moved to Australia and was about 17. My teachers believed that maybe I had situational depression because of the relocation- most likely that’s what triggered it.
2 years later I was in my first year at university and going down the rabbit hole, really really fast. I went from just sad to I want to die and have a plan, all in space of 3 or so months. That was when I was first diagnosed with clinical depression. I took no medication, and I only saw a psychologist twice,
because as an 18 year old black girl in a Australia, I had enough stigma attached. And boy did it all unravel from then on. Living with a mismanaged mental illness has impacted me in so many ways, but these are the biggest.
1.Complacency & Addiction
I have to emphasis that what I’m talking about is the effect of mental illness on my life and not anybody else’s experience, and how it has affected my sense of identity.
I can’t say I remember what I felt when I first got diagnosed, but one thing I can say is I refused to accept it. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t a healthy denial. Because I didn’t want to be depressed, and I didn’t want my coping mechanisms to be ‘bad’ I decided to normalise them for me, and it just became who I am. It’s just who I am, I became a party girl, drank more than I probably should and became promiscuous. Because I already had issues of rejection and approval I had to find myself the company that approves of me and what I do, that fed my bad habits, eventually my behaviours became addictions. But before I recognised them and could even accept them as addictions, they were just who I am.
2.Hanging by a string
It took a lot of reflection, time alone and allowing God to convict me and discipline me, for me to realise that maybe I do have addictions. It then took looking at my children and realising that I don’t want them to have the same problems I have, I need them to have a good role model if they are going to have a better life.
But it had to take realising that my identity needs to come from something that’s not my circumstances before I started to handle my addictions and problematic habits. It’s an ongoing battle, I still deal with it, I still fall short sometimes, but I’m finding me outside the world.
This battle has meant that I constantly feel like I’m hanging by a string, maybe it’s the self awareness or whatever it is but I’m overwhelmed with fear of having another depression episode or relapsing to my old habits, I have fear that one of these days I will lose the fight. Contrary to what people believe, someone who is suicidal does not want to die, they are just taken over by this unexplained feeling of just wanting the pain to end, and the only way out seems to be death. I live in and through that fear, what I do or say is dependent on making sure that I don’t find myself back in that dark moment. And the really amazing thing is, trying to avoid a depression episode gives me anxiety, the reason why I was so overwhelmed and anxious during the training, I was afraid it will trigger the demon in me. This anxiety has somewhat become part of my daily life.
3. Blank future
For as long as I can remember I have not been able to imagine a future, dream about what I could achieve or do in the future. My view of my life is limited to simply what I’m doing now. I read something some months back which explains this better than I can possibly explain it, it says;
“being mentally ill and suicidal at a young age..is strange, because you grow up with this idea that one day you’ll snap, turn off, be brave enough to kill yourself, or that you’ll recover from your mental illness and that everything will fall in the right place like it seems to with ‘normal people’. So you don’t really plan for the future, and then before you know it you are an adult, but you never thought you’d get this far and sure it’s great that you’re still alive, you guess, but also you feel so alone and lost in a world you never expected or planned to be a part of . The rest of your life is spent trying to pick up the pieces and playing catch up with people who had a plan. And you don’t know how to be a functioning adult because you never planned on getting this far.”
This basically describes how I have felt for the better part of the last 4 years, everything I have accomplished and have in my life right now, I didn’t plan for or actively go after. It was all God, and others just a consequence of my circumstances.
Finding God in my struggles has been by far the hardest thing to do but easier path. I remember some time last year, someone praying over me and said ‘thank you God for Tina’s past’ It was a strange thing to say, but easy to see why it needed to be said. If I was on my own I would not be where I am, I was leading myself to the grave, and he was leading me to life. All I have now is God, all I have accomplished is God, and all I did could have been worse if God wasn’t with me.
Whilst I still haven’t cracked the code of how not to be depressed, at least I can hold onto the hope that God has me, the believe that its not my strength that will get me through. And when it gets overwhelming, the bible, a message or a friend prayer will make it all better.