Friday, January 9, 2015

The Struggles of Depression and Anxiety (Part 1 of 2)

Hi everyone!

If you're taking the time to read this, then please know that it is an extremely personal post. Yesterday, I read a fantastic article called 9 Secrets I've Uncovered About Depression by Kady Morrison and the accompanying article that she wrote called 9 Things I Wish People Understood About Anxiety. I hope that you will take the time to read these because they are fantastic articles and really help to put into words what depression and anxiety feel like.

Because these hit so close to home with me, I thought I would share with you how her points about depression manifest in me personally, which I know may not be super exciting but is important all the same. My next post will be about how her points about anxiety manifest in me, but in the interest of not putting you to sleep I have decided to split the posts in two.

Kady's nine secrets that she has uncovered about depression are as follows (bolded and italicized):

1) Depression is a liar

  • Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. Depression lies. It tricks your brain into thinking things that just aren't true, such as "You don't matter," "Everyone is judging you,"  "Anything you do, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't matter," which are common lies that my depression likes to tell me. These things are simply not true, but for someone with depression, these lies are what we come to believe about ourselves, and it is debilitating. 

2) Depression is a bully

  • Number one and two are very closely linked. Because it is your brain vs. your brain, depression KNOWS what your triggers are and it will use them against you. Just like a playground bully, if depression knows you are uncomfortable or anxious about something, they will push that button. Repeatedly. When I am feeling depressed, my brain likes to latch on to embarrassing moments or anxious situations that I have experienced. There is a big one that I will dwell on, which is needing to tell someone something. Once upon a time, I needed to tell someone something that I felt was very important, however they felt that me and my information were not important enough to waste their time on. When I get depressed, I will have nightmares about trying to chase this person around, trying to tell them something. There is literally no relief in this situation, as it is over and done with, but it is a situation that haunts me and one that I cannot cope with well when I am having a depressive episode. It can sometimes be all I think about the entire day (and again when I sleep).

3) If you think you might be depressed, you have to tell somebody

  • When I was younger, this point was especially hard. Having lived in both California and Michigan, I can tell you that the area of Michigan I was from was an area filled with people who just don't understand depression, and brush it off like it is a cold that you will simply get over with time. This isn't true, and it's very harmful for people to think this way, as it makes people with depression feel as though they cannot share their condition with others. I kept my depression a secret for a very long time, because no one seemed to understand it and no one seemed to give it any credibility. Living in California, I am much less depressed nowadays and I feel like I have many more people to talk to who are educated on the subject because they, too, have struggled with and conquered their depression.

4) Suicidal thoughts aren't always part of depression, and even when they are, they're not always active suicidal thoughts

  • I'm very glad that Kady touched on this point, because it actually links with my last point. No, depression isn't always about suicide. Even when it is about suicide, it isn't always active. When I'm having an "episode," as I like to call it, I have lots of thoughts of death. Even at my worst, I would never follow through with anything of the sort, but I know that when I am feeling low, I will have thoughts such as "Wouldn't it be easier if I just didn't wake up tomorrow?" It's important to know that these thoughts aren't the same as active suicidal thoughts, which are ones with plans to follow through. However, when I was at my worst, living in Michigan, I always felt that because my depression wasn't actively suicide-inducing, it made my condition less important, because I was only suffering and not at risk of self-harm. That isn't true. Just because you aren't on a suicide watch does NOT mean that you aren't important, and it's important to tell someone who is going to do something about the situation to help you.

5) Depression and sadness aren't (always) the same thing

  • If any of you are people who I went to high school with, you will know that I was a terrible, hateful person, and today I am incredibly regretful of this. Depression isn't always sadness, but it can be. Sadness isn't always depression, but it can be. However, my "sad" depression didn't start until I had graduated from high school. Instead, I was just mean. I was judgmental and rude and I had very few friends who were willing to tolerate me because no one wants to be around someone who only ever complains or is angry. Depression can be sadness, anger, or any one of a whole slew of negative emotions. Often, my depression is numbness, in which I have a hard time dredging up the will to do anything because I just do not feel. It's not that I don't care, it's that depression has stolen my emotions and will not give them back. 

6) You can be depressed without knowing it

  • It took me years to figure out that I had depression, and the most unlikely person was the one to point out that I needed help. I had been hanging out with a guy I was interested in at the beginning of my junior year of high school, and one day he shocked me by saying something along the lines of "You bring me down. I like to feel lifted by the people around me, but you can't do that." It felt like I had been slapped in the face. Granted, I think this guy was and is a terrible person, but I will say that how he treated me woke me up. He changed my life, and I have to at least thank him for that. From that point on, I was aware of my depression and I began counseling and medication and I made an effort to change how I was. 

7) Depression can be visible

  • While this may sound obvious, it isn't. When I'm really low, my entire appearance suffers. I won't shower as often as I normally do, I won't change out of my PJ's, I struggle to keep up with house work (which I actually love doing on a regular day), and my makeup will sit untouched for weeks. Depression is sometimes obvious if you look at someone and examine their appearance. Is their appearance lacking the normal amount of effort? Maybe they are having a hard time with things and they could use a helping hand.

8) Depression responds to routine and structure

  • This is the point that really swung me into action and made me want to write about this subject, because it is something that I have recently discovered about myself and I realized that some people may not even realize this about themselves. Routine is so important. When I was working 2-3 jobs and had no sense of routine, I was at my worst. Nothing mattered to me, and I was just going through the motions. However, when I moved to CA and established a daily routine, I began to wade through the darkness and somehow came out on the other side. Even the smallest thing, like cleaning the kitchen in the way that I always do it, can help me struggle through the rut. I have hesitated to say this because I never wanted anyone back home to think that I don't want to visit them, but any type of vacation or time away from home and away from my routine severely messes me up. As soon as I leave for Michigan and for weeks after, I struggle to get back into my routine, and sometimes I go to a very dark place that I have a hard time getting out of. Even trips to Disneyland can do more harm than good if we stay for too long. This last trip to Michigan was so emotionally draining and routine breaking that when I returned home I would look at Patrick and not hear a word he was saying because I just couldn't bring myself to care enough to register his words. When I am depressed, nothing matters, and I start to lose my memory. I've found that it helps to have someone to recount things with-- someone who will sit down with me and go over what we did yesterday when I wake up in the morning and what we did today before I go to bed. I am pleased to say that as of a few days ago I am finally back into the swing of things, however the numbness of depression set me back quite a few weeks and does every time my routine is disrupted. 

9) Depression is not the end of the world

  • It may feel like it when you're at a low point, but depression is not the end of the world. You can make it out of there. It took me years and a move across the country to do so, but I'm finally at a place in my life where I can say that I am not hindered by depression. I spend probably between 85-90% of my life with my head above water, but for almost ten years I didn't know if I would ever be able to look at life from the other side. You can do it. 
When I first realized I had depression at 16, I began counseling and medication. At one point I was on the highest dose of Zoloft that my doctor would prescribe, and they had to couple that with Abilify, which is normally an anti-psychotic but is used quite frequently in patients whose depression is stronger than the antidepressants that are used. At first, I couldn't believe how much better they made me feel. I was on top of the world.

However, after a while, it seemed like my body began to adjust to the drugs and I went back downhill. I also began to notice just how much I relied on the drugs. I remember having a really terrible day one day and I was lashing out at everyone. When a friend confronted me and told me I was being awful, I then realized that I had forgotten my medication the night before. When I voiced this to her, she thought it was ridiculous, and that missing one single pill couldn't possibly do anything. I was really hurt by her words, as I was sure that this was the reason I was feeling so terrible. Later, when I talked with my counselor about the situation, she confirmed what I believed: that antidepressants have to be taken so regularly that if you miss just one dose, it can set you back pretty far. I was faithful about my meds after that.

When I was 19, I started to realize that the medication seemed to be doing more harm than good. I was tired of feeling numb. A different kind of numb from depression, being on too high a dose of an antidepressant can numb you from feeling sadness or any negative emotion, and instead you only feel mild happiness all the time. I remember being at a funeral and being unable to cry, and that is when I decided that enough was enough. I did an incredibly dangerous thing and "weaned" myself off of my medication much too fast, but I struggled through it and refused to take any more of the drugs. I was tired of being controlled by depression and antidepressants.

I somehow made it out of the other side and struggled with my depression until I left for California, where I established a routine that helped me out of my dark cloud. Today, I am medication and counseling free, and I very rarely struggle with my depression.

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