Friday, December 5, 2014
Depression is a Real Thing and I struggle with it
I don't often get terribly personal in my posts here, but today I'm going to. It seems like the universe has converged somehow, and a number of people I respect (both famous and not-so-famous) have been talking about dealing with this kind of thing, and it made me want to add my voice.
Also, I totally understand that this kind of stuff isn't interesting to everybody, so I'll put a cute picture here the rest of it behind a jump cut. Click below if you'd like to continue!
I've never really wrote about this before, because honestly I don't know how to. I don't know how to compress a whole life of experience into something even remotely coherent, so if this in any way devolves into rambling or stream-of-consciousness writing, you have my sincere apologies. I'll do my best to edit it into something that makes sense.
So, I'm 34 years old. I'm a bonafide adult grown-up person with a pretty easy life. I should have my shit together by now, but I feel like I'm permanently stuck in this sort of early-20s struggle to make my life into what I want it to be. But I think I'm getting ahead of myself - let me back up.
The propensity to be depressed is a ghost that's haunted me my whole life. I honestly think a lot of it comes from a bad case of hopeless idealism, mixed with the inability to reconcile "real life" with "imagined perfection". I remember being a little kid and just crying and crying because I realized that no matter what I did or how I wanted it to be, the world was just what it was, and no amount of trying or wishing could change it into what I wanted it to be - and this was in elementary school. It wasn't that I was "down" or "was just sad"...it's always been more like an inability to cope with feelings and realities in a way that most people can. For a really long time I thought that I was just impossible to satisfy, or someone who, no matter how okay things were, could never be happy. And in a way I think that's probably true - but it's not a matter of me being greedy or picky or having too-high standards. I think it's because, for some reason I can't control, very few things feel "right" in my brain.
For those who have not experienced this particular flavor of mental/emotional malfunction, I'll try to explain what it feels like (for me, at least). I feel like someone else is manning the control panel a lot of the time. As if there's the part of you that knows what you want to do/say/feel - the logical part of you - but another part of you is behind the wheel, and these two parts don't get along.
Imagine sitting on the couch. Okay. You're comfortable, you're okay right now. But then you start to realize that you need to get up. You need to DO something today so that you don't feel like the waste of space that you felt like yesterday, because you pretty much got nothing done. I mean, you worried and fretted about getting stuff done, but you didn't get anything done. Same as the day before. Same as the day before that. So today is the day. You ARE going to be the person you want to be today! So now it's time to get up and do it. Maybe just do one thing. Make lunch first. Something. Get up. Get up. GET UP!!! But something is holding you back - you KNOW this is stupid. You know, 100% that the only way to get things done is to DO THEM, yet someone else has the controls and your body isn't moving. You give up, give in to weird, repetitive fixations (checking email, looking at Twitter, flipping channels, taking naps, playing Candy Crush, whatever) that give you the illusion that you're "doing something", even though all you're doing is spending every ounce of what's left of your low energy reserves worrying, wasting time, and ensuring that you have even more to feel crappy about tomorrow. It's like you're guaranteeing yourself failure.
It's stupid. It's so so stupid, it's the stupidest thing ever in the history of stupid things, and YOU KNOW IT, yet you feel utterly powerless to fix it.
This is what it feels like, a lot, in my world. An endless, relentless cycle of self-sabotage, self-punishment, and self-directed anger. It has what seems to be the easiest solution in the world (just freaking DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT), but it's impossible. This ability to see the problem, and fix the problem using logic, self-control, and a meaningful self-reward and self-esteem cycle is something that most people do every day without much thought, but it's not something I've ever been good at. I just avoid everything and save it for the time when I'm feeling empowered to do it, but that time never happens, and I just fold inward and hide away even more, as the feelings of guilt and shame turn into feelings of self-loathing and anger.
There are highs and lows. It's not always as extreme as the example above, but there are a lot of times that it totally is. Depression can affect every aspect of your life. It affects my work, my communication, my social life, and most heartbreakingly, my relationships with people I love, and who love me. I know I could make more money if I could get off my ass and get my life together enough to put forth the work and effort required to do so. I know I could have more energy if I went to the gym. I would feel better about myself if I ate three healthy meals a day. I would have more to talk about if I spent more time with friends. I would have a better relationship with my boyfriend if I weren't so disappointing to be around.
I've been medicated for it in the past, though I am currently not prescribed anything (no insurance currently). I went through a period a few months ago where I was self-medicating with something I found worked (on the short term, anyway) but had undesirable side effects. Also note that I realize that is not good, I do NOT condone it, and have since, for the most part, stopped doing this. Which brings me to the real point of all of this - I am working diligently to lift as much of this emotional burden off of myself (and my loved ones) as I can.
These are the steps I am taking (and, if you are reading this and the above sounds familiar, perhaps we can do these steps together?)
I'm trying to get things done in the mornings. I'm not a morning person AT ALL. Like, I can't even stress how much I hate waking up. My natural inclination is to go to bed between 2 and 3 am (I do my best work around midnight and I absolutely love the quiet of the nighttime), and then sleep until about 9 or 10. But the problem with this (for me) is that the people around me, in my life, have already been up and working for hours by the time I make my morning coffee, and given my already-fragile state of self-opinion, that fact makes me feel super crappy. Like I'm starting the race late and I'm utterly overwhelmed by the idea of catching up, and I haven't even started yet. As much as getting up early SUCKS SO BAD OMG, I feel that I actually do feel better when I've accomplished a few things before lunchtime. And that satisfying feeling is really, really nice. I sacrifice my night-owl preferences, but it's worth it for what I gain in terms of feeling "okay" with my progress.
I'm getting health insurance next year so that I can go to a doctor, get some bloodwork done, and talk about possible medication solutions. If there is better living through chemistry, I'm all for it. Living in the US and being self-employed makes health insurance difficult, but this is important and my future is worth it.
I'm planning my work ahead, and writing it down. I bought a cheap student planner and have been writing in it every morning while I'm waking up. I bought myself a pretty fountain pen to use, because I love pens, and it makes me want to write in the planner more.
I'm trying to blog and document my life more. This is the first start to that list. It's hard for me because I'm not a natural documenter, but forcing myself to pay attention to the now, and to the near future, actually seems to help keep my inner noise distracted enough to not take over as much. Keeping mentally busy is something I've found to be really important. I've always been someone who's been "in my head" a lot of the time, and while in good times that just makes me introspective and self-aware, in bad times it can just sort of fester and lead me down emotional paths I don't need to be going. So I've been trying to fill the quiet with coming up with blog topics, ideas for photos and videos, and some passive input like listening to podcasts and catching up on old TV series on Netflix while I'm sewing or painting.
I'm trying to spend more time talking on the phone with, and visiting, friends, relatives and loved ones. It's very easy to turn inward and focus just on yourself or on one other person (like a significant other), but that's not healthy for you or them. So this forces me to do things like get dressed, drive somewhere, and interact with people. It also makes you a more interesting person when you have multiple incoming sources of conversation and viewpoints. Even if all you want to do is stay at home under a blanket and turn the phone off.
Obviously these are just a start - I have a lot more goals that include health, fitness, career-oriented things, etc., but I'm just focusing on these for right now.
SO, that's some stuff I struggle with all the time. I'm very fortunate to have people in my life who love and support me unconditionally, and I have so much to thank them for, especially in the past few years, through my divorce, and through this latest "rough patch".
If any of this sounds familiar to you, or if you KNOW this is something you deal with, understand that you're not alone. Not alone at all. There are so many people who, diagnosed or not, struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental/emotional issues. It doesn't make you a lazy person, and it doesn't mean you don't have a bright future ahead of you. It just means you might have to find a way that works for you, that isn't the way life works for other people. It's hard work, and it can be exhausting and deflating. But I've really found that talking it out with people who you trust is incredibly helpful. Try to rise above it with one thing today - one thing that gives you power over the beast. Walk outside and buy yourself a cup of coffee. Put on music and doodle/write on paper for 15 minutes. Call a friend. Write a to-do list that consists of ONE thing and DO IT! If we can get one thing done, that means we can get two things done. And then three, and then four.
I'm not willing to live the rest of my life feeling like I'm losing a race with myself. It's probably going to be an entire lifetime of learning, but it's time to make a change. I'm tired of not feeling up to the task of just living my life.
Thank you for reading. I hope that if anything, it was a positive message of solidarity for those who also deal with these problems. Don't let your mind fool you - you deserve to feel okay with yourself.