There is still so much stigma surrounding mental health that few people talk openly about it. We feel embarrassed, ashamed, weak and undeserving of love and care.
When you suffer from severe bouts of depression, medication certainly helps, but you can rarely shut your mind off entirely. When it gets especially bad, your brain tries to convince you that you should kill or hurt yourself – you are useless, you are unlovable, you are a fraud, you are a drain on your family, friends and colleagues.
If your leg is broken, people around you can see that you are in or have been in some kind of pain. But you cannot see inside someone’s mind to understand the agony of depression, the debilitating effects of anxiety, the constant fight to ignore the voices telling you to jump.
One way many people cope with these overwhelming feelings is to self-harm. This is often not about suicide, but rather an attempt – at least in my case – to transfer the pain inside my mind to an external, physical place that can be treated with stitches and time.
Those external wounds will indeed heal, but self-harm does not quiet the mind for long. Precipitated in large part by my parents’ acrimonious divorce, I recently cut myself badly during what we can euphemistically call “an episode”. I am privileged to have a support system in my therapist, psychiatrist and those close to me, but so many people don’t. Sometimes they need time off work but can’t get it; sometimes they need to speak to a professional but have no access to one.
Without psychological help and prescription medication, scores of people give in to those persistent voices that keep screaming at them that they are worth less than nothing.
With me, I never really know when that thin thread keeping me connected and functioning in this upside-down world will snap and a sort of tunnel vision will lead me to cut myself with any sharp object that I can find nearby – a pocket knife, a sharp stone, a piece of wire. Afterwards, I feel foolish, lost, deflated and more worthless than before. There’s that voice again, because – and this is so nonsensical – I certainly don’t feel any better when I bleed.
So, I’ll try to quiet my mind again. I’ll get out of bed tomorrow, get dressed and do the things that need to be done. Unlike when that cast comes off a broken leg – healed and useful again – you’ll still not see the pain I feel inside.