What I’ve learned after five years of back to back depression, hypomania and mixed states is that, apparently, I can tell the difference between emotions caused by mental illness and emotions caused by reality. My anxiety would beg differ, and I have been inclined to agree with it.
But if I couldn’t, then why, when my partner raised his concern last year that you cry a lot more now than when we met, you’re sad more often than you’re not, it just seems like I’m making you worse, my immediate reaction was confusion — because to me, it was obvious that I was in fact a lot happier since I’d met him. Yet, when I took a moment to really think about it, he was right.
I met my partner at the start of a mild hypomanic episode that then escalated and turned into a rather intense six month ordeal (to date, the most severe and longest hypomanic episode I’ve ever expired.) At the end of those six months, the inevitable crash was obviously a lot more intense as well. What followed was a few months of regular depression that then morphed into a mixed state depression that lasted for over a year.
During this whole time, regardless of day to day ups and downs, I was battling severe anxiety and strong suicidal thoughts on a nearly daily basis and was constantly on edge. For long periods I was having nightly meltdowns and in-between those periods, the meltdowns were more of a weekly event and triggered by something specific (and often minor, like breaking a cup or receiving several notifications in a row.)
At no point, however, did I think I was unhappy. I was anxious that I was making my partner unhappy, but I knew that I wasn’t. Not really.
I wasn’t crying because I was unhappy with my life. I was crying because there were tears coming out of me and most of the time it was a relief and a case of my body regulating itself, letting out some pressure so I didn’t have to feel like I was about to explode; even in the moments when I came very close to ending things, it wasn’t because I was unhappy with my life — I was unhappy with myself in that life. I felt like I was messing that happy life up and making it worse by being in it. And most of all, I felt like I didn’t deserve it, because I’m such a mess (and worse.)
It’s like last year was the photo negative and this past year I’ve been living in technicolor; my mental illness has been in remission, I’ve been standing on a solid foundation and felt happy in myself and I’ve had bad days when I’ve cried because I’ve been unhappy with my life and my relationship. In other words, I’ve been stable and experiencing life and the normal spectrum of human emotion. And the difference is undeniable.
When my mental illness and anxiety is telling me things about myself, it’s not always so easy to separate illness from reality. But, when it’s telling things about all the rest, clearly I can tell the difference.