These past days – you must have guessed – have been some of the hardest of my life.
The first anniversary of my breakdown hit me hard – especially since it coincided with the re-evaluation of certain relationships that have been important in my life. I decided to be strict with myself. I’m not letting my soft side concoct excuses anymore for those who keep hurting me. I just won’t do it anymore. My fortieth birthday, I’ve decided, this October, will find me surrounded only by people who are good for me and my mental health.
So, the past weeks have been painful. As I’ve been doing for a year now, I put my pain out there (well, here, on the blog) for all to see. I do this for many reasons: the main one is that I can’t not write about my pain. These blog posts are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve written a sixty-thousand-word book about my mental health struggles of the past year, for example. I don’t really expect to ever publish it – even if I do someday, it won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. Nobody really reads my books anyway. Maybe a few close friends will read it, and that’s probably going to be it, and that’s okay. I also write down thoughts, I compose angry letters to the people who hurt me (kept in a folder on my computer, never to be read, but still serving the purpose of letting me vent), and endless chat messages to anyone who cares to read my lengthy analyses on psychology, mental health, literature, and anything else.
This blog is a slightly different matter. The blog is for giving the world a real, uncensored view into pain, despair, mental health disorders, the dithering and fluctuations that accompany one on such a journey. We all hide so much every single day. Even I, one of the most open, unfiltered people you’ll ever meet, can’t help but disguise what’s inside. When I chat with friends online or in real life, or meet someone in the street, I often put on a smile, real or digital, and I jest, I jibe, I twitter merrily along. I give a happy, breezy impression, even as I speak about how hard this past year has been (and the twenty that preceded it). You can’t survive without humour, after all. You can’t take yourself too seriously.
I’ve been told that I’m very efficient at not letting show how hard this all is. I seem confident and capable, apparently. I have no idea why that is or how I do it. Even people who are close to me, those who know I’m usually on the verge of a mental health crisis or fully in the middle of one, can’t reconcile this knowledge with the picture they have of me in their heads. Again, I don’t know how this happens. I cry often enough. I have emotional outbursts often enough. If you asked me, their eyes and ears should be telling them I’m not okay. But there you have it.
The blog is also for telling people, “you are not alone.” And, to my surprise, it does this more than I thought. The one group that it speaks most to is mothers.
The number of mothers who told me they feel similar things – always on the verge, feeling nobody really cares about them, that they exist for the convenience of others – is astonishing. What is this society doing to women? I thought I was an aberration, an abnormality; but feeling overworked, overlooked, devalued, seems to be the norm among mothers.
Turns out, a lot of us have been brought up to specifically not heed our own needs. We sacrifice our bodily and mental health for others, while when we ask for some help and support, they (do I dare say it? Men) respond with, “Wait a minute, I have to take care of me! My mental health! My rest!”
Is this a nurture thing? I believe it is. The feminist in me doesn’t believe there’s a genetic or innate difference in the male and female brain (I’ve read a little bit about that, and although male and female brains seem to have physiological differences, it seems that brains can look outwardly different but still perform the exact same tasks). So I think this is purely a societal thing. We’re taught this since birth: the boys to take care of themselves, put themselves first, take care of their well-being first. The girls to self-efface and sacrifice. To take care of others.
But still, there’s another aspect to all of this. This past year has also taught me what lengths women will go to to help a friend.
You’ve heard the name “Dimitra” often – and for good reason. She’s the one person who’s been by my side through all of this, although she lives 800 km away. In the past year she and her family have been through a whole fuckin lot. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you; I often think things should be the other way round, and I should be the one offering all the support for all this shit she’s been going through. And yet: this person with the multiple health and other crises has never wavered. Today, I sent her a message with the opening, “Well, let me talk about my little woes again…” and she said, “You know I’m always here for you.” Little or big woes. How the fuck can anyone compare to that? Even my husband comes short.
Women never cease to amaze me. A couple days ago, a friend contacted me, asking me how I was. She knew I’d been having a hard time. She told me she’s been thinking about me but reads the blog posts and didn’t want to burden me. We talked about vaccinations, and she expressed her dismay that despite my depression (yes, I’m admitting it – Dimitra has been shouting depression for more than a year now, and it’s time for me to accept the facts), I haven’t gotten bumped up the list yet.
I told her the world isn’t fair – because, duh, it isn’t. If all those people who treat me, prescribing antidepressants and having me in their practice nearly once a month, can’t bother to help me get vaccinated before I enter “getting the car and driving fast up the Autobahn” territory again, then who will?
That’s not right, she said. I should call my doctor. I should ask her for an attestation of my condition, and I should declare my mental health status on the vaccination website the German government has set up. I’d be category 2, she said (of 4 – pretty high, since category 1 are basically people with life-threatening conditions).
I have no strength, I told her. I have no strength to fight over this. I cried over my phone as I typed.
She’d help me, she said. She’d go on the website, she’d put my data in. She’d do the phone calls.
This gave me strength, and I called my doctor right then and there – before this brief surge of energy this wonderful person gave me was dissipated. I think the doctor, too, had fallen victim to that illusory picture I give, the picture of the woman who has it together even as she supports a mentally ill family and spends her days in therapy and her nights crying. Well, she’d give me the attestation, the doctor said pretty much immediately. “What should I write on it?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. I’m not a doctor, I don’t know what she should write on the fuckin attestation. She’s been treating me for over a year, and she knows I and my family are being treated by a bunch of therapists. Shouldn’t she know what’s wrong with me? I told her exactly that:You’re the doctor, you write what you think is best.
My voice was breaking on the phone, but I managed not to break down in sobs until the phone call was over. Everyone and their uncle is getting vaccinated, I’d wanted to shout at her, young people, healthy people, with no anxiety-ridden children, people who don’t wish they didn’t exist – but thank God I didn’t, because what good would it have done? Who the fuck cares? Who ever cared? Who cares about me? Things like this are exactly the reason people like me feel they shouldn’t be here. The burdens we carry are seen as trivial. But if – say – I died, everyone would say, “she had two young children!” And it would be a tragedy – because of the children, of course. And while you’re alive, most people are content to let you flounder.
Most people, that is, except some beautiful, glorious women.
My friend didn’t have to call or fill in my data on the vaccination website. Amidst a flood of tears, I did it myself. The kindness she showed me gave me the strength to continue. “We’ll call the vaccination center next week,” she said, “if you haven’t got an appointment yet.” This use of we made me cry again. I’m not alone here. I’m not alone here! Someone cares. Someone is helping. It wasn’t a light, thoughtless we: it was the real thing. She fully intends to help, not with mere words, but with actions.
After that, I called Dimitra, crying. Why did it have to come to this? I asked. Why didn’t they tell me I was eligible? All this time, I’ve been struggling to even exist. I can’t fathom the cruelty of the world, sometimes.
“I’m so happy!” Dimitra said. “You might get vaccinated!”
Well, that’s a friend.
PS. Just now, my son came to complain about a disagreement with his dad, who’s sitting on the couch, not talking things out with his child. Blog post idea: how I deteriorated into hysterical sobs in front of my 8-year-old, because apparently everything is my responsibility, and now my son thinks it’s all his fault and he shouldn’t express his frustration lest he make mommy sad and she starts bawling.
I’m doing well, right? I need to get on the fuckin SSRI again.