I have depression. I’ve had it for awhile now, nearly twenty years (which makes me sound soooo old!)
Being a teenager, coupled with being black and growing up poor, was just an entire shit storm for me. Teen angst, being moody, being accused of being a “drama queen” is only amplified when depressed. I had a very warped misunderstanding of depression. One of the myths is that when you have depression, you are depressed all the time. That’s not true. For me, at least, it occurs in cycles. Yes, there are bouts of happiness, but then I slink back into my “routine”: beating up myself for being sad, not getting things done, then beating myself up for not getting things done and being sad. It is an awful cycle.
Having depression is lonely. And isolating. When you try to bring up going to therapy or seeking counseling, people (family and friends especially) are quick to tell you that you don’t need that, but just a friend to talk to (or, if you’re black, “prayer”). What they fail to understand is that they aren’t equipped to deal with depression, and even something that seems harmless, like saying, “Get over it” or “It’s time to move on,” can undo much of the “work” that you’ve done. Which is why I am hesitant on discussing certain things with certain people. Sometimes, you just need to vent, and I just need you to shut up and listen to me.
I do have a therapist, someone that I have been seeing for the past three or four months. I find it effective, though I don’t think I’m comfortable disclosing what I talk about during sessions (aside from the depression, obviously).
And on top of that, having anxiety makes things even worse. Constantly worrying and stressing out over even the most minute of details. Even as I’m writing this right now, my head and shoulders are literally burning with stress over a mistake that I may have made at work. Something that I will most likely be feeling well into next week.
I have attempted to deal with this stress over the years, but I haven’t tried to “consistently” tackle it until last year. I was reading a Lifehacker article on – surprise, surprise – dealing with stress. I came across an app on meditation, Headspace. I did the free ten-day trial and paid for a month of service before I fell off the bandwagon. I will probably use the app again, but paying $100 for meditation just isn’t in my budget right now. I can say that I feel less “stiff” and stressed out than I do. When I realize that I am feeling depressed or stressed, I take a deep breath and lower my shoulders. I’ve realized that when I am stressed, my shoulders shoot up in the air, which contributes to that “fight or flight” response.
I have a Facebook friend, years ago, who tagged me in a post about depression. I don’t recall telling him that I was depressed, but I appreciated that he thought about me. He talked about how depression is like having drained batteries, how it sucks the life out of you (and quite literally!) and how we should spend time recharging our batteries. I really loved that analogy and remember it to this day (obviously).
What are some ways that I “recharge” my batteries? I’m a hardcore introvert, so having (lots of) time to myself is a good way. But that also becomes a double-edged sword: that same time that could be used to ground myself is also spent beating myself up for not being where I “should” be in life, comparing myself to others, telling myself that I will never be good enough. Meditation also helps. I try to start off each day meditating for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how much time I have. It especially helps when I may not have gotten enough sleep during the night and I’m feeling particularly groggy. Talking with friends. Giving. Reading. Writing. Listening to music.
And then there’s the flip side. Whenever I catch myself thinking self-destructive thoughts, I don’t necessarily turn them into “positive thoughts,” but keep asking myself “Why?” or “So what?” And keep asking myself those questions until I get to the root of the issue. Most times, my critical brain will just give up and crawl back into the hole from whence it came. It helps me to realize that, in most cases, even the worst case scenarios that I’m making up from the fly aren’t that bad. I am incredibly privileged in that regard. I also take the time periodically to cull anyone in my life who isn’t supportive of me. I don’t say “negative,” as that could be used to stigmatize those with mental illnesses and isolated them makes their situation worse. Curiously enough, I’ve found those who’ve suffered mental illness to be much more supportive to me than those would consider themselves “sane.” Interesting how that works, eh? Anyway, I have a very “burning bridges” approach when it comes to some people. Sometimes, they can’t be let off nicely. Sometimes, you have to tell them, “Don’t ever speak to me again,” and have to say it in such a way that you mean it (although, sometimes, they think you mean that you’ll eventually let them come back). I find it incredibly unfair that we live in a society that encourages us to keep ties with those who are toxic to us, and that is it our job to help “cure” their toxicity. I am not qualified to do that, and I already have enough issues of my own that I am trying to deal with.