Look me in the Eye
How did I get here?
I closed my eyes,
Went to sleep,
Awoke as someone I don’t recognize.
Where did “I” go?
Is this even me?
In the foggy mirror
I struggle to see:
Struggle to see me.
~ A. Hanna
“Look me in the eye”, he screams. “Look at me!”. I shudder, gazing at my untied shoelaces. I can’t look up. I can’t look you in the eye. But why? What’s stopping me? Guilt? Shame? Embarrassment? Vulnerability? The man staring back continues to berate me, taunt me, challenge me in ways that make me want to shatter the mirror in front of me. It isn’t just others I fear, it’s myself.
What am I afraid of?
Depression won’t reveal the answer, as much as I wish it would. Anxiety refuses to reason with my rational mind. Those of you shaking your heads know those days when you can’t get out of bed, when putting your feet on the floor seems akin to walking across hot coals. These are the days when I can’t seem to muster enough courage to look myself in the eye. But even if I can, I don’t really feel like I’m looking at myself. It’s as if I’m looking at a stranger, a stranger with lifelessness in his eyes. This is not a stranger I particularly want to be friends with, but we’re connected at the hip. This is my darker half, but that does not mean it has to stay that way. No sir.
That was me this past few weeks. I went multiple days unable to get out of bed. Multiple days where my darker half got the best of me. Calls from my friends: unanswered. Texts from my colleagues: ignored. Emails from other acquaintances: you get the picture… Showers and balanced meals seem to be reserved for the divine. I felt unworthy of such luxuries. And I reminded myself of that fact every minute, every hour, every day.
But it’s in those moments when the most important people in your life come to your rescue. For me, it was my wife, my family, one particular friend, who won’t know how much she helped until she reads this article, and even myself.
Challenge your demons
So what do you do when you find yourself in that place? You combat the illness. Those demons staring back – the face that snarls at you – are meant to be challenged. See…it is in your darkest moments that the faintest of light shines as bright as the sun.
It was the unyielding love of my spouse. She is my foundation, my rock, and my sunlight. She finds a way to politely and lovingly say “get out of bed and take a damn shower” that encourages me to take that bold step. She understands me, she guides me, and she challenges me. She comforts me during panic attacks, gets me water, turns on my favorite soothing song (Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19: III. Andante – you should check it out). It sounds simple, but if you’ve never experienced someone curled up in a ball, writhing on the floor, making sounds of a howler monkey, I assure you it is an unpleasant sight. Knowing how to be there for that person, in that moment, takes dedication, patience, devotion, and true understanding of their inner-being. And through countless attacks these past few weeks, along with all those over the years, she has never hesitated to bring her calming, angelic care.
It was the concern of my family – who has loved me and accepted that which is so difficult to understand: a family who seeks knowledge about mental illness to become more educated, to become better prepared, to just be there and show that they care. They offered a simple, yet ever-powerful gesture: to drop everything and drive out to see me (I have given in and they are visiting this week). They called or texted every day, reached out to my wife, forever showing that they are always here for me. My mother called me every other day to check in, to let me know that if I needed anything, she was there. I am shedding tears as I proofread this, right now, just reflecting on how lucky I am to have such a supportive family. Not everyone can say that, and I am eternally thankful.
It was also something as simple as a self-affirmation. There is a special someone (who shall remain nameless, but you know who you are) who challenged me to write down two self-affirmations, and say them to myself each day for an entire week. I wasn’t in a particularly good place, but I vowed to try. And I did it. I took two sticky notes, wrote out my self-affirmations, and said them aloud.
- I am strong enough to forgive myself for my past mistakes
- I am strong enough to accept myself, even in my darkest moments
Thank you, person-who-shall-remain-nameless. You have done more than you know.
My wife has issued me a challenge. A challenge I accept. This challenge is to fight harder each day: fight for myself. The past few weeks, she has reminded me that I am stronger than I think. That I NEED to be stronger than I show. That it isn’t solely about relying on others to solve your problems, to get you through your hard times. Without the self-determination to beat this illness, no single person, or collection of people, can make you overcome something like this. You need to find the strength within yourself to accept help, to accept yourself and to help yourself.
Earlier this week, I knew I had a dentist appointment. It was 1:15pm, and I was still in bed. My wife gently reminded me of the appointment, and I said to myself, “You can do this Alex. You can do the dentist. You can get up and go to the dentist. You can do this.” I repeated it over and over again until I found the strength to put my feet on the hardwood floor and put on some clothes. And you know what? I went to the dentist. That day, going to the dentist was a major success. It represented a turning point. It showed me that I can do this.
I am not alone
An excerpt from a book comes to mind while I write this article: a book about being challenged by life, and coming out stronger on the other side.
Later in the book, the author reflects upon the growth within himself that was paramount to overcoming his insecurities. His story reminds me that I am not alone in this battle against mental illness. Even these past few weeks, when I’ve been down on my knees, people have reached out and have shown me that I am not alone in this fight. You don’t have to a superhero to be someone’s hero. And you have to be ready to be your own hero, at times.
Depression sucks. Anxiety is no joke. Each and every day, I fight for my health. I am thankful for each day that I am the person I want to be. I accept myself, even in my darkest moments. But that does not mean that I will succumb to them. I now have a self-affirmation on my refrigerator. This serves as a daily reminder that I can, and I will, beat this mental illness
I can see myself in the mirror.
I can see past the horror.
I can see my face clearly.
And it finally
Looks like me.
I no longer fear my demons.
I no longer count the reasons.
I forgive myself for past treasons.
I will accept me for me.
And it finally
Looks like me.
~ A. Hanna