Hopes, Goals, Dreams, & Delusions: Navigating Life With Depression and Anxiety (Chapter 6)

Delusions and Disappointments

There is a risk and a danger to this forward momentum. And that is the risk of disappointment. The risk of setback. The risk of life just happening. For the average person, forward momentum feels good but there’s a realization that life ebbs and flows. Good and bad times begin and end, like the darkness of midnight fading into the full sun at high noon and back again. For those of us with mental illness, a slight setback can feel like being at center field at a football stadium at midnight with every single light turned on… and suddenly the entire city goes dark. It can be that much of a dramatic difference. Unfortunately it may happen that fast too. It’s bewildering to say the least, and to say it’s unsettling is an understatement. It can be crippling, something that an average person will hardly be bothered by can be enough to trigger a major depressive episode for those of us who struggle with mental illness.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream. I’m not saying stop giving people hope. That’s not it at all, in fact keep doing so! The reality is that we who struggle with mental health issues need to be aware that the positive momentum can and likely will end at some point, whether it happens quickly or slowly. Otherwise any setbacks become doubly powerful: the setback itself, and then the psychological impact of being blindsided by it while they were focused on building into that positive energy and momentum.

This is one area where delusion can be so dangerous. The individual has built up positive habits, has found the right medications to keep things stable, and has incorporated healthy lifestyle choices. There are positive people encouraging them, there’s a stable job and/or relationship that adds some meaning to this person’s existence. Life is looking really good! Job performance is improving while relationships feel less forced and more natural. There’s a genuine lightness in their spirit. They begin to believe that they’ve got this thing handled. Maybe they decide to go off their meds (after all if things are going this well, why should they stay on them?). Maybe there’s an unexpected change at work, or an expense that came out of the blue. Suddenly this individual who had all this positivity and forward momentum is sliding rapidly down the slippery slope into hopelessness. What happened? How did life unravel so fast?

Chances are good that the situation is not as bad as it appears from their perspective on the inside looking out. That being said, it can feel incredibly overwhelming because there is a dramatic disparity between feeling in control, the feeling that life is finally starting to work like it’s supposed to without so much effort to make it click contrasts greatly with the feeling that all that hard work was an absolute waste. A complete squander of time and effort. That they didn’t deserve success. This setback just proves how much they really are a bad person or a fraud; this is somehow retribution for something they’d done. How could they be so foolish as to think it was actually going to last?

But therein lies yet another delusion. It’s merely the polar opposite, the mirror image of the delusion when things are going well. When you’re flying high after crawling out of depression’s pit, it’s hard to entertain the thought of it coming to an end because you’ve worked so hard to get things together. So you blindly hope this is finally it, that you’ve found the right recipe, the right weapon, the right formula to finally beat this thing into submission and put it on a short leash. When you’re at the bottom, it’s just the mirror image. You can’t believe you’ll ever get out of the pit. You hardly have the strength to breathe, nevermind summoning the courage to start the battle to crawl of the pit yet again. You lose any hope that you’ll ever be at the top again and feel like your mental illness has you on a short leash, one that it uses to beat you with on occasion.

As an aside: I  hold no illusion that I’m “healed” or “cured”. Maybe I am. Maybe not. I simply do not know. That being said, chances are good I’m not.  I’m merely at a stage where I have it “managed” for now.  What I do know is that as long as I’ve got the ideas, the focus, and the energy, I’m going to do what I can when I can  to spill a bit of positivity into people when I can. A smile, a genuine compliment, helping someone (even as simple as opening a door for someone who’s got both hands full) is all it takes. It seems the simplest gestures can have incredible impact on others. I fear the day that the darkness comes back; I’m under no illusion that it’s gone forever. But that’s why I do this. I can be a light and a voice and a source of strength while I’ve got the ability. I have to trust that if, or more likely when, my own darkness returns there’s going to be a hand or a light for me to reach out to and hold until I’ve got the strength to fight on my own two feet again.

(to be continued…)

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