This is the first time I will address mental health directly here. I should have done that ages ago, because honestly it is probably the topic I have most to say about (except complaining about people on public transport which has become an olympic discipline in my universe). The articles I read nowadays about various aspects of mental health make me want to personally scream at the authors. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or to discredit people’s feelings, but in my opinion there is a big number of people out there who write about mental health without being qualified to do so- mostly because they are not mentally unhealthy in the clinical sense. And their writing gets eaten up by people who are equally healthy. Yes, this sounds cruel and I hope no one who really needs help reads this, thinking that they are a fraud. But I do believe that current developments in psychology, including the DSM 5 have contributed to lots of actually healthy people diagnosing themselves. Those people then heal their „mental disorders“ by doing yoga once a week, spending time in a forest and doing a vegan detox. Again, don’t get me wrong, all of those things can help you, but if that’s what it takes to magically heal you, you might not have been clinically depressed but just sad. And it’s sorta telling that I have to point out, that this is not an insult but a good thing we should all rejoice about.
One of the core aspects of depression, to me at least, is the complete and utter inability to feel love, happiness or any other emotion on the positive side of the scale. Now if you know other depressed people in your life, you might say that you experience those people being happy or excited all the time. The thing is that I too have good days from time to time and I’d hope I could swing myself from one good instance to the next, like some Tarzan of emotions. Like people who hate their job live from weekend to weekend. What people who don’t experience real depression can’t understand is that with this disease every single one of those moments is tainted. It’s like having a great day in prison- you know, you are still in fucking prison. I feel like a veil is lying over my eyes which numbs all the colors- at best, but most of the time it blocks any light from coming in.
If I had to give you my main reason as to why I don’t believe in yoga and smoothie bowls curing depression I’d give you my personal experience with doing anything nice and good when I’m down: it hurts. When you’ve sat in the darkness for so long, light hurts. How does this make sense beyond a metaphor? Well, one aspect is guilt. The past four years I wouldn’t really have been capable of going regularly on hiking trips because my aching back and joints and soul simply did not permit it. Since I got better last year I started to take longer walks and this summer my boyfriend and I regularly went on hiking trips together. And I loved being in nature and I felt empowered walking 10, 20 and 30k a day but it always left me with a bitter aftertaste. All I could think of was the fact, that all those meadows and lakes and mountains had been in front of my door for years, yet I hadn’t been out there to savor them before. I just felt guilty. I felt guilty for all the times (like this right instance) where I had buried myself in my bed, steadily holding up a wall between me and the outer world.
Another aspect is that intense self hate makes you feel unworthy of just about anything that is good and pure. So instead of being able to enjoy my meals and be proud of the effort I put into them, I am overcome with shame because the darkness has taught me for years that the reason good things do not come to me is, that I do not deserve them. A bowl of porridge with some nicely arranged pieces of fruit only makes me think that the money I spent on raspberries was wasted just as much as the time I put into slicing that banana- for fuck’s sake, you could have saved the whales in that time or something! Can I really enjoy having managed to put on nice clothes, while I didn’t work off my ridiculously ambitious to-do list? Of course not. Tidying my bedroom is making me feel happy for five seconds before I am overwhelmed by the fact that I still haven’t figured out what to do with my life. Because everyone else in their twenties has nice bedrooms and a plan for the next 30 years (at least!).
Now a bulletproof way to spot someone who really doesn’t know what they are talking about is people replying to those things with „But you know you ought not feel guilty for being sick! You know you deserve foodporn and sunlight and baby goats!“. So let me tell you something else about depression: very often there is nothing you can tell a depressed person that they don’t already know one way of another. That sort of comes with living in your head and over analyzing your life (shout out to those who simultaneously deal with anxiety disorder). Yes, I know not doing sports is not my fault when I have a badly formed hip joint. Yes, I know I deserve a fucking bowl of porridge. Everyone deserves a fucking bowl of porridge (except you, Donald). But that is the big problem with depression. You might be depressed because certain things in your life prevent you from being happy, like not having a job, being sick, systemic oppression or what not. But often the bigger issue is not being able to deal with it, which can feel worse because people make you feel worse about it. If you lost all your limbs in Afghanistan only the biggest of assholes will hold it against you that you don’t attempt to regain mobility. Yet if you have invisible chronic pain that let’s you walk but sorta not run (too much?) most people will roll their eyes at you. Look at the limbless guy! He’s giving inspirational talks on Ted while you are fretting about your ass getting fat from not doing cardio and because having those issues at your age gives you some vague, but intense anxiety. Jeez.
This also means that quite often depressed people not only know all the superficial tricks that are supposed to cure them, they might also know what is wrong with them, what would need to change for them to feel better, maybe they actually do have plans for their lives and even dreams. But it’s all locked in a part of their head that cannot be accessed by real life. And again: light hurts. Knowing what you have to do always creates pressure. A goal always means unfinished business and for people who lack basic self confidence this could also mean that they never feel like they are doing enough. If your inner darkness has let you spend enough time hauled up in your apartment, you might find that upon leaving that space, you don’t know anymore what a normal day looks like. How much do I need to do in order not to feel lazy? How much pain counts as a healthy way of pushing myself and when do I start burning myself out? Also don’t forget disappointment. Having experienced hardships is likely to be part of depression and nothing fuels fear of pain as much as having experienced it before. So I might know that this new school could make me happy, but what if I don’t pass the exams? Falling in love can be one of the most beautiful things there are, but what if it is not forever? For some rock bottom might be, as J.K. Rowling said, a solid foundation to build upon. For others it might be what they will be crushed against if they have to endure one more disappointment.
In conclusion, and yet again, light hurts. The light of happy little things will always serve as a reminder of what we’ve missed. It might make you close your eyes in shame of who you think you are. In the worst case it might burn you up, because your skin hasn’t felt it for so long and all those plans and dreams and opportunities are just another flash of something you do not have the energy and skill for. Another thing, like all of your life, you can and will fail at. It’s only in your head. Yes, I know, and so am I. And in here it is dark and light hurts.
*collages are made with portraits made in Sibiu and photos of my note book and buildings made in vienna