Hallo one and all, whoever you might be.
It’s been a while. In the time since I last wrote, there’s been Christmas (a good time getting to know old acquaintances and new friends better), camping at the beautiful Coles Bay with great company, meeting many new clients through The Garden Studio, starting to offer massages at Harmony Hair and Beauty in town, eating well, enjoying my pets, and putting my toes back into the freelance world.
As the year gets busier, and people seem to be trying to put 2020 behind them, there are so many good things that I could be doing, but not sure that I should be doing. Having emptied my plate of everything last year when it broke, now I have my plate back (repaired kintsugi-style, I like to imagine, like the plate in the header image) and I get to choose what to put back onto it, but it turns out that’s not easy.
Because here’s the problem: I look okay.
I smile. I laugh. I participate. I contribute. I have ideas. I turn up. I get things done. Yes, I am better than I was. But.
I am still fragile. I am still mending. I am still not well. But appearances are deceiving, aren’t they?
Look at her, happy at the beach! True, but at the same time this person is also exhausted, permanently on the edge of tears, feeling guilty for not finding work, stressed about money, wishing she was someone else, somewhere else, wanting to hide, wanting the world to stop for a while.
I’ve noticed in the last couple of weeks that I’m starting to feel that drowning, floundering feeling again which tells me I need to ease off and review the things that I’m starting to put back into my life, and assess whether they’re worth the toll. There are many good things I could be doing but I can’t do them all. That’s all part and parcel of managing chronic depression, especially after a burnout. You have to say no to good things, and that’s really hard. You sometimes have to say yes to the things you don’t want to do because you need to earn a living, for example, and that leaves no energy to do the fun stuff.
But because there is no outward physical evidence of what I’m experiencing, some people don’t understand or give you grace (again something that most people with all sorts of chronic illnesses have to deal with). They look affronted when you say no or push back. They criticise you for decisions you’ve made. They judge you for what you choose to do or choose not to do, and sometimes will tell you what they think about it.
That’s hard to take and it’s really exhausting to have to keep explaining myself. I know everyone has their own stuff they’re dealing with, and if you’ve never had an experience of poor mental health it’s a difficult thing to understand. It sounds like you’re making excuses. It looks like you’re functional, so why did you say you can’t do X? If you’re so sick, why are you doing Y? Have you asked the doctor about Z?
I am terrified I’ll never be able to work a full load again, and yet I don’t think I’d be considered sick enough to get a disability pension (I’m not saying I want to be or should be on the disability pension by the way). I do still have to earn a living. Centrelink has provided a much-needed gap filler, but it’s not enough to live on. But I look at job ads and they defeat me. I just don’t think I’m in a place where I can turn up at 9 and pump out work for eight hours anywhere. And though I am lucky enough to have skills that can translate into a freelance life, working freelance has never been a comfortable place for me. The hustle is something I am not good at or enjoy.
Having eaten into whatever meagre savings I had while I was sick last year, I am now back to that good old freelance invoice to invoice existence, which is something I had vowed I would never do again. I just keep praying nothing goes drastically wrong with house, car or health (any more than it is) because there is no buffer. The decision I made to leave the perceived security of a permanent job was not something I did lightly. So when I get criticised for it, it’s quite painful and takes me a long time to untangle my feelings and knee jerk reactions about my motivations and what people think of me. Because that shouldn’t matter. I’m the only one who knows my capacity, and I’m the only one who can vouch for myself. Much as I want a note from my mum telling the world I can’t participate today (and much as she’d like to write me one), that’s just not how life works.
I do trust in God. My bank account looks scary but God has provided so much for us over the years. Indeed, I never thought I would be so well off. I have never been left in a situation where I couldn’t pay my bills or have nice things, even if it is a bit of a scrimp and scrape at times. We live in a beautiful comfortable house, in a peaceful place. We eat well. I have my own car. I have excellent musical instruments and tools to do work when I can do it. We have SO MUCH. I am grateful.
But when I get the criticisms (explicit or implicit), when I feel bad for pushing back against the pressure, when I compare myself (damnit! I know not to do that but it just happens!), the negative weeds take root and spring up everywhere. So fast, so thick. I don’t want to be the person that’s always talking about depression but I am. I don’t want to be the person that’s always making excuses, but they’re true. I don’t want to be the person that tells people that even though I look well, I’m not. Because it feels like being the boy who cried wolf, even though this wolf is very real — because the wolf is invisible, some people don’t believe his jaws are clamped around my ankle.
I know I’m doing the best I can. This is just a cry of “it’s hard”. Have a thought for anyone you know struggling with chronic illness. It’s a frustrating, misunderstood, lonely road.