I have this habit of talking too fast because I’m so used to being interrupted. I soften my statements with likes & ums & smiley faces & “I just feel like”s, because men treat me like I’m being hostile if I don’t. I hunch my back & lower my head & draw my shoulders inward when walking through a crowd, like I can somehow keep going & physically disappear into myself, because I am treated like I take up too much space. I joke around about my mental illness not just because the darkness makes other people uncomfortable - but because it also makes me uncomfortable living through it. I have to answer “how are you doing?” with a nudge & a joke because the truth is so real that it scares people. I have to write 10 jokes for every 1 serious piece, because I have to prove to people that I am capable of both. I wonder why sad people have to prove that there is more inside of them when I’m pretty sure we’re ALL sad in varying degrees.
I also have this habit of trying to prove & qualify my largely invisible illness, because people don’t believe it’s real if they can’t see it. In moderate company, I feel comfortable saying that I have PTSD, because that’s more believable & understandable by the general public. Veterans have it, & we sure do love our got dang, dag gum troops! The formula is simple: a bad thing happens, & then your brain goes bad - that makes more sense. It’s harder to understand that your brain was always bad because of something you can never see.
What you CAN see of my depression is me unable to move in bed for days at a time. You can see both my weight loss followed by subsequent weight gain. You can see the scar on my palm from the first time I tried to die as a child. You can see the paperwork from my hospital stays, unpaid emergency room bills from when being alive was an accident. You can see my apartment during my blue periods, with dirty laundry covering every surface; the rotting food in my fridge that I was too sad to eat for 3 months straight. You can see the diagnosis codes & the financial history of spending more on my brain than I ever have on anything else in my entire life, including rent - & I’ve paid over $100,000 in rent in my lifetime. You can see frenzied missed calls in a row from my parents on days when they know I’m sad, because an unanswered call sometimes means a near-undetectable pulse, & they’ve spent too many days in hospital rooms & nights barefoot in the street behind an ambulance. You can see tear & mascara stains on every pillow I’ve ever owned, & the number of alarms I have to set on a daily basis because sometimes sleep is as close to dead as I can get.
You can’t see my PTSD when you look at me, but you can see the whites of my eyes as they roll into the back of my head when I collapse from fear. You can see 3 dents in my wall at my old apartment; 2 where glass jars struck & shattered when I didn’t realize how hurt I was & 1 where I was shoved into the wall as he grabbed me by the neck. You can see unanswered police reports on my fridge that have things like “criminal mischief, assault, criminal stalking, threats by phone, & criminal trespassing” scrawled onto them by different officers. You can see the last text message I sent to my rapist before I blocked him on every platform, “Go lie in a field & let the elements take you. Rot.”. You can see my hands shake & my mouth retch when a man raises his voice at me. You can see the texts I exchanged with an acquaintance when I tried to convince him I needed a gun for protection, but I stopped replying when I realized I couldn’t hide my own body to keep from traumatizing my mother. You could find guns for sale on Craigslist in my browser history that I decided to abandon because my neighbors had gotten a new puppy & I couldn’t get past the small chance that the bullet may hit the poor thing as it exited my skull. I was so desperate to find a way to end my pain. You can see the nebulizer & the breathing mask under my bed for when I get so scared that I can’t breathe, & the yellowish bruises that bloom across my chest from struggling so hard to get a breath in.
If you used a camera to take a picture inside of my brain, you would see the amygdala, the hippocampus, & ventromedial prefrontal cortex, light up like a Christmas tree. These are the parts of my brain that are responsible for my emotions, memory, autonomic nervous system, survival instincts, & the processing of risk & fear. The lights would indicate that these areas are overactive, yet also appear to be damaged, like someone hit me very hard in exactly those spots. I mean, I guess someone kind of did.
Did you know that the human body literally creates its own opioids? They are called Dynorphins, & they are released naturally by the body in times of stress. Dynorphins cause an unsurprisingly-opioid-like response in the body, like helplessness, depression, listlessness, & emotional detachment.
These are my 2 available responses. Hypervigilance, irrational fear, fight or flight on one end; drug-like sedation, dead-eyed detachment, & numbness, caused by a literal opioid, on the other end.
I am tired of trying to prove that my invisible illness sometimes has physical symptoms because people don’t believe that it’s real without them. I am tired of trying to prove that the physical symptoms are what make it valid & serious & true, when the invisible ones inside my brain should be enough. Emotional pain is real & I shouldn’t have to shove my head into an MRI tube to prove to you that I am not well.
I also shouldn’t have to smile & shake your hand firmly & write a convincing & eloquent email to prove to you that my brain can be sick but functioning all at the same time. The parts of my brain that light up under a scan DO NOT MEAN that I am not rooted in reality. I can make my own decisions & remember things perfectly & understand nuanced concepts & tell the truth regardless of my illness. As much as my rapists & impossibly, bafflingly furious men on the internet disagree, I am not “crazy”. I am ill, but I am also a functioning & responsible & caring & hardworking person. I can be a comedian, I can be a professional, I can be a partner & a friend & a daughter & a sister & a neighbor & an expert & still have an illness. Do not ever try to tell me that I can’t be all of these things. Do not make me crack my skull open so that you can peer in & decide what the answer is, like I’m a fucking Magic 8 Ball. Do not talk down to me or speak slowly & condescendingly down your nose at me like I can’t understand words just because I have an illness. I am fine in some ways, & unwell in others. I contain multitudes & so do you. Let me be ill. Let me be well. Let me be funny & sad & everything all at once. Just let me be HUMAN.