My Recent Issues with Depression

Words for 2018We’ve made it to the final post of this series! If you’re just tuning in, I’d read the intro, part 1, part 2 and part 3 first (if you go to the intro, there’ll be links at the bottom of each post to jump you to the next section).

I got myself to a really good place after college, and while there were some dips to the rollercoaster ride, I was mentally and emotionally healthy for years following. There were hard times of course (that’s life!), but I was able to deal with sadness and stress in as healthy of a way as anyone would expect. Harkening back to the cloud analogy I made in a previous post, I could feel the rain from the cloud overhead without losing sight of the blue sky surrounding it.

My recent struggles with depression throughout most of 2017 weren’t a direct response to the world around me or a particularly bad event. That’s the thing with depression—it can start from the inside, regardless of your circumstances. I have a wonderful life! My job couldn’t be a better fit for me. I live in a city that I love, in a state that has always and will always be home. I have an amazing boyfriend, family and friends. My biggest struggle on any given day is finding ripe avocados at Roche Brothers (aka Mission: Impossible). I’m muthafukkin hashtag BLESSED.

Nonetheless, in early 2017, things started to slip.

It was a gradual decline, slowly shutting myself off from friends, avoiding social situations, making excuses, and losing the ability and motivation to focus on work (or anything). Soon I was back to that feeling of merely existing instead of participating in life. I could barely put together blog posts (you probably noticed things were pretty slow around here as far as content), and I felt completely stuck and stagnant. Basic everyday activities exhausted me, and some weeks I would pretty much only leave the apartment when I had to teach.

It was a pattern I recognized all too well (whaddup, college!), yet I allowed it to progress. I think I was partially in denial that this could happen to me again. But I’m so self-aware now! I have it all figured out!

I was convinced that I had all the tools I needed to turn this thing around, and every day it’d be a new strategy for starting fresh. I’m going to start journalling every day. I’ll write down three things I’m grateful for each morning. Tomorrow I’ll make a fixed planned for getting work done. Meditating will fix it.

None of it worked because I was doing the same damn thing I did in college: Keeping my struggles to myself.

I’ve always been a Type A perfectionist (although I’m lightyears more laid-back than I used to be). I’m also fiercely independent. I think the combination of the two makes me unwilling to accept that I need help from others—but we all do in life! The whole experience reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

After my experience in college, I knew that talking about what I was going through was helpful, but clearly I hadn’t fully accepted that. Talking about what I’m feeling and asking those I’m close to for help are like two muscles I should have been consistently training ever since college. Had I strengthened those proverbial muscles throughout the years, maybe 2017 wouldn’t have been so rough. But, not unlike many people do with their physical health, I waited until I was ill (injured) to address the weakness.

Side note: You have no idea how badly I wanted to put quotations around that above quote and end it with – Nicole Perry 😉

Much like in college, the real wake-up call and catalyst for change was acknowledging how my depression was affecting those I loved around me. I could tell Joe was frustrated and confused by my behavior but for months, I’d just try to skirt around the issue (“It’s just a funk, I’m sorry!” / “I’m just stressed about work, things will be better when this project is done!”). I was avoiding the real work I had to do (opening up and bringing my struggles into the light) and instead doing all this busy work while lying to myself that I was accomplishing something.

To reference another quote that I love (who am I today??): “The only way out is through.” – Robert Frost

The really challenging, scary thing you’re avoiding is often the thing you HAVE to do in order to grow and move forward. And the longer you avoid it, the bigger and scarier it gets.

Late this past fall, things came to a head with Joe and he got very upset and confronted me about my behavior. He wouldn’t let it go and kept at me, digging and pushing me to talk and cry. He was the perfect mix of tough love and compassion, forcing me to explain but also knowing when to just give me a hug and let me cry. It was EXACTLY what I needed, and I couldn’t love him more.

I’d compare that night to the first time I saw a psychiatrist after withdrawing from college. I just sorta blubbered in incomplete sentences but it was so cathartic! I felt like a whole new human afterwards! The one full sentence I did get out was, “I think I’m depressed.” To which Joe responded something to the effect of, “Yeah, no shit.” (LOL)

Since then, I’ve made a point to talk to Joe, my mom and my friends about the things inside me that are the hardest for me to communicate. I know that these are the things that need to be said the most. If the words stick in my throat and make me squirm, I’m on the right track. By bringing my feelings and internal battles out into the light, they’ve become a lot less scary and easier to manage.

Today, I’m out from that fog of depression. But I look back on last year and can’t help but feel sad about all that time lost—life is so short and precious, and I just spent a year sorta drifting through it. That motivates me to put in the work now and prioritize my mental health so that this doesn’t happen again or, if and when it does, I’m able to stop it from getting as bad.

Continuing to communicate how I’m feeling is a big part of that work. That has involved acknowledging that I still carry around some guilt and embarrassment with me from my college years and opening up about it with my college friends.

I also changed my health insurance this year and am in the process of finding a psychiatrist/psychologist I like. (Up until this year, I’ve always just bought the cheapest, worst plan that will prevent me from going bankrupt in the event of an accident, but pretty much offers nothing else.) I feel great now and honestly don’t know that I’ll have much to say to a doctor, especially since my mom makes for a really great therapist in her own way. But I also have *finally* learned that I need to put in the work when I feel good, too—not just when sick/injured.

__________________________

Damn. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life but I could sure use one after writing this series (lol). I’ve wanted to share these experiences on the blog for a while now because mental health is just as important as physical health. I’ve hesitated to in the past though because I’d hate for you all reading my blog and following me on social media to look at me differently.

It’s not that I think you’d judge me or that I feel shame in admitting I’ve struggled with depression. It’s more that I would hate for you to take my humor differently or read into things I blog about the wrong way. If I make a self-deprecating joke, it’s not because I actually think ill of myself—that’s just my sense of humor. If I miss a week of blogging, it’s not because I’m depressed—I just suck at my job sometimes. People can be both depressed and funny. Both bipolar and successful. Both anxious and a good parent/friend/etc. No person fits nearly into one simple categorical box. Accordingly, mental illness and things we’d normally classify as positive traits are far from being mutually exclusive. In fact, I think that often our struggles are our strengths. My issues with depression have absolutely affected the person I am today, but I do not define myself solely by them.

Even though I know depression is a mental illness, I have a hard time thinking of myself as being mentally ill. I’ve seen *severe* mental illness up close, and for me, there’s really not even a comparison to what I’ve been through. But as I was writing this series, I noticed how undercurrents of shame and guilt wove consistently through all my tough times and even up to today. It seems a common theme among everyone I’ve talked to who has dealt with varying degrees of mental health issues. And I can say for certain those feelings are poisonous and the ultimate hindrances to forward progress.

Guilt and shame will persist until we’re able to humanize mental illness. And I think a big step towards doing that is to open the conversation and start whittling away at the stigma associated with it. I hope this blog series is a small contribution to that conversation.

Thanks for letting me share my story with you all—not that you really had a choice. 😉 Have a happy, healthy weekend and GO PATS!

xo Nicole

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Comments

  1. Coming from someone who suffers with depression and other mental health illness’s, speaking out about your health is so important and I will be following along!

  2. I really, really appreciate these posts. I am a late-30s married mother of 2, work from home in a field I (mostly) love, and I’ve been feeling what I think is depression creeping in this year. It was there after the birth of each of my kids too, but I didn’t know it then. I’ve taken some first baby steps of prioritizing exercise daily, and telling my husband and close friends what has been going on. We have many friends and family members dealing with “real” struggles at the moment so my own life looks pretty rosy, but I know that’s part of the challenge. I adore your writing and enjoy following along on your blog. Thank you for your honesty!

  3. thank you for sharing, well done! given that our depressions seem so similar, it seems to me that you are on the right path. i had this pattern of seeing a therapist when i was “injured” and then flying away as soon as my wing would carry me… sometimes i’d even get pretty far and then, BONK. sad bird, womp. so i have agreed with my current therapist that even though i’m feeling good, we keep talking! very best wishes xoxo

  4. thank you for sharing! i can’t imagine how hard and difficult it was to be this vulnerable…but you are helping SO MANY People know that they are’t alone! i’m so glad you are feeling better and recognized that you needed to find help and did.

  5. My parents suffered with depression. Hubby does at times. My daughter has severe anxiety issues, including anxiety that has resulted in a life-threatening (literally hospitalized and a feeding tube put in two summers ago) eating disorder popping up a couple of times, and autism. Mental problems suck! But they are nothing to be ashamed of….

  6. I once heard someone (on instagram..lol) say, “I go to a therapist not because things are bad, but because things are so good” and that really stuck with me. I thought it was such a concise way of destigmatizing therapy and emphasizing the importance of maintaining mental health. Thanks for sharing and helping to lessen the stigma of mental illness. Sharing stories is really the only way that will happen and you are moving the needle in the right direction!

  7. Thank you for opening up to us – it takes some serious bravery to be that vulnerable online. To me, this is the most important thing you said: mental health is just as important as physical health. I think a lot of people forget about mental health, and it’s so, so important. Thank you for helping bring this issue into the light so we can start to normalize these kinds of issues and help people who might be feeling the same way. XOXOX

  8. Thank you for sharing your story! I’m a psychologist in training in Boston (hey neighbor!) so I know lots of therapists if you ever need help finding one. I would also really recommend psychology today’s website for anyone, they have a great search function.

  9. Thank you for sharing this! I am a therapist and of course agree that mental health is as important as physical health! You might consider therapy from a social worker or a marriage and family therapist (MFT) if money is a concern. Nothing against psychiatrist but they often have less training in talk therapy and more focus on medication and psychologist are often just more expensive!

  10. Christine says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I can resonate with SO many of the body image/eating feelings/struggles you shared and can think of so many people in my life who I know are struggling as well. Everyone should read this. I love reading your blog – you have a great writing style and your sense of humor comes through so well!

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