Full disclosure: I am not a mental health professional, nor have I had any training in the treatment of disorders. The purpose of this post is to share my experiences, in hopes of creating conversation around these issues. If you are suffering, please seek a professional for help.
Have you ever had a moment in your life where it seemed impossible to be happy? Where you feel a pit inside of your stomach and it feels like it could swallow you whole? Maybe you’ve lived in darkness for long periods of time and convince yourself it’s easier to just let the darkness control you than to fight. For people with anxiety and depression, these experiences are real. I have had moments where I told my therapist I would rather let my anxiety (darkness) control my life because it feels like less energy than fighting it. I chose to be an outsider in my own life and to become a different person because I was lost. I was in a headspace where I put too much focus on negative events surrounding me, and I ALLOWED that feeling to consume my entire being.
I have been in professional treatment for anxiety for years. My first therapist diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder, with minor depression and obsessive tendencies. My second therapist did not think I had signs of depression (despite marking high on all of the pre-counseling testings) but agreed with the anxiety diagnosis and added social anxiety. My most recent therapist also agreed with the generalized anxiety disorder with depressive episodes but did not think I have social anxiety or obsessive tendencies. You see, even with professional opinions, it’s all a matter of perspective. If I lived my entire life according to my diagnoses I would’ve been so confused with my own identity over the 6 year time period. I chose to focus on the way I was feeling and how to cope. Not what diagnosis code they were billing to my insurance company. From my perspective, that is the only reason mental health patients get put into categories like depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc., for reimbursement and to provide general ideas for treatment. In reality, mental health is incredibly complex. If you compare my anxiety to someone else that suffers, we will have similarities, but that’s about it. A treatment that works for one person will not work for another person.
With uniqueness in mind, I was asked yesterday by a friend for advice on how to get out of the darkness. I was taken back by the question for a moment, realizing I preach the importance of self-care often for preventative maintenance, but I never talk about how I climb out of my own depressive lows. Through most of my life, I suffered in silence. I never spoke to anyone about how I was truly feeling because I lived in fear of being labeled. I was always a little bit of an outcast growing up. I had a lot of friends, but I never belonged to a “group”. My self-identity was unique, and in a world where your peers expect you to dress or act a certain way in order to properly fit in, I have always fought against that narrative. Even as an adult when people ask me what my interests are, they are all over the board. I enjoy things in life because I want to, not because I need to in order to fit in. Make sense?
My experience with anxiety has also been unique to me, and when I talk to other anxiety sufferers I can identify commonalities but we are not identical. When I go into a depressive episode I tend to become distant from people in my life. I still attend some events and I will still return your messages, but the reality is I am emotionally cut off from my life. Imagine having the worst day of your life, now replay that moment in your mind on repeat and allowing that feeling to consume your mind and body until you convince yourself that is how you function now. My body feels heavy, I am constantly exhausted, I am not eating enough to sustain my caloric needs, I stop self-care activities. During episodes, I have been known to sit on my couch for HOURS and not realize how long I sat there staring into space until I realize it’s dark and I missed an entire sunset. Moments like these are terrifying, but I had myself convinced that I did not deserve good things to happen to me.
Thankfully I do not have depressive episodes often, mostly due to my ability to identify and prevent these episodes from happening. Through my therapy treatments, I have gained a fantastic understanding of why I feel and think the way I do. I have been told by multiple professional that this level of self-awareness is rare, so I have been thankful to be blessed with being able to self-evaluate. In moments where I lose perspective, I still have a tendency to touch the darkness again. I have learned to focus on things in my life that I like. I force myself to experience moments of joy, even if they are temporary. Sometimes it’s a trip to Target to buy more art supplies or pulling up a meme on my phone that cracks me up no matter how sad I am. During a depressive episode, I often lose my ability to be rational, so it can take me days or weeks to come up with a solution to find the light.
My favorite food? I eat it.
A TV show I love and watch on repeat? I watch it.
A hobby I haven’t done for a while but enjoy? I do it.
As humans, we have a tendency to be our own worst enemies. We are raised to believe that being selfish is a bad thing, and you should always put other people first. I am here to burst your bubble, being selfish is good! There are moments in your life where you need to focus on yourself. If your mental health is not in a good place, how in the world do you expect to be helpful to someone else? It’s like the saying “you can never truly love another person until you learn to love yourself,” and that is 100% true. Over the last few months, I have fallen in love with the woman that I have become. I am a strong, independent, driven, caring, and intelligent. I live my life every single day believing in myself, and this helps keep my light stronger than it has ever been.
Do not ever let your brain convince you that you are not worthy, because your brain is a con artist. Regardless of your mental health state we all experience times of darkness (the loss of a family member or being denied a job). These experiences are what make you stronger. Life will never give you more than you are able to handle, but you need to make the choice to grow. When I thought people in my life would be better if I didn’t exist, this was my brain giving me an excuse to stay in my darkness. Breakthrough the stigmas, wash your mind clean of all negative thoughts, write down on paper things you like about yourself and your life, and live every day like you matter. It is going to be a ton of work, but everything in life is worth fighting for.