Doing the Work

By Manya S.September 21, 2015

Today my therapy homework is to write an email. Emails are great: I like to think of them as more formal, thought-out text messages, except less stressful (because you don’t expect a response immediately). The problem with this email is what I have to write in it.

I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to get every adult on my care team to tell me I don’t need to write this email. I want them to tell me I’ll feel well enough in a few weeks to work my summer job. I want people to tell me I’ll feel better soon, even though I know that I won’t.

Writing this email would mean etching this stage of my life into history. This will always be the summer I didn’t work because of my depression. It was probably silly for me to hope that if I kept my secret in a small enough circle and worked hard at getting better I would just be able to forget about this part of my life. Because when I do get better, this will be the part of my life that I might want to hold back.

But not wanting to write this email is about more than wanting to forget about my depression. Writing this email today means acknowledging to other people in my life that I’m not well. It is throwing away a mask I cannot easily put on again. This isn’t a pretty mask, like the one I will wear to my masquerade prom in June. This is an ugly mask that I hate to look at. It is such a tight fit that I am constantly in pain. I want nothing more than to burn this mask (preferably in a dramatic fashion – maybe on a beach with “Picture to Burn” playing in the background). It’s been so long since I’ve seen my own face that I’m scared of what I’ll see when I look in the mirror. I’m scared of how others will see me. I’m worried the sight of my face will crumble the image of me that they’ve known for so long. I’m scared that throwing away this mask will burn bridges I assumed would always be there.

I know this mask is more transparent than I’d like, and I know I have a lot of hard work to do.

But I also know that the people who love me already know how I look and who I am. And I know that it’s OK for the people in my life to know that I am hurting. It’s OK that this is who I am and that this is what I’m struggling with right now.

I know that my medication is going to start working soon. I know that my first thought in the morning will soon be of the sunshine and not a wish that I was still asleep.

The narrative is the hardest part. I’m sick, I say. I need to put myself first. I need my time to be focused on treatment. I can’t help but say “Sorry!” even though I do not want to apologize for my mental illness.

I do not want to call my sickness by its name: depression. Mom tells me that this is how it should be in a professional email. It makes me feel like I’m hiding behind my mask again, but I accept it. I will not always live behind this mask.

In a long period of time of doing difficult things, hitting send is one of the most difficult things.


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Comments (18)

  1. Leonie

    Well said. I deal with kind of the same problem for a while.
    I’m battling the pain which is running around in my head to do as much hurt as it could. Unfortunately, it is doing his job very well.
    But it will get over and it’ll finish someday. Hopefully soon :). At least there is a lot of progress!

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  2. Donna Hill

    bless you your very brave im the same i never call my mental illness what it is and i never talk about too as i feel the world will judge and scare people away

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  3. Aly

    I’m glad this was posted today. I’m struggling with very similar things and felt real alone in it. It’s hard letting go of the mask. I don’t want to be the one always suffering, but if I’m being honest with people I am hurting a lot of the time. I don’t know how to be honest with people. I want to but it’s so hard. I really wish I had a support team like this one too, I can’t get any help, but I know I need it. I need to focus on recovery, but that’s so hard to do by itself, let alone without a therapist. I just want to feel better.

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    I asked the counsellor, “I am ill aren’t I?”…. she said, “Yes, you are”
    I then asked, “And many of those around me don’t/can’t understand that can they?” … she answered “No, they won’t”
    That was 6 years ago and it gave me such a relief to realise I wasn’t making it all up and that the reactions of others was due to their ignorance … fear even ….. and that I was not responsible for that!
    That conversation came when I was at my lowest point and enabled me to to reach out to people who did understand and for me to take the next step to recovery. I had to first own my illness before I could learn how to break its hold … to reach a point where my illness no longer defined me.
    I stand now and look back to that conversation and feel a little stunned at how far I have come.
    Well done.
    You are not alone.
    Others walk before and beside you
    …. we understand.

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  5. Maya Vi

    It takes a lot of courage to look it in the eye, especially for young people. Remember that you were and are brave, and that you can and will go on to do great things. And it is my hope for everyone who suffers, mentally and physically, that they are proud of themselves when they are brave, and kind to themselves when not feeling as brave.

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  6. Rozilient

    This blog entry reminded me of this poem:

    We Wear the Mask
    We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.
    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
    We wear the mask.
    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
    We wear the mask!

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  7. Dan

    Thank you so much for writing this, I really needed it today. I’m still wearing my mask in the hope that I’ll get better soon and no one will have to know but that means I am not able to reach out and ask for help. Thank you for reminding me that I am sick and I dont need to apologize for it but letting other people see my pain is terrifying. I hope that one day I will be able to let go of my mask and let others help me.

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  8. Amy O

    Thank you. I am starting to try to be more open about my anxiety and how I need to take time for me because sometimes I just feel so frantic I just want peace. This helped me

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  9. AnnMarie

    You are SO brave. I don’t know you but as you walk this journey~I pray for your steps today.

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  10. Tifiany

    Amazing release!! This choked me up for so many reasons, being a Mom with a child diagnosed with depression and in the early stages of understanding the big picture. Thank goodness for the ability to share and not having to be pressured to hide. Step by step and day by day life can be wonderful and it looks like you are off to a wonderful path of finding your happiness.
    God bless!

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  11. Mochi

    This made me think a lot
    Go on you are in a good way so am I 🙂

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  12. Becca

    My one thought while I was reading this was, “Did I write this?” I feel a lot of the same ways you are feeling. Thanks for sharing. Recovery is possible. Keep your head up. You’ve got this.

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  13. Sharlene

    Doing the work is so important, yet the hardest thing to do. I believe it is becoming easier for people to share their experiences with mental illness. People are learning that the suffering is real. The pain is real. Congrats on the work you do! Congrats on hitting send!


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    1. Matthew Rissmiller

      I do relate heavily, and interacting with this social media movement as well as in person meetings and volunteering with my local community support program in PA have allowed me to understand that sometimes I, too, need to ask for consideration for my mental health disability and request less work hours a week or less work days every week. I believe my next step is to request no more than 3 work nights a week for at least the next 2 months and we’ll talk later about any more changes.
      I will call my boss at the fast food store I work at tomorrow and see what they have to say.
      On 2nd thought I will discuss this with my therapist at our appointment tomorrow before ever contacting my employer.
      Lately I have been loosing sleep by waking earlier than is good for me as a late night worker.
      I have finally realized I have an employment support person with Gateway Employment Group here in Central PA I CAN reach out to at an educational PSR facility I attend on a regular schedule.
      Life is still getting better!

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  14. Elizabeth Barone

    I can so relate. I refer to it as “my dysthymia acting up.”

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  15. Gina Escalera

    I understand completely. I always feel apologetic for my depression. It’s hard to convey what this is like to people, because we look so normal, ( are we supposed to go around acting ” crazy ” ? ). The thing is I don’t like talking about this, I don’t want to explain this…I live with this everyday. That’s enough, it’s too much. When those closest to me ask me, how I am, I always tell them if I’m having a bad day, or if I’m bummed out, I have learned to admit when I’m hitting the deep end inside. I’ll even write about it or, or comment on Facebook, because ignorance and denial on this subject is dangerous for myself and others. The narrative is the hardest part, there’s no opportunity in this life, to be focused on our own treatment, ( I even feel guilty writing about this instead of working at my ” real responsibilities ” right now ).We just somehow have make that opportunity. In tiny baby steps.

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  16. tawanda

    This is strong. Thanks for sharing!

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  17. Aash

    Wonderful piece. It’s good to know you’re talking about it. Do not hide behind the mask, you don’t need to anymore. Much love to you and all going through a similar battle.

    Reply  |  
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