Sometimes, mental illness feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I have the worst of my worst days, it is easy to write off what I’m feeling as a consequence of being mentally ill. I am anguished, disconnected, and listless because I have anxiety and am depressed. There is no logical reason for me to feel so incredibly low. Therefore, it is just a thing that happens to me.
That is how I viewed my depression for a long time. There was just this cloud of sadness that followed me around, and sometimes it would come low and I would be forced to wait for the fog to clear to be able to interact with the outside world.
Any alternative solution seemed completely dismissive of what I was going through. If I divulged that I was having a hard time with my depression, I would get angry and defensive if someone asked me why I was depressed.
What do you mean, why am I depressed? I am like this because I *have depression* and my emotions aren’t logical. If I knew why I was like this, I wouldn’t be like this. Don’t you get it?
When I was diagnosed with depression several years ago, I didn’t think I viewed myself any differently. It just felt like a logical conclusion for my behavior/my personality. I accepted the label as an explanation for why it was always nigh impossible for me to get excited about anything, an explanation of why I was so passive about everything, and I moved on. The diagnosis was a means to an end; because I was depressed, I could receive therapy and try different medications.
A few months ago, I called my mother specifically because I knew I needed to go back to therapy, but I couldn’t afford it. Yes, I called my mother to ask her to pay for my therapy. It was embarrassing and the whole conversation just made me want to puke and punch things at the same time. I’d definitely say it was one of the lowest points in my life.
When we got off the phone, my mother had agreed to pay for one month of therapy. But I was infuriated. She had asked me, “what are you depressed about?”
“Well, I quit my job… and now we could be homeless in a few months… and other things.”
“Don’t you think you’d be better off to spend your time looking for a job, then? If you’re stressed about money, spending money on therapy is probably just going to make it worse.”
“Mom… no. Did you miss the part where I was having panic attacks at my last job? I had to quit. Getting another job isn’t going to magically make me better. It’s so much more than that. I feel like I am actually losing my mind.”
At that point in the conversation, I completely lost control and started sobbing hysterically, so it took another twenty minutes for me to work up the nerve to ask for money.
The whole conversation just reinforced my belief that depression and anxiety make zero sense. In my mind, yes, they were triggered by the stress of my everyday life, but trying to say, “I am depressed because x, y, and z” would never be able to cover it. There was no explanation for what I was feeling, and trying to answer why I was broken felt like a huge slap in the face.
The next day, my mom e-mailed me and said I should try taking St. John’s wort. I had never heard of it, so I did a quick Google. This was the first thing I saw:
Psychosis is a rare but possible side effect of taking St. John’s wort.
St. John’s wort is not a proven therapy for depression. Do not use St. John’s wort to replace conventional care or to postpone seeing your health care provider. Inadequately treated depression may become severe and, in some cases, may be associated with suicide.
Um… thanks, ma? I know you’re trying to help, but this isn’t the right way to go about it. Just let me go to therapy.
The thing is, her suggestion actually fit with what I was thinking. If depression/anxiety is totally random, there’s nothing you can do about it except medicate and hope that it goes away. I have never thought that medication is my only treatment option, but I have always felt like it can’t be helped that depression is a condition that I have.
Something finally clicked in my brain this week. Last week, my therapist stressed the importance of allowing yourself to feel what you feel without guilt (something I struggle with). However, she also said (for probably the tenth time and it was only my second session with her) that one way I can help ward off panic attacks is to acknowledge what is making me anxious. Accept that my emotions are, in fact, logical and use my emotions as information.
What does this look like?
When I am nervous about taking my trash to the dumpster, I will remind myself that my reaction isn’t crazy since we’ve had so many car break-ins and we live in a rough area. I will try to not let my feelings hold me back.
When I am scared of going to the store by myself because something could happen to me, I will acknowledge that there are good reasons to be cautious. I will be grateful that I wasn’t at the mall when the shooter was there and say a prayer for the victims and their families. I won’t tell myself I’m being stupid or to get over it.
When I am angry, I will try to stop feeling guilty about being angry and not tell myself that I am overreacting. That doesn’t mean I give myself free reign to be hurtful and say horrible things when I’m angry. Rather, it means that when I am angry, I won’t tell myself that my feelings are illogical and I shouldn’t be upset.
I won’t write off doing fun things as a waste of time because I could be making money. My happiness is important and worth setting aside time for.
When I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack, I will try to tell my husband so he can help me through it instead of hiding my anxiety. I shouldn’t be ashamed.
I will try to not feel weak when I cry. When I start feeling guilty for being sad, I will remind myself that I am trying to get better.
When I wake up feeling anguished, I won’t dismiss my feelings as a side-effect of depression.
And, most importantly, I will remember that my past failures are not indicative of my future successes.