For the longest time, I had hoped that my depression and anxiety would go away with time. There were always obstacles – school, work, friend drama. Something always seemed to come up to make me anxious and when I wasn’t anxious, I was usually depressed. At the very least, I thought that once I finished school, my anxiety would dissipate. But it turns out that after graduation, I found new things to obsess and be anxious over.
It took me until I was about 17 years old to realize that something was probably wrong with me. And it took me even longer to put words and labels to the way I was feeling. My childhood wasn’t terrible but it definitely wasn’t conducive to someone struggling with depression and anxiety and the societal stigma that exists around mental illness made it hard for me to find outside help. My teenage angst was heightened by both puberty and the ways depression manifests in teenagers and frequently put me at odds with my parents.
Self-care can mean a lot of different things – it can mean taking the time out to watch some stuff on Netflix with friends, going out to lunch, taking a nap, going on a hike. In a time of uncertainty and stress, being able to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally and making sure that you’re doing okay is important. As Melissa A Fabello describes in a video for Everyday Feminism,
So self-care is basically any set of practices that makes you feel nourished, whether that’s physically, emotionally, spiritually, all of the above. Self-care is putting aside time to recharge in a way that’s meaningful to you, and that can mean different things to different people.
I’ve written about my own mental health on various occasions for a variety of reasons but largely because it was through other people talking about their own struggles with mental illness that I realized just how much my life was impacted by depression and anxiety. It was through the conversation around mental health that I realized just how much my life could benefit from therapy and medication.
My first go around at therapy didn’t go very well. I was still in college and finishing up a particularly awful semester. I felt unwelcome on campus and going to the school’s health center for therapy didn’t help. It took me another two years to finally decide to go back to therapy after that but once I found an amazing therapist, I was convinced of the good things that therapy can provide.
This year has been a weird and rather tragic one. We had to say goodbye to beloved people like Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, George Micheal, and Prince; the US election was a literally just a dumpster on fire that somehow keeps lighting other stuff on fire too; the rise and normalization of the ‘alt-right’ (read: white supremacist) movement makes it feel like it’s 1939 again and that’s not really a time many people want to relive. There were even more cases of black men and women dying because of police brutality. The President-Elect is threatened by an extremely popular musical and satirical comedy show, keeps appointing the worst and most unqualified kind of people to his cabinet, and can’t seem to stop tweeting about the most irrelevant shit.
And that’s just some of the shit that went down during 2016. To think of all the things that happened this year makes my heart heavy.
Having some sort of predictability in a schedule is something that I really miss. As a freelancer, my schedule is almost always all over the place and while I understand that work and life often change and force people to change plans, I do really miss having a set schedule and predictable work day. As an introvert with depression and some general anxiety, being out and about in various capacities is exhausting and draining most days. Knowing exactly how my day’s going to go and exactly what I need to do often keeps me focused and when to take breaks from everything.
I know that a part of this frustration and exhaustion stems directly from my depression. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized that getting super frustrated and angry over minor inconveniences isn’t normal. I don’t mean getting temporarily getting irritated over someone cutting you off – I mean that I was getting really angry and frustrated over stuff like accidentally bumping into a corner or someone changing plans.
I have depression and anxiety.
Being able to say that phrase was incredibly difficult for me at first because I didn’t want to admit that there was something wrong with me. I didn’t want to be a burden or have really hard conversations with people about what I was going through. So like a squirrel, I buried my feelings and my symptoms as best I could. Of course, I couldn’t keep hiding things forever and over the course of a few years, I finally found the right ways to describe the right ways.
But throughout my journey of not only figuring out what I was going through but also actually going through it all, I’ve experienced a lot of questionable support. Repeated phrases that people might think are helpful, remedies that I’m sure are helpful to someone, and more have all been offered to me throughout the past couple years as I opened up about my struggles to the people in my life. The intentions behind them are all good, I’m sure, but there were many of them that actually had the opposite impact on me.
Having depression and anxiety has dramatically shaped my life because I’ve struggled with both for almost as long as I can remember. Looking back on my life with a better understanding of mental health has repeatedly revealed that I’ve had depression and anxiety for a long time – my childhood and high school is defined in large part by my mental health.
I’ve also realized that even though I have good days and good weeks where life is a little easier to manage doesn’t mean that my depression is gone or that I’m making it all up. My depression is always here with me – sometimes it’s easier to deal with and other times it’s a lot harder. The good and the bad seem to come in waves and lately, it’s been really hard to get out of bed.
There are so many things that depression and anxiety has changed about my life and it took years for me to fully realize this. I’ve lost friends, missed out on parties and events, spent most of my time watching shows than in the real world. Some of my habits have stemmed from anxiety while depression drains any interest I might have in something.
But one of the things I’ve lost is my own sense of self – more than anything, I just feel empty. I don’t know who I am really and where I should go in life and it constantly feels like everyone else knows what they’re doing. And in a culture of being busy and one where work seems to tie too closely with work, I just feel weird and shameful for the fact that right now I’m actually doing something I love?
My life feels like a weird venn diagram where there’s barely anything that I love and excel at that also happens to be deemed acceptable and productive by our capitalistic society. And dealing with social anxiety severely narrows down my potential next job – consistently dealing with people for 8+ hours a day for at least five days a week is not something I could deal with. I would literally spend most of any job involving a high amount of people interaction crying in the bathroom.
There are constants in my life that do help me at least partially define who I am and privileges that afford me this time to really take off from the “real world”. But I’m also ready for the day where I don’t feel like my depression and anxiety has robbed me of myself or my life. I’m ready for the day where I can stop comparing myself to others, to really truly feel comfortable not only in my own skin but also where I am in life.
Depression is more than just a brief feeling of sadness. And I really want people to know that.
For me, it’s this emptiness and loneliness and sorrow. It’s seeing the beauty of life around you but never actually feeling or experiencing it. It’s crying at 2 in the afternoon because your dog is seriously just so cute and you can’t handle the really intense emotion that comes with that. And most of the time, I either feel really intense emotions and have no outlet for them or literally nothing at all.
Depression is sleeping a lot because there’s no energy to do anything else. It’s daydreaming of things you want to do with your life but being held down by your emotional and mental baggage. My head is in a constant and really thick fog. Some days the sun comes out and I feel great. Most days though, it’s hard to look around and really see who I am.
Health care is a tricky thing, especially in the US. There’s insurance to deal with and finding the right doctors/therapists/other professionals that also take your insurance or are a right fit. And when you’re a part of the LGBTQ community, accessing health care can be even harder for a variety of issues and there are health issues that impact this community more than the overall population. (I do want to apologize – this post lacks a larger sense of intersectionality as I focus primarily on the LGBTQ community and the issues faced because of sexual orientation and gender identity.)