Categories
mental health

Of love & depression.

Depression rarely comes by itself.  It’s not a single, sad kitty sitting on your doorstep – the kitty is a mom, and she brought her litter. Along with the depression and its recognizable and not-so-recognizable symptoms can come things like anxiety, panic, insomnia, mania (yes, mania), obsessive-compulsive behavior, and addictive behavior. Depression also has a tendency to bring with it the one thing that is most difficult to let go – the past. That past not only creeps in and steals our joy, but it also encourages us to hurt those we love. 

I am currently on the upswing from a recent depressive episode, but it was a pretty rough round.  I am used to most of it by now – I have been dealing with the rollercoaster for almost my whole life.  The one thing for which I was not ready was how it made me treat my boyfriend by way of transference and fear of abandonment.  Depression did not cause those feelings, it caused me to focus on all the negatives in the past, and that made me frightened and angry.  Thank God my boyfriend is as strong, patient, and understanding as he is.  

Too good to be depressed about.

Here’s the deal:  I have had quite a few shitty relationships.  I was manipulated, gaslighted, stalked, used, cheated on, and experienced abuse – mentally, physically, sexually – and I managed, with the help of my faith and my strength, to get through all of it and put it all behind me.  In my marriage, I was able to keep those things in the past because my marriage, while not contentious, was not the kind of relationship where I felt cherished and loved and scared to lose it.

I never bothered to even think that he might be any of those things because, quite frankly, it never occurred to me to worry about it.  I don’t know if that says more about him, me, or us, but it says to me that the relationship was not something I was scared to lose. It also says that he could not easily be considered “too good to be true.”

Too good… and too true.

I saw a meme once – and of course, I can’t find it right now – that said something to the effect of it’s pretty sad when you’re so used to shitty guys that when a good one comes along you don’t know how to handle it.  Well, I’ve got a good one.  He is so kind and patient and understanding that sometimes it is hard to believe.  However, he has done nothing to warrant suspicion. At all. He has proved himself to be genuine and sincere over and over again.  I know this. I know this down to my core… until depression comes along and says “HEY! Wait a second. I bet he didn’t just change his mind about dinner… I bet he was manipulating you.” 

Hey, depression: It was a friggin’ cheeseburger. Take a seat.

It has happened a few times, and each time when I was in the throes of depression or anxiety.  Those have also been the only times we fight… largely because it hurts him so much. I cannot stand that.  He truly has done nothing to deserve it, but during these times my depressed brain is spiraling into the oblivion of negativity and it is difficult to convince myself otherwise – until I see the hurt in his eyes. That hurt, as painful as it is for both of us, is what usually helps pull me out of the doldrums. 

Depression or discernment?

The difficult part about this is that we, women especially, often have an intuition that helps us recognize early signs of toxic behaviors. Discernment is key.  We have to learn to differentiate between actual toxic behavior and perceived toxic behavior. This is not easy, and I do not have any really great advice about how to do this.  You must be self-aware enough to know when you are experiencing anxiety or depression. Then you must learn to determine if these perceived toxic behaviors only seem to pop up during mental health struggles, or if they are constant. 

It is an arduous process, but one that can help save not only your relationship but your mental health. It can show you when your behavior is hurting the other person versus them hurting you. You are the only person who can differentiate.  Once you do, and you realize that it is the depression talking, then you need to recognize how you are hurting the other person and make changes to stop it.

Too much of a good thing.

See, we go online and on social media and see all these wonderful pieces of advice about how those of us with mental health issues need to focus on ourselves and take care of our mental and physical wellbeing and that we should not feel guilty about having a mental health issue. 

All of these things are true. However, I do not think it is the ONLY way to treat it. I think that we need to focus on how we are making other people feel. Not so that we feel guilty about it, but so that we can use it as a catalyst to get better, to change destructive thought patterns and behaviors, and to ultimately get on the right track toward overcoming the issues.  When our mental health is hurting the people we love, I think we should try to stop and notice and realize that so that we can use their love to help us fight the battles. 

The depression/self-focus cycle

We, as a society, have become exceptionally self-centered.  While there are a time and a place for this type of behavior, we simply cannot continue to function as if we are the only people who matter, and that our sole focus should be on ourselves. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves.  We need to make sure we are eating properly, exercising our bodies and minds, and getting rest. We need to take days off to reduce stress. However, we also need to look out for the wellbeing of others. No, we cannot pour from an empty vessel… but we have stopped pouring altogether.  

It is that very focus on ourselves that directly contributes to our mental health issues.  We focus so much on our own wellbeing that all we see is that which is “wrong” and that which we need to “fix.” We are not meant to focus solely on ourselves, we are designed to live in a “tribe,” a community, a group. We are designed to look out for one another. This is not only a religious viewpoint – it is also evolutionary.  

Again, I must reiterate – I am not saying that we should not take care of ourselves.  We MUST. At some point, though, we also must look around us and see how we are affecting others.  We must see if our depression can be helped simply by treating someone else with kindness and love.  Purpose treats depression. Having a reason – something that drives us – alleviates the symptoms and helps us push forward.  Do we still need medical help sometimes? Absolutely. But sometimes we are medicating that which only needs love. There is a balance, and we need to find it. 

On purpose.

For so long my purpose was myself, and that got me nowhere.  I spent so much time trying to better myself that all I kept finding were flaws – things that were depressing.  I have never been an unkind person, but I can become disinterested and moody – largely when I am depressed or anxious.  Now, however, I am in a relationship that makes me want to be better. I want to focus my attention on the man I love and revel in his love and support.  Most importantly, I do not want to hurt him. Will I get depressed and anxious? Sure. Loving someone isn’t a cure. What it is is an impetus. A reason.  A purpose.  

A happy, healthy, cooperative life together is the goal that will not be reached if depression gets in the way. So, when my brain starts sinking and focusing on the past and drumming up falsities about how this man is treating me, my attention must focus on treating him like the good man he is.  It must focus on making sure he is happy, and not just focus on myself. It’s that purpose, that reason, that goal that pulls me out every time.  

Find your purpose, something that you love.  Find a reason. If it is not another person, perhaps it is a hobby.  Perhaps it is a pet. Talk to your doctor, of course. Some medications may be required; I am not anti-meds.  However, no medicine can make you treat others well. There is not a magic pill that can turn your love and attention toward others’ feelings – but that’s what you need to do.  And If you focus on others, then you have far less time to think about what is “wrong” with yourself. Try it sometime. 

Categories
health life

Depression :: Unnoticed.

Depression can rear its ugly head in so many different ways. While most of us know the main way – the sadness, the loss of interest – I don’t think we realize the many, many other ways it manifests. As humans, I think we need to start noticing changes – people need to start noticing when something is “just a little bit different” about someone you see every day.

Sometimes depression isn’t obvious. Sometimes it’s a change of appearance, a change of willingness to interact, a change in the way someone reacts to things. So often, those of us who suffer from depression just want someone to notice that something is different and maybe say, “Hey, what’s going on?”  

It’s hard enough just to ride the whole depression rollercoaster: feeling like you’re not yourself, feeling like everything is falling apart, feeling sad and tired, angry and nauseated and sick. But it makes it even harder when you come to one difficult realization:

No one noticed. 

Depression :: Going it alone.

I have always suffered from anxiety and depression. Even mania.  My bipolar disorder isn’t severe, but it’s enough. It’s enough that you would think people would notice sometimes when there’s an abrupt change in my actions and reactions.  But so often, no one notices. And while I’m not one to keep things secret, I’m also not one who reaches out for help. 

I vent, I talk. I talk a lot, actually, but I almost never ask for help. Despite that, on the rare occasion that someone looked at me and said, “Hey, are you okay?” I was so grateful to accept their shoulder to cry on. God, I can’t even put it into words. Even though I may not ask for the support, knowing it was there changed everything.

Here’s what happens when depression hits:

For a couple of weeks leading up to the most recent depressed episode, I felt a gradual decline in my mood. Some days were better than others, and even on the bad days, I was able to lift myself up pretty quickly. Then, as it always happens, it felt like I fell off a cliff. All of a sudden, emotions hit rock bottom, and all I wanted to do was cry. There are so many things I needed to do, but my body and mind just could not do them. They just simply could not.  It happens every time, and I still haven’t perfected the way out.

Depression :: Self-care.

For a long time, I believed people when they said I could just snap out of it. Or get the willpower to feel better.  Or pray myself through it. While those things can help when you’re on the precipice of a depressive episode, once you’re in it, it takes a lot more than that to get out of it. 

I compare it to when you feel like you’re getting a cold; you fight it and fight it. You take vitamin C, drink your orange juice, and you get some rest – you push through – and you never really get sick… but you never really get better.  You are in a constant state of fighting a cold. Sometimes it serves you better to simply let the cold happen – to take the day to sleep it off, feel better. Then you find yourself on the upswing and the cold eventually goes away. 

Depression is not only emotional or environmental, but it’s also physiological. Yes, physiological.  It’s not just a bout of sadness, there is a physiological, neurological reason for repeating episodes of depression. Just like there is a physiological reason for catching a cold: you caught a virus and your body is reacting to that virus.  With depression, there’s a misfire somewhere in the brain, and your body is reacting to that. Sometimes that misfire is accompanied by stress or situational influences that weigh so heavily upon us. Because of this, I think, sometimes, we need to allow ourselves a day to be depressed. 

I don’t want to use the word succumb because so often to succumb to depression means to end one’s life. And that is something I am certainly not advocating nor ever will advocate. But I truly believe that once in a while those of us who experience depression need to take the day and stay in bed and be “sick” with depression. We need to let our body repair itself – like it does when we have the flu or a cold. We repair ourselves with sleep. With good nutrition. With the love and care of someone who truly loves us and knows what we need.  The latter of which is often the most difficult to do.

Depression :: Support.

Just like any other illness, depression requires a support system. It’s much more difficult to fight cancer alone and it’s also much more difficult to fight depression. We need to stop feeling like we can carry it all ourselves. It’s easy sometimes to throw a “woe-is-me” pity party and to carry it ourselves because, quite frankly, we want to whine about it.  While it seems easier that way, I’m telling you right now, having someone to whom you can turn and who you can trust to help you get through it is imperative. They don’t always need to understand what you’re going through, they simply need to be there; without judgment, without necessarily trying to fix anything. Just be there to listen, to hold your hand, to allow you to feel like you’re not alone. To make you feel like someone noticed. It goes a long, long way. 

I’m so lucky that I have someone who notices; who may not understand, but who listens and tries to get it. Someone who motivates me and doesn’t get angry when I’m angry at him for trying to motivate me. But I’ll tell you right now, sometimes I wish someone else would notice. In the weeks leading up to my most recent depressed episode, I noticed a change in my own behavior. I’ve been riding this dragon for many years, so I can almost feel it coming.

It started with me making a drastic change. 

First, I started spending more and more time in my office eating lunch by myself, only leaving to go to the bathroom, not really talking to too many people. The problem here is that I tend to be a loner, and tend to spend time in my office anyway. Even so, this was different. Even as a loner, there are days I would go out and have lunch with everyone else in the office. I would go visit people or I would just talk to the other people in my office about random everyday things. Instead, I kept to myself. 

No one noticed.

Second, my appearance kept changing.  One day, I’d put in the full effort to dress well for work.  The next day, it would look like I just rolled out of bed and came to the office. Then, I dyed my hair. My hair was a natural shade of brown (my hair wasn’t natural, the shade was natural) and then I dyed it a dark, very dark, almost black, violet. Then I dyed it black

No one noticed. 

Sure, they noticed the change, but not one person, at least to my face, stopped for a minute and said “Hey, that’s a pretty big change. Is everything okay?” Yes, I know, we shouldn’t be worried about every person who changes their hair color, but we should certainly notice when it’s such a drastic, unexpected change. I change my hair often, and just as often, I’m just trying to feel a little better, to mix it up a bit, or to change the outside so the inside follows suit. Or maybe, just maybe, to get someone’s attention.

Third, there were the bouts of crying in my office. I did my very best to pull it together when someone walked by, but it should still have been pretty obvious to anyone that walked in that I had been crying. 

No one noticed. 

Fourth, there was the eating everything in sight. Binge eating to the point where I put back on so much of the weight I had lost. 

No one noticed. 

No, maybe it’s not their job to notice. I also know that every person has their own set of things that they’re dealing with, so I’m not asking for anyone to be my savior. I’m just trying to let you know that noticing can make all the difference in how quickly someone gets through an episode of depression. There are days when I felt as though if I wasn’t there, no one would notice. That certainly doesn’t help lift one out of depression; in fact, it can add to it. One of the leading situational causes of chronic depression is a feeling like you don’t belong or don’t have anyone to whom you can turn.  So when you are suffering and no one notices, it compounds the situation. I’m fortunate that I have someone to whom I can turn, others are not.

Saving myself.

My saving graces are my faith – because I know that when I have God, I’m not alone – and also my loving, wonderful, incredible boyfriend who lifts me up when I fall. Who’s my umbrella when it storms. Who does his very, very best to shield me from any kind of hurt. With those two in my corner, I always know – no matter who else notices (or doesn’t) – that I’m going to get through it.  However, when I’m at work, especially, I often feel like I’m floating alone – treading water – and all I need is someone to throw me a raft so I can float a little easier. You see, I don’t want them to throw me a life preserver and pull me in, I just want to know I have a pool noodle to grab onto if I get tired of fighting on my own.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s so terribly important to have a place to go – or a person, a prayer, a phone number – when you feel like no one notices. If you’re going through depression, reach out to someone – someone you care about, someone who cares about you. And don’t ever let anyone make you feel like it’s your fault, or it’s something that you can “snap out of.” It takes time and strength and an effort that sometimes seems impossible. Not everyone gets it, but I do, so I’m telling you – I know how it feels.  

Find a person, a confidant who can hold your hand and do whatever you need them to do to help you out of it. If you don’t have a person to call on, reach out. Reach out to someone on social media, reach out to me. Call a suicide hotline – even if you’re not suicidal – even if you’re just so low that you don’t know if you could get back up again. Call, write, DM, text someone – someone will help you. 

Notice.

To those of you who aren’t dealing with depression, try to notice more. Try to pay attention to the people with whom you work or live. Try to notice when things are different. Notice when there’s a drastic change.  Stop being so busy judging them for their oddness and start thinking that maybe there’s something else going on underneath the weirdness. 

Offer a shoulder, offer an ear. 

I’m not asking you to take responsibility for their mental health; I’m simply asking you to be a ray of light when they’re surrounded by darkness. That ray of light can mean oh so much more than you could ever imagine. It can mean the difference between sadness and happiness, confusion and clarity, or even life and death.  Each person is responsible for their own actions, but sometimes the simplest “Hey, if you need anything, I’m here” can lift a person up from the depths and help them see that they aren’t alone. And all it takes is someone who notices and reaches out. 

So notice. And reach out.