So This is What Good Mental Health Feels Like

Cool.

Photo by Juan Mendez on Pexels

I was depressed for a pretty significant portion of the last decade. Occasionally, I’d manage to swim my way up out of the depths for a bit, float on the surface, and enjoy the sun on my skin. Inevitably, though, the dark waters would reclaim me. Usually when I was alone. Usually at night.

I wasn’t faking it when I smiled for pictures: I really was happy in those moments. Moments with friends and family. Any time I was teaching. Often when I was writing. Climbing into treetops. Dancing. Backyard campfires. Rum and cokes on the beach. Doing adulty things.

It’s not that I haven’t been myself in the last ten years. I have.

I just haven’t been “all” of me.

I’m still not.

And that’s nobody’s fault; not even mine. “I got a condition,” as Marv in Sin City explains. No amount of love and friendship could cure me, though I’m infinitely grateful for those who have been willing providers of both along the way.

But change must come from within.

Even in those moments when I was at the surface, I wasn’t mentally healthy. Present, sure, but not “in good standing”. I was still in open water, trying not to sink. I know that now. I know that because back then, I could never see more than a few months into the future. Now, I see my whole life ahead of me.

That sign may be different for different people, but for me, it means that I plan to be around for a while longer.

Now, having spent the better part of the last two years really putting the work in, crawling onto the shoreline, recovering for a bit, and looking around at this “new to me” world of not-too-shabby mental health, all I can think is…

Like, whoa.

Five years ago, I made a new friend who had it all together. He went running every morning, socialized in *real life* (o.o) with friends every night. He spent his weekends enjoying concerts, festivals, traveling…or bicycling and picnicking, on weekends when the budget was tight. He had a job he didn’t hate. When I say he had it together, I mean he Had It Together™.

I asked him one day, “How are you not exhausted all the time?”

“Why would I be?” he responded.

“I don’t know, man, if I did everything you did, I’d be tired.”

In truth, I was always tired.

Life made me tired.

Working in summer camps and outdoor adventure/education/recreation, then spending winters at home in the Virgin Islands, did a lot to keep me afloat during my extended periods of depression. There’s much to be said for mandatory sunshine and socializing, and regular interruptions to routine.

I plan to do a whole article about it.

But this isn’t that article. This is the article where I talk about the transition from “living makes me tired” to “holy shit I’m alive what do I do now?”

I’m going to be honest: when I was depressed, I felt lonely even though I was surrounded by people who loved me. Now that I’m not depressed…I still feel lonely a lot of the time.

Being alone is a part of life.

But being freshly un-depressed is a new lonely for me. Especially after extensive therapy, my brain is particularly attuned to the thought patterns that contributed to my condition. I always knew that most of my close friends struggle(d) with depression (birds of a feather), and suddenly I find myself having to stop myself from playing the role of therapist, but also from playing the role of the friend who validates unconstructive thought patterns.

This is different from catharsis…we all, mentally healthy or not, just gotta let stuff out sometimes. I cannot confirm nor deny the positive effects of flinging fine dishware against rocks in the recovery effort after a breakup.

I’m talking about having to hold back from offering advice that nobody has asked me for. I’m talking about hearing a friend voice an unhealthy thought pattern, and figuring out how to respond as a friend, not a therapist, and also not a co-conspirator to the depressed brain. I was once the latter, because I didn’t know better. Now I don’t know better enough to be a therapist.

So, I have to mentally juggle this with friends going through stuff. Cool. What happens when I hang out with mentally healthy friends, now that I’m “kin”?

I feel woefully underequipped.

I’ve been mostly underwater for ten years, and while it’s super exciting to be actually living instead of just existing again, I’ve missed out on a lot. During that time, I wasn’t reading much, was rarely writing, had few passions beyond instant gratification, and was just trying to live long enough to see the next week.

Ten years of that, and it’s like I’ve been paused all this time while everyone else kept learning, growing, DOING…getting on with life.

I feel left behind.

I had a lot of fun; boy did I have a lot of fun. I can tell you some stories. But sometimes I worry that that’s all I’m good for — stories. What I really want is to contribute to forward-moving conversation. And while I’m at least somewhat aware of all the work I have to do as a white-presenting, somewhat Caribbean (complicated), able-bodied, hetero-flexible, feminist, mostly cisgender female, and social justice supporter (I don’t even feel able to claim the title “activist” at this point), I feel like if I’d been *doing* the work for the last ten years instead of being depressed, I could get a lot more done today.

I could do better.

But, here I am. I’ll just have to start from here. At least now, I’m trying.

Teach me.

Content writer and sex coach curious about culture, social justice, and human sexuality. Find out more at contentbyburton.com and sexcoachshannon.com

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