Over the past years, I’ve done a lot of reading about self-care and mental health, largely out of this intense desire to find the right words to describe my own experiences with depression and anxiety. It was really in college that I discovered just how pervasive these things have been in my life and it was in college that I developed some unhealthy self-care techniques.
Self-care is one of those popular buzzwords that often thrown around and yet, it always seems like many people can’t agree what it means. For many, self-care is taking the time away from work and responsibilities to watch something on Netflix. And this is utterly valuable. In a culture that values being busy and being glued to work, it’s important to take the time out from those things.
I’ve been noticeably gone from this blog over the past few months and there are a few reasons for that. One of the biggest is my own depression. My mental health has been suffering over the past few months and a part of that is because the days have been getting shorter in my hometown, as days are wont to do as seasons change and the year comes to an end.
Winter is nearly upon us in the northern hemisphere and for where I’m at in the world, that means significantly shorter days and long, dark nights. The sun will set around 4:30pm today, giving us about nine hours of light but most of that will be under an overcast sky. My depression thrives during this part of the year and is a big reason why I’ve been so noticeably absent from this blog. Writing is difficult when there are days when brushing my teeth or making a meal is an accomplishment.
And more than that, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with this blog. When I first started this project years ago, I had a clear vision of what I want to accomplish and now, I’m not too sure. There’s so much work to be done, that I will admit. But I’m just not sure the best ways for me to move forward with this project.
I’m really hoping that I can come back to this space soon. Writing, as difficult as it is most days, still gives me something to focus on and a reason to get out of bed. But for now, I’m going to continue to focus on other things and hopefully I’ll be back to this space by the beginning of 2018.
Hey y’all! So it’s been almost a month since I last posted and I wanted to write a quick update. Things are pretty okay for me, all things considered. Life for me have been hectic this month and I’m still trying to deal with my (failing) mental health. But I’m here and I’m starting the slow process of getting my life back together.
I’ve been doing a bunch of adulting this past week, resulting in a huge amount of anxiety. But as I’ve learned, my anxiety always does better if I just deal with the problem/thing immediately. It literally took me until I was in my early 20s to realize that addressing the source of my anxiety would actually make the thing go away and thus, my anxiety would go away as well. I come from a family of procrastinators so I’m not surprised it took me that long and I still try and not deal with issues immediately.
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.