The 'Two Masks' of Mental Illness: Depression vs Stability
Thursday, December 27 2012 Natalie Jeanne Champagne
When I think of mental illness--my journey sprinting through life alongside it-- I think of the image below. The famous Two Masks. I painted a picture of it, framed it, and gave it to my mother a couple of years ago. The irony was not lost on her. It hangs in the hallway; laughing at me. The masks represent bipolar disorder to me. They represent emotion on a whole--the entire spectrum. Like many people living with chronic mental illness, it's hard to find the parts that define the middle; the sort of happy bits that made us smile but were fleeting.
My Apologies, Another Rather Sad Post...
I have said it before: some writers base their prose on research and some of us write about ourselves and some of us entwine both. And it's all effective. But when I'm feeling low, I cannot present you with some nice statistics because right now I don't care. What I care about, what I can be honest with you about, is how painful depression is. How it feels it will not ever disappear. And yes, I know, this blog is titled "Recovering From Mental Illness" and this, for many of us, is part of recovery. Let's move on. I'm done giving you a ridiculous sorry I am writing about my sort of crap life again but I'm not sure what else to do. It's time to delve into the topic...
The Experience of Mental Stability
The 'Happy' Half of The Mask
Feels bloody fantastic! Following a period of instability, you marvel at the color of trees; they never looked so green before! Maybe you never noticed them before. Sometimes, after a period of depression, I catch myself laughing and I forget how great that is. That feeling of belonging with others who laugh. To be physically stable involves a normal amount of energy, a mind that is clear-headed (mostly) and a body that moves! Finally!
It often includes rewarding relationships, relationships in which we can both give and take. The best kind! Our working lives are, well, working and we probably feel we can connect with our family again or those that are most special to us. To summarize: The black curtain I refer to as depression has lifted. And we can see now. But the other side, the other half of the mask, leaves much to be desired. I hate that one. I'm pretty sure that you do, too.
The Experience of Depression
The Melancholic Side of The Mask
I hate depression. I hate it so much. It makes me tired and angry and I do impulsive things. It makes going up and down the stairs and brushing my teeth and taking a shower hard. It makes music sound ugly and laughter menacing. It steals away my appetite and motivation to do anything but cry, or sometimes, I cannot cry at all. I become mean and push everyone away. I feel grief I cannot place. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.
That's all I have to say about depression right now. Sometimes, it's easier to remember the things we miss. The sun and energy and laughter and, oh, how I miss it. Terribly.
Remember That Depression Will Not Last Forever
If you catch it soon enough, work with family and friends and your mental health care team, depression might not enter your life at all. Just because we have a chronic mental illness does not mean we are destined to flip between the emotions behind 'the two masks'. Often, we stay stable for years, a lifetime, but the reality is mental illness often involves relapse.