There’s no grey cloud over my head. There’s more color than black in my wardrobe. There are four playlists called “Happy Songs” on my iPod. I laugh a lot. I’m unfailingly friendly and polite with strangers. The boxes on my calendar empty out.
This is what depression looks like.
My hands clench hard, leaving an array of half-moons on the soft skin of my palm. My shoulders ratchet up. My Irish-pale skin blooms with uneven roses. My lips feel tight. I use shorter words, then no words at all.
This is what anxiety looks like.
I plunge my hands into racks of clothes. I can’t get enough of a certain song. I scan poll numbers for the troughs and crests that the patterns show me. I find a way to use specific words in every conversation, words that are stuck like burrs in my mind. I can’t stand cranberries. I close the door, turn off the lights, put on the fan for white noise, and wait for the world’s loudness brightness sharpness to subside. I click my mala beads through my fingers while I talk on the phone. I remember everything.
This is what Asperger’s Syndrome looks like.
I snuggle and tickle my kids, and the other kids who think I’m the Cool Mom because I read them stories, and get down on the ground to play their games, and giggle at their goofy jokes. I work hard–harder than I should, sometimes–and I hold myself to exacting standards. I watch screwball comedies, costume dramas, and cerebral documentaries (or so NetFlix tells me). I make pretty things and give them all away. I send my energy to those who need warmth, healing, sympathy, celebration. I play with my phone too much. I read every day. I speak out against injustice. I do more than speak. I see characters and scenes in my head, but I can’t hear the dialogue. I love my husband and our millions of inside jokes. I check my blog hits all the time.
I take medicine three times a day, without fail. Some of them keep me heavier than I wish I were, but still I take them. I take my meds even though I feel great–maybe especially when I feel great. I pay attention to my moods. I talk to my doctors; I keep my appointments. I know what the inside of a psych ward looks like. I know it’s better to keep fighting than give up. I know how deep the hole goes. I try to be kind. I live every day in color.
This is what mental health looks like. It looks like everyone else. And it needs to be out in the clear light of day.