Earlier this week I dug out an old photo of myself to show someone and was shocked at what I saw. I've always had bags beneath my eyes, but the bags under my eyes three years ago were horrifying. More horrifying though was the absence of life in my eyes. I've noticed it before in a different photo, but looking again, it was the same in all the photos taken of me since I was about 11. That was a rather scary find, because I've always assumed that the depression started when I was 13, but it looks like it was around a lot longer than that and I reached rock bottom when I was 13.
It's generally accepted that mental illnesses are invisible, but are they really? I think there are signs that aren't as obvious as self harm, but can only be picked up on by people who have experienced that level of hopelessness themselves.
I remember my first ever counsellor telling me that a genuine smile is one that reaches the eyes. I remember rolling my eyes when I finished that session, but now I see what he means. Looking at photos of 13 year old me and comparing them with photos of me now, I can see the difference.
I can also tell you when things changed. Last year I found myself in a job that wasn't right for me, and I just kept telling myself I needed to try harder. Yet at one stage I sat down to chat with a friend. To begin with we started talking about work. Eventually the conversation moved on to whatever work I was doing relating to mental health at that time. When I'd finished talking, my friend said "that's the first time you've smiled since sitting down".
There aren't many conversations that stick in my head for so long, but that one has stuck with me for well over a year now. I want to smile more. I don't want to be the girl who's fighting to do well in a job that's not right for her, because ultimately I'll be unhappy, and I'm sure most people would agree that unhappy employees don't do as well as happy ones...
...which probably goes a long way towards explaining while I'm still unemployed. I've yet to find a job I believe in, and I don't have the strength to do another round in a job that's not right for me. Hey, I've only just started re-learning what life's like without depression, I don't want to invite it back!
When you're ready, smile with your eyes! x