Depression and Positivity

Because depression is a part of me. But it doesn’t define me.

It’s been an interesting week. In a span of two days I had two people tell me that I’m such a positive person. It wasn’t even a particularly deep conversation, one of them was just asking me to check something out, the other I was merely wishing a happy birthday, and yet it was enough for them to tell me that I am a positive person.

This was interesting because it was such a vast contrast to what I’ve been dealing with mentally the past week. I’ve been struggling with figuring out if this uneasiness inside me is depression or anxiety or both, how do I cope without a therapist, tending to old wounds that keep coming up and demanding attention and just trying to sleep well while worrying about my health.

It may not be much to others, I suppose, but it does get overwhelming for me so overall I feel crummy, especially when I’m on my own.

It’s definitely something I do my best not to portray to people, because it’s my own personal battle and displaying any form of it doesn’t make sense. But for some reason, I wondered if the mask I use was a little too effective and I did find myself contemplating if I really am as positive as people see me.

It didn’t take long to find my answer. Yes, I am a positive person. Or more importantly, I became a positive person.

The reason why I initially found my positivity weird was because years ago, I was as pessimistic as I can be especially towards myself. I loathed my very existence to the point that people would roll their eyes when I insisted I wasn’t as good or as pretty as they say I am. And I remember purposely saying those things because I didn’t want to be complimented. I didn’t want to accept it because I didn’t believe it and neither should they.

So today, I’m a little comforted by that positivity I’m exuding, even though I’m still struggling with mental illness and how it’s crippling my thought process at times, it’s a relief to know that despite it all I can still smile. I can still laugh. I can still do the things I am passionate for (which is making lunch at the moment) and find joy in it.

Most importantly, I can still shine a bit of light to someone’s day.

What’s important to know is that yes, you can be a positive person even if you suffer from depression. It took years of effort on my part, but I finally reached a point in my life where I believe I can still be a positive person even if my mind feels otherwise.

Because depression is a part of me. But it doesn’t define me.

How I’m dealing with Mental Illness

It’s easy to feel weak when it comes back.

Sometimes I’m lulled into a sense of security that makes me believe that I have completely overcome my mental illness. That I have won, and I really am strong, just as everyone has claimed me to be.

But when my depression comes back, or I start feeling anxious, and thoughts of suicide are ebbing on the edge of my mind, I’m reminded of how foolish I am and how I constantly underestimate my mental illness.

There are still moments in my life where I question the validity of my mental illness. Am I really depressed or am I just having a screwed up mentality right now? Am I being anxious or am I just overreacting? Am I really suicidal or am I just choosing to be comforted by the idea of death?

I am aware that it’s hard to accept mental illness because we believe we have control over our mind. We want to believe that the choices we make are our own, not only influenced by peers, the media and society as a whole, but truly something we as a person would choose. So when mental illness hits, and you realise you really aren’t choosing to be the way you are, it’s a big blow to everything you’ve ever known.

Nothing horrified me more than realising it was actually my mind that was out to kill me, while my own body fought that constantly. I broke down when I realised this, because for years I hated my body, blaming my low self-esteem and inability to love when it was my body going against my mind that has kept me alive until today.

Truth is I was never taught that my mind could possibly be the enemy, I was always taught that I had full control of it. That I was making my own choices, that I was choosing to be emotional, that I was choosing to be miserable and that I needed to snap out of it. That those thoughts telling me how comforting death will be is my own ideation, and that’s why I should trust it.

That’s why it still bothers me when I find myself slipping back into those moments where I feel depressed or anxious. I don’t want to be in this state, and I have “fought” hard to reach this level where I could laugh whole heartedly, where I could smile and believe how precious each day is, how my dreams are still possible to become reality. So when it strikes, I do feel like a failure at times. I do feel the ghost of my past failures, the ones my mind gripped on to tightly to keep me depressed or anxious, continue to haunt me and remind me why I need to be in this state.

But slowly, ever so slowly, I learnt to treat my mental illness as a physical illness. That maybe I’m just tired, or not feeling well, and it’s a sign that I need to take better care of myself. That maybe all I need is a lot of sleep to help with the depression, or watch anime to help me forget my anxious thoughts for a moment. That what I need is an outlet, through writing or talk.

We’re not taught to treat our minds as a separate being, but it’s what I do to help me treat it better. I don’t see myself as a strong person, but I do know it took years of tears and pain to get where I am today, and that did take strength.

While I still get hit by mental illness once in a while, I’m still learning new ways to deal with it better and better.

It’s okay to be sad

It’s time we see sadness in a better light.

When Pixar’s Inside Out came out, I was really glad to see how Sadness was portrayed at the end. Sure, the character Sadness was kinda annoying, but it was good to see how important Sadness was to help a person sort through their experiences and how damaging it was to suppress it.

Parents learnt to talk about emotions better to their children, therapist had better ways to explain and describe emotions to children… but I don’t think enough people have watched the movie for there to be a significant impact, because the message I’m seeing these days is still, “You should be happy”.

I know, I’m being such a Negative Nelly. After all, there’s nothing wrong with preaching about happiness, there’s nothing wrong with telling the world to not focus on their sadness and learn to appreciate what they have, as sometimes yes, we do need the reminder to help us get us out of that sorry state.

But we focus a lot on happy endings without realising that we need to be sad first and acknowledge how frail we are or how painful our struggles are before we can gain back our strength and move forward. You know how before stories reach their climax, there’s this moment where the protagonist has a weakness to acknowledge and overcome? In a similar way, we need to acknowledge that we’re sad and upset over something before anyone can move forward and really, truly be happy. But today, sadness continues to be seen as a weakness, an attempt to gain sympathy or evoke false emotions, and is usually treated with a lot of disdain.

“What are you sad for?”

“Why are you crying?”

“Boys don’t cry.”

“Stop being sad, you’re upsetting everyone else.”

Throw in the “You should be happy” message, followed with a list of things you should be grateful for, and well… all that will do is just create fake happiness and hidden misery that’s bound to affect someone, if not now, then later in life.

I’m not saying that we should accept sadness by wallowing in misery for a long period of time. If there’s one thing I learnt from therapy is that our emotions are signals of our mental state that we need to take note of. It’s like when you have a fever, you know something is wrong with your body, the same way goes with your emotions.

So if you’re feeling really sad, you need to address it and find ways to deal with it. Cry, write, sing, dance, talk, just acknowledge that sadness and let it out in a way that’s healthy for you, and when I mean healthy I mean it doesn’t hurt you further physically or mentally. Sadness is there to help you realise that you aren’t feeling well and you need an escape before more bad things accumulates within you, so embrace the sadness and let it all out.

If you’re feeling sad for a longer period of time and despite all your efforts, happiness isn’t anywhere as close as you thought it should be, it’s definitely something you should worry and take note of. Remember that fever analogy? Yeah, it really is the same here. Long bouts of fever is worrying, and so is long bouts of sadness. Stop pretending you’re okay and see a doctor where you can, keep seeking help if the doctor isn’t giving you the remedy that you need, go online and look for resources to help you deal with your constant sadness. Just stop telling yourself you shouldn’t be sad when you really are.

Society may be constantly telling you to be happy, but fake happiness can only get you so far. Sure you gotta fake it where necessary (especially for us working folks), but don’t force yourself to be happy, or hide your sadness for so long cause it will bite back eventually.

It’s there, it needs to be acknowledged, and it needs the right treatment for you to get back on that path to happiness.

Dreams or Reality

I remember when I was in Primary School, I had this strange belief that if I thought of something happening, like truly imagine it and expect it, it would not come true.

I don’t know what prompted me to come up with this line of thinking. I’m not even sure how it worked. I think it involved really wanting and seeing it happen that will cause it to not come true. Maybe I experienced enough disappointments to make me believe that? After all, at that age, there were plenty of little disappointments to experience when your expectations involve having a rather magical life. I would imagine a life where I was popular, and it convinced me that I was doomed to be unpopular due to my constant visions of wanting to be just that. I would imagine being noticed by a cute boy, but alas most boys were more afraid of me than even remotely attracted.

Maybe it was because I was experiencing life beyond my ability to imagine it? After all, my imagination was inspired by the very unrealistic world of TV shows, movies and books. At that age, I didn’t experience enough to really process what reality should be like, so I made it up in my head and knew full well it would not come true cause I made it up from a book or a cartoon. But imagining that I was beautiful but then telling myself and others I was actually ugly became a major problem.

As I prepare to start my journey forward anew, I discovered a lot of the things I imagined, the ones that I really wanted and never came true, the beaten and broken up imaginations and dreams due to how things have been for me in the past few years.

I recount the times I imagined being in a musical, and mused at the thought fondly as I fought back tears. I remember my dreams of being a singer, and though not quite gone and I made attempts to keep that dream alive, it remains relatively untapped with little practice. I dreamt of the stories I would write, or the amazing stories that I could possibly be a part of, worlds I hope to someday see come alive in the worlds I would pen down in words.

But here’s something I realised about my dreams. They are not “dead”, but they are broken because life is never how I imagine it to be. Now that I’ve experienced enough heartbreak in my life, and have learnt to love myself a lot better, I find myself picking up these dreams and realising they never left me, no matter how many times I threw them away.

I just need to picture them better in my mind, and with my new confidence armed and ready, I’m determined to indulge in my dreams and make them come true in one way or another, even if takes one small step at a time.

I mean, if I can look at myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see, surely I’m on the right path so far.

I am a writer

I am a writer. If there’s one thing that I’ve always been proud of, and will always state myself as regardless of the different name position given to me by my job, I will always say what I know I really am: a writer.

But as the years went by, I found myself challenged on what it really meant to be a writer. Being a writer broke me at some point, so I thought it was best to take a break from it. I went on to do social media work, another area I’m familiar with as part of my writing and self interest, and despite its challenges, it still fascinated me enough to keep going.

Even though I’m content with that, I still find myself wanting to go back to that little skill I have which I am still justly proud of. Yet for some reason, my attempts to get back into it kept failing, again and again.

I would write, keep it, re-read it again and realise it wasn’t as good as I thought. I would write, hesitate at where I was going with this piece, and delete it altogether. I would write, only to be encumbered by fear and defeat.

What is the point I’m trying to write?

My biggest fuel to my ability to write is also my biggest weakness. I think too much, I feel too much, which makes my words emotional drivel that, to me, seem to serve no purpose other than my own, or they become cold in my attempts to control those emotions. There doesn’t seem to be a balance in my writing that I can feel content with, so I gave up.

Writing about what I really care about, how I really feel, comes with a number of consequences. Most are definitely made up in my head, but the others remain a strong reason why I hesitate.

I’m scared.

I’m scared of people seeing the real me, even though I want them to. I’m scared of my words reflecting me wrongly, misinterpreted, preachy, naive. I’m scared of those around me making sole judgments on that one piece of writing I have done alone, because that is me, yes, but it’s just one piece of something bigger.

I’m scared that the world isn’t interested to know my overflowing thoughts and emotions. They’re not practical, you see. It won’t cure cancer, and even if it stirs emotions it may not be enough to make a wave of change, and that makes my writing pointless in my eyes.

So here I am, trapped by fear, but here’s a fact: I have successfully written this far because I am still hopeful. If there’s one thing about me that has remain, even in the most darkest moments in my life, even when I am inches to losing my mind, even as my mouth spills words of despair, was that hope never left me.

It remains etched within me, strong and certain, that everything is all right. That my desire to write and being unable to does not equal failure, that I am capable of overcoming this fear and that I may someday write something that will stir someone’s soul and possibly bring change to their lives.

Someday soon, maybe not now, as I am still struggling to be at peace with myself more. But soon, and with each word I type out in this piece, my resolve gets stronger and stronger.

The Journey thus far

One year ago, someone posted an update on Facebook that she will no longer be responsible for someone else’s depression.

That someone she was referring to was me. And the person who posted that update was once someone dear to me.

To be honest, I would have forgotten this date had I not realised a day or two after it happened that this entire ordeal happened on one of my favourite fictional character’s birthday. And since then I knew I would always remember this day.

I won’t go into details about what happened, mistakes were done on both sides and I am not here to whine about how misunderstood a depressed person can be. I will tell you that I suffered tremendously after that, with anxiety attacks I never knew could grip me tighter than before, and blamed myself a lot for what happened. I have plenty of regrets from the entire ordeal, and articles of lost friendships did nothing to soothe the pain of losing someone you were close to.

I made even more mistakes after that, as my anxiety and depression got the better of me. But through it all, they became the lessons I needed, throwing me into dark pits so low, my only choices were to continue clawing at the hardened floors or to climb up.

Even as I sit here remembering how much I struggled, I’m actually glad that this day has come. I knew it would come, because even with all the suffering and emotional torture I was going through, I was determined to do all that I can to be there for myself. The biggest lesson I learnt from losing someone who was once important to me was the need to balance my dependency on others for support, to be able to learn to support myself as well as knowing when to seek support from friends.

The best part of my journey so far is having my mother tell me that she knew I was depressed for the past few years, a moment I never thought I’d live to see. While it took many mistakes along the way to get here…

Well, I’m here.

It has been a rough journey, but I survived one of the most painful moments in my life. And because of that, I’m ready to get writing again. I’m ready to embark on some soul searching in my writing, as well as share my experiences of depression and suicide not only in hopes to reach out to someone who may need it, but also as a tribute to my past self (I’ll write on this eventually).

So thank you to everyone who has loved me in the past, even if I have lost you now. I am still dealing with the pain of losing you, but I have learnt to forgive you and myself. To those of you who remained, I love you. Thank you.

Addressed to: 15 year old me

Dear 15 year old me,

I know the idea of this letter to you from the future will fill you with a great sense of hope and expectation. That was how I remember you anyways, based on the diary you wrote at every chance that you got, filled with teenage whimsy, fears, fangirling and most importantly, a certain level of optimism.

I also knew you kept a lot of your secret thoughts to yourself. Like how you had hoped to be in a relationship and on your way to a dream career by 25. This was why on the first day when 25 year old us woke up, she didn’t rejoice at all. She burst into tears.

“I’ve failed” was all she could think of. At the time, I blamed no one but myself for the failures I’ve faced. The struggles in my career, the brokenness of my family, my average body and horrible personality for the lack of love life.

15 year old me, I know you’re hopeful for your future, and because you’re so young the troubles you’ll face in your coming years will feel tremendous, and you will be unprepared for it all. You will feel like all is lost, everything you did was a waste and that life is telling you to give up. Your mind will play tricks on you, convince you that you are incapable of anything, and that your failures defines you.

I just want to tell you that all that optimism and hopefulness you have isn’t going to waste. True, it will lead to so many disappointments in life, but there will be a point where you will be hanging on to your last strands, clinging on to life as you plan the moment to end it all, and yet you’ll find yourself thinking that there is always that glimmer of hope.

That you will be beautiful, that you will be loved, and most importantly…

That you are stronger than you think.

So here’s what you really need to know. Rather than having that dream job and dream boy in your grasp, I want you to know that you’ve achieved more than you could possibly imagine:

  • You will learn to love that body of yours, and you will also learn that your body has always loved and cared for you even when you hated it the most.
  • You will learn that your mind can be the source of all evil in your life, but as long as you can set yourself apart from it, you will also learn your mind is capable of stringing poetic words, building characters and worlds that will have you remembered in a small little community you will adore.
  • You will learn that your talents are beautiful, and that your gifts are there not to make money or attract attention, but to make yourself happy.
  • You will learn to put yourself first, and this will be hard because I know you believe that being there for others is more important. I am not saying you will be selfish, rather you will find ways to be more in tune with yourself and your needs and believing in it, even if it comes with a heavy price.
  • You will learn to love again. I’m sorry to tell you that your experiences with love will be terribly tainted and broken, and it will put you off love for years ahead. But someone out there will love you, even if the one you love isn’t packaged the way you dream.
  • You will learn to face your fears, and decide whether to defeat them or accept them as who you are. It’s a part of life no anime or book will show you in detail, because you can make a choice to save someone or be there for others, but fears like “being alone” cannot be simply solved by deciding to have more people surround you. There’s a deeper fear, and I am proud to say you faced them all despite your tears and cries of respite.

I know what you’re thinking. All this is nice and all, but you’re still wondering if I got that dream career and man. And I will admit that at this point, those dreams haven’t been achieved quite yet. But there’s a reason you’re born with dreams, 15 year old me. You just have to realise that every road is different and your time isn’t as limited as you think. Your viewpoints will change and you will accept it wholeheartedly. Your journey may be filled with pain and sorrow, but along with it are experiences that you can use to enrich not just yourself but others later on in your life.

15 year old me, you didn’t gain success after turning 25. You gain the strength to live a life beyond even your own expectations.

So keep dreaming, keep hoping for greater things. Because once you’ve broken through obstacles and silenced doubt and fears, those dreams will shine brighter than anything you’ve ever seen.

With so much love,

27 year old you