For the most part I try and keep this blog film-related, but if you’ve been around a while you know it tends to veer in equality and mental health directions now and again, and as May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I really wanted to write something relating to it. The trouble was I didn’t know what. I’ve told my story a million times – depressed, suicidal and self-harming from eleven/twelve, eating disorders later, therapy, medication yadda yadda. My best friend has a joke that together we make up one ‘fully-functioning human’, and to be honest he more people I encounter in life the more I realise it genuinely seems that everyone has some kind of mental illness – whether it’s diagnosed or not, whether it’s severe or not. Which really makes you think that perhaps, actually, being slightly fucked up is more normal than being a well-adjusted, fully-functioning human.
I am, to sum it up, always going to be depressed. That isn’t the mental illness talking, it’s the years of experience and diagnoses. But I’ve accepted it, I’ve dealt with it and battled it, and I’ve moved on. Mental illness is still a huge part of my identity and everyday life – not because if you have a mental illnes it has to define you or be a big deal, but because (like with my sexuality or gender) I personally like having identifiers and labels. I like openly, vocally talking about things I am or have. Ultimately, in my eyes, these are things which have and do shape who I am, so why wouldn’t I acknowledge their importance? But that doesn’t mean a mental illness etc. is a big part of every sufferer’s identity – please don’t assume that.
In my twenty years of life I’ve been to multiple therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, I’ve been on varying doses on medication and I’ve come off it then had to go back on (and told I should stay on it for life). Depression is something I live with, every single day. But finally, in the last couple of years, I’ve come to accept that. Rather than constantly trying to fight a battle with my mental illness and thinking of it as something I have to ‘beat’ and ‘combat’, I’ve accepted that (for me – not everyone) it is something that is a part of me – literally on a cellular chemical level – and this is something I just have to live with. In my latest film Grey, which is a semi-autobiographical account of living with depression, there’s a line “even if it’s not on the outside, it’s always inside me. It’s the one fucking constant in my fucked up head.” and that’s probably the most honest line I’ve ever written. Perhaps different medication or a different dose would make it unnoticable, perhaps it is possible to get rid of the down days and the bad phases, but ultimately, this will always be a part of me, whether it is visible or not.
I am in no way saying to just accept your mental illness, obviously fight with all your strength and determination to overcome it and live your happiest, healthiest life. But if it is confirmed to be something indefinite or chemical, that you will always have to deal with, then there is no shame or weakness in accepting its place in your life. If you can help yourself and get rid of your illness, do it. Please do it. I overcame my years of self-harm through pure stubbornness, and I overcame eating disorders through practice and my loved ones’ help – but that doesn’t mean I never get that ache to hurt myself or that I in any way like myself. I managed to just about scrape by enough to stop those physically damaging behaviours, and prayed that the psychologically self-destructive ones would follow suit. If you can fight what is hurting you, then fight. Those symptoms of this thing in my brain haven’t vanished, and for me probably never will, that’s why it’s so dangerous having to live with it, because you’re always living on the edge.
One thing I often say about depression is that it isn’t always dramatic, clutching your head, screaming and crying, fighting to stay alive – the reality of it is that those days or nights stay with you, even when they’re over. Even after that fight, you have to get up and wade through the corpses left behind after the battle. Every. Single. Day. That is why living with a mental illness is so exhausting – because your ‘good days’ aren’t the same as everyone else’s ‘good days’. But in recent years, with my acceptance that this illness is my brain’s default, I’ve also learned I don’t have to keep fighting it day-in and day-out. Instead, I can co-exist with it. Once I learned that (and it was definitely learned over time and experience, not just a sudden realisation) – I began to understand the illness and myself so much more. The symptoms, the cravings and urges and whispering voices are still there every day, but now – more often than not – I can cope with those things. Half the exhaustion of mental illness is the constant struggle to fight back and battle it – something everyone around you is always telling you to do. For me, managing to peacefully co-exist with my mental illness, rather than trying to cure it, has been half the battle.
Learning to live with my depression isn’t about me fixing or getting rid of it, it’s about me living alongside it and learning when to push myself to fight past it, and when I need to be gentle on myself and just wallow in the black numbness for a while. That differentiation – that give and take – is key. People might not always understand you having to make that call, and it is something I have struggled with for years, but I truly believe learning that distinction has saved my life.