This was originally published on Girl Go Glow, but I wanted it to live here, too. The timing is right to post it tonight. I let my meds lapse and have been trying to hold it together mentally for the past couple of weeks until I can get back to the doctor on Tuesday for a new prescription. I did what you should never do – took my meds all willy-nilly and let them lapse. I don’t know why I do this. I’m not ashamed of taking meds, I NEED them. But I think part of me feels some sense of failure that I have to have them at all to function properly. Like the real me is broken. This contradicts a bit of what I say below but that’s me, a walking contradiction.
On the worst days, I can’t get out of bed. The mattress becomes a magnet and my body morphs into a blob of iron. The bed is my safe haven, the darkness and blankets a shield. I’m surrounded by grayness and apathy. Zoloft. Therapy. Noting Triggers. Prozac. Negative vs. Positive Self-Talk. Mindfulness. Meditation. Wellbutrin. Breath Work. Affirmations. Citalopram. Visualization. Self-Help Books. Exercise. Sunshine. Worry Stones. Journaling. Lexapro. All of these are or have been in my arsenal. I won’t win, but I can maintain a truce sometimes.
I don’t purposely keep it a secret that I battle anxiety and depression. It is what it is, and it’s cool if it comes up in conversation. If I see a good resource, I’ll pass it along in hopes that others might benefit. It’s just not something I’ve spoken about in a public forum in a very long time. But as the co-author of a blog meant to empower others to live authentic and purposeful lives, if I can’t speak here about this huge part of who I am, then where and when can I? I SHOULD talk about it. Depression and mental illness are not talked about enough, as the stigma surrounding it makes evident. This stigma is real, and it bugs me that depression isn’t seen as a “valid” disease in the traditional sense. I mean, I can’t call off work and tell my boss that I can’t get out of bed because I’m consumed by sadness. It just doesn’t work that way and I’d prefer not to receive a call from HR. Yet for me and millions of others, depression is as debilitating as a migraine, the flu, or any other physical malady, but we have to pretend it isn’t and I’ve learned to hide it fairly well, except on the really bad days.
I don’t remember the day I was categorized or diagnosed as “depressed”. It seems to have been a gradual progression from childhood anxiety to bouts of depressed episodes in adulthood. I wasn’t what you’d call a troubled kid; quite the opposite. I did great in school, followed the rules, had friends, did the extracurriculars, all the normal stuff. I was shy and socially awkward except around close friends or family, but that’s pretty standard for introverts I’d say. I blame faulty genes for the most part and dumb luck for the rest. Research has shown that as many as 40% of people with depression can trace it to a genetic link and that those with parents or siblings who have depression are up to 3x more likely to also be depressed. Thanks, genetics, you’re a real pal.
So while the specifics of the beginning are foggy, I do recall the grayness getting worse as I entered the real world of career and full-fledged adulthood. Being an adult sucks y’all, no doubt. I remember coming home from the doctor one day in my 20s with a bottle of Prozac. Thus began my journey through the land of pharmaceutical wonders that I’d try for a while and then, due to side effects or tolerance or something, I’d switch to a new one. Make no mistake, I am not anti-medication. I am pro do-whatever-works-for-you. I’ll probably be on antidepressants for the rest of my life, and that is a-okay. For me, meds help with the surprise attacks of depression. Sometimes I can pinpoint triggers and other times there is no warning or obvious cause. One side-note – I do know that having a baby was one of the best and worst times of my life. Postpartum depression will knock you off your feet and is one of the many reasons hubs and I are one and done in the kid department (another post to come on this at some point). I can’t and won’t go through that again. Bottom line: Knowing your triggers is helpful for minimizing the damage but isn’t possible for me most of the time.
There is comfort in knowing you are not alone. I recently started listening to a podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression. John Moe talks to comedians about their struggles with depression. Sarcasm and humor, self-deprecating and otherwise, are coping mechanisms for many of us. The latest episode featured Hannah Hart and a lot of talk about not feeling worthy; of having achieved fantastic things but not feeling like you did it or deserved it; never feeling good enough. If I recall correctly, Hannah said she might get 10 days out of the month where she felt normal and ok. That gave me pause and I thought about what my number might be; how many days do I feel NOT depressed? It’s hard to say, but I’d estimate that on average, I feel “good” about 15-20 days out of the month. That’s a lot of leftover days as Sad Panda Jenn. Yikes.
What’s a typical day in the life of Sad Panda Jenn you ask? I sleep a LOT. Can’t get out of bed and if I do, it’s a massive mental undertaking. I may or may not shower. I’m irritable or silent. Prone to tears. Withdrawn. Unmotivated and apathetic. Feelings of failure about everything. If I make it out into public, I don’t want to interact with people (actually, that’s kind of just Regular Jenn but it’s much more pronounced on bad days). I eat my emotions, so bring on the junk food. I feel like absolute shit about myself. Worthless. I sit in my car in random parking lots as long as possible. I become very internally focused. Voices in my head bully me and I believe them. I question every past decision I’ve ever made and fear future ones. I don’t understand how I can feel this way when I am so fortunate in life and there are multitudes suffering so much worse than I. It doesn’t make sense and brings a sense of guilt on top of the rest. I crave darkness and small spaces that wrap themselves around me (like my car or bed. I want one of those weighted blankets, but am afraid I’d never come out from under it.) I hate everything. I’m not nice to myself. A sometimes-helpful tip from my therapist in regards to this last one is that if it’s not something I would say to my daughter or a friend, don’t say it to myself. Treat yourself with the same kindness. Easy to say, harder to do. But I digress. All of this lasts in varying degrees anywhere from a couple of days to weeks. My method of coping is to use whatever I can muster from my above-mentioned arsenal and just wait it out. I will rebound eventually and then the cycle will start over. I do my best.
Doesn’t all this make you wanna hang out with me? I’m a real peach, eh? I know this post isn’t particularly positive or uplifting, but newsflash – neither is real life all of the time. Real life is hard and ugly and well, depressing. But it’s also lovely and beautiful and fun. What’s that saying? Stars can’t shine without darkness.
Thanks for reading and please know that if you’re having mental health struggles, that you are in good company; I mean, I’m here, right?!?!? Know that it is ok to build a pillow fort and stay there all day if you need to. Take advantage of resources available to you and don’t feel any shame! Take meds, see a doctor or therapist if you can, meditate, volunteer to help others, journal. Develop your own customized arsenal. Reach out to people who get it, reach out to me, someone, anyone.
Just a few of the many resources out there:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- National Network of Depression Centers
- My favorite mindfulness teacher, Tara Brach
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Make It Ok
That said, I don’t want to make it sound as if all you have to do is ask for help and the cavalry will come to save you. I know that depression can “mute your ability to reach out” as someone else put it after the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. This article, Stop Telling Us To Ask For Help. Depression Doesn’t Work Like That speaks to that better than I can. And that makes mental illness all the more tragic.