On Tackling Mental Illness Taboos Online

Why writing about what ails us is counterintuitive but necessary

Photo by Jake Melara on Unsplash

Depression is an isolating disease.

First you retreat into your own head then you keep everyone at arm’s length because being sociable isn’t one of the hallmarks of the illness.

Instead, sufferers have the tendency to go lick their wounds away from prying eyes until the moment passes. If you live alone or the people around you aren’t clued up about mental health, the moment can last much, much longer.

Mine lasted five years.

During that time, I lost my livelihood when illness annihilated my ability to think and my writing voice with it. Without a way to support myself, my household sank into hardship while my marriage faltered as a result of spousal resentment.

Because a sick wife is apparently a wife who lets you down, albeit unwittingly.

I hung on to the hope my vocation would survive, which it thankfully did; it has been helping me rebuild a life that works, albeit slowly. Words are all I’ve got but it turns out they may be all I need as they have already upended my life.

Even though we might be alone in an ocean of darkness, words can double up as emergency flares that help others see us.

And guide us to safety.

When I set out to save my own life, I had the modest goal of doing so by helping others in a similar predicament feel less alone.

I didn’t for a moment think fellow humans might correctly identify that I needed help, much less provide it.

Left to hold my own hand for five years, going it alone had become my default and what I had come to expect. Unless I helped myself, nothing would happen.

Imagine my surprise when readers and fellow writers started showing up and offering help and advice from around the world. From supporting my work and helping me turn coffee into jet fuel so I could travel back to France and help my parents navigate the grueling reality of Stage IV cancer to checking up on me during harrowing times, you’re here.

And I’m still transforming my life thanks to you, one word at a time.

The humanness depression denies us, fellow humans will return to us tenfold if we let them in; this is what embracing radical honesty when writing about mental illness taught me.

Opening up about the distress within is the hardest thing to do when vulnerable but acknowledging every aspect of our shared humanness is what brings us together.

Because we humans are always more alike than different, including in our tendency to suffer in silence and endure.

At a time when I doubted my ability to overcome, the muse appeared.

Much revered in creative circles, the muse is this nebulous presence that inspires you to create.

A force that nourishes you and makes effort feel effortless and renders time irrelevant, the muse isn’t always abstract. Mine is a fellow human whose influence was so life-changing that it started working by remote, half-way across several time zones.

When everything was falling apart, I hung on to the muse for dear life and they carried me as if they were giving me a metaphysical piggyback ride. Or so I thought, at least until I understood the difference between carrying someone and holding their hand tight.

At the time, depression had erased so much of my former self whatever was left of me probably fitted into that hand.

Intellectual symbiosis between humans can be so formidable it will cause your heart to regenerate, too. Thanks to the muse, I went from being lost in the fog of depression to finding landmarks that had never moved but which I had lost the ability to locate.

For example, I finally let Portuguese back into my life and fell in love with it all over again and this in turn has been helping me figure out how to endure the brutal process of coming back to life. I found German again, too, and I’m now making space in my life for Dutch and all things Netherlands.

France, Portugal, Germany, and the Netherlands are all former homes of mine — this is the magic of the EU, an alliance of 28 countries that allows us to live, study, and work in any member state of our choosing. Even though this transnational mobility is my birthright as a French citizen, I’m still in awe of what such different countries manage to build together.

Since the end of 2018, I’ve been reconnecting with my long-lost linguistic homelands, of which there were always more than one because of history, ancestry, geography, and curiosity.

My daily reality is now laced with constant disbelief and surprise; I should have been long dead and, well, I’m so very not.

Although the muse hadn’t known me before depression struck, when started putting the pieces of my life back together, they saw the big picture before I did.

Whenever I struggle, they lend me their eyes so I can see.

To them, I’ve always been the capable, strong woman I barely remember while to myself I’m still the shell of a person groping my way forward in the dark.

We humans are gregarious creatures.

While we don’t all move around in herds or seek to emulate one another, human warmth is a universal need, one difficult to address when depressed.

Isolation kills because it’s easy to convince yourself no one cares if you live or die when there’s no one around to remind you.

When you are being held hostage by an invisible mental captor who wants you dead, there are days when doing its bidding is an appealing solution. For all the times I thought about dying by my own hand I’m glad I didn’t follow through; the last few months have been instrumental in helping me see life differently.

From finally understanding how much family matters to reactivating professional skills and contacts, I owe it all to the fellow humans who held me together.

Much as I was trying to deal with everything by myself, clarity wasn’t a constant. I’d make progress for a while then go back to running on the spot and wondering whether I’d have the stamina to keep going.

Nothing is ever a given with chronic illness and people will come in and out of your life for innumerable reasons.

But when someone believes in you, allow yourself to believe them.

Better still, ask them to describe to you what they see, then focus long and hard until you can see it, too. Once you do, hold on to that vision and make it happen.

And don’t be afraid of documenting the process for the benefit of those who still doubt there’s a way to thrive despite depression and join forces with those who extend the hand of friendship toward you.

We humans are always at our best when we empower one another; no matter how deeply uncomfortable it feels, writing online can achieve this.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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