Hidden Costs of Mental Illness

I am back to my baseline mood. A few notches above neutral, though it took some doing. In my most recent traverse of the terrain of my depressed mind I fell back into some nasty, maladaptive habits that embraced me long ago, including:

  • Staying in bed

  • Not drinking water

  • Not eating

  • Turning off my phone

  • Not showering

  • Not shaving

  • Not cleaning

These are some of the more mysterious costs to mental illness. What is worse is that they build on one another. Because I stay in bed more, I move less. Because I move less I do not need as much food so I eat less, until not at all. I turn off my phone because I do not want to connect with anyone. Because I lack connection I fail to maintain basic hygiene, and because I fail to maintain basic hygiene I am even less likely to venture out where there are people!

Lacking energy, feeling weak, and looking like a vagrant make staying in bed a very appealing proposition. What I find amazing is that everyone can relate to this experience because it is identical to getting the flu.

When I last got the flu I avoided connection with other people because I did not want to infect them. Since I was not going to see people I stopped taking care of my appearance. I could barely keep food down so I ate less. Because I ate less I had less energy, and I stayed in bed!

Getting the flu leads to identical costs as falling into a depression, though they appear in reverse. With treatment, the end result is the same - one gets back to baseline. The timing varies based on the individual, but generally a treated person improves over time. My depression lasted a little over three weeks start to finish. I spent most of September sliding down and stumbling up. Mind askew, perceptions awry, emotions dark.

The significant differentiator between the flu and mental illness is the shame. I beat myself up these past three weeks, even though I knew I had not earned that additional guilt. I never beat myself up for catching the flu. I might have been upset at getting the flu. Bemoaned the lost productivity and cancelled plans, but I never felt as if I was a worse person because I got sick.

Shame is the hidden cost. Guilt, the demotivator.

Today I woke up at 5:30. Drank water. Had a filling breakfast burrito and drank a soothing medium roast. I practiced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy while listening to someone smarter than me - Simon Sinek. Then I wrote, which is my triune of self-therapy, catharsis, and journaling.

A student once asked if I will always deal with mental illness. I responded that I would. Considering my answer more deeply, it is good that I will always live with the risk of a depressive slide. Just as it is good that I will always live with the risk of the flu virus.

It is good because both indicate that I am alive.

I am giving a presentation on the AFSP’s More Than Sad program to a group of students in Fayetteville, GA on 10/11.

This program is geared toward high school students, parents, and teachers - teaching how to recognize signs of depression, initiating conversation, and how to responsibly act to prevent the suicide of a friend or loved one.