Living life with Depression / Anxiety
Todays post is a bit different than the average outfit details or latest Homegoods purchases. When I decided to start this blog in September, I told myself I would stick to positive, uplifting, “simple” posts. As I’ve followed other bloggers over the years, I’ve seen glimpses into their lives – the Friday Nordstrom trips, extravagant beach vacations, adorable room makeovers, and weekly manicures with friends. Their Instagram feeds and blog posts always seemed to show the “best of the best”, as did mine. But I think it’s important to remember that none of us lead perfect lives. While I am very aware that I live an incredibly fortunate life, my days are not “perfect” as some probably assume. As a millennial, I grew up in a generation that shares a ton of personal information on social media; mostly “good”. After all, who wants to post the “bad” in their life? Today, I’m choosing to show you that behind the “good”, nobody’s life is perfect, and we all have hardships and struggles.
When I was a junior in high school, and then leading into senior year, I was diagnosed with depression. I had struggled when I was younger with anxiety, but never felt the full affects of depression until 16/17/18 years old. I stayed home from school day after day and was put on a modified schedule in high school where I only needed to show up from 9am-12pm, and even that was a struggle for me. What was so difficult for me to grasp, was that nothing “bad” had happened. On the outside, my life was as close to “perfect” as you could get, though I definitely didn’t feel that way on the inside. How could someone like myself, a Varsity athlete with terrific friends and an incredible family, feel so “empty” on the inside? I just didn’t fit the stigma of depression.
From my research and schooling, I’ve learned that with mental illness and specifically depression, comes addiction. For some, that addiction is food, where they over eat because they are so depressed that food is the only thing that makes them better. For some, its drugs and feeling the need to not feel anything at all. For others it’s alcohol, self-inflicted pain, and so forth. For me, my “addiction” was sleep. “Sleep” was the only place I could be where I felt OK, because I felt nothing at all. I would sleep sometimes 14-15 hours at a time, and the more I slept, the more I wanted to continue to do so. My bed was the easiest thing to crawl into, yet the hardest thing to get out of.
Because my “addiction” was sleep, it took months to get me out of this terrible rut that I remember so vividly. It was so easy to just stay in my bed all day instead of facing the world, yet it made me feel lower than anything I’ve ever felt. I lost all interest in friends, boyfriend, family, soccer, exercise, eating, laughing, you name it. I lost “hope” is basically what I lost. I no longer had any desire to get better, because I was that low in my life.
So.. how did I get better? I found a tiny sliver down in me that knew I needed to do this for my future, I grabbed on to it, and got help from specifically my mom. My mom was the one who pushed me day after day to get better. At first, I probably started to seek help simply just for her, but eventually, I ended up doing it for myself. It took me weeks of trial and error with the proper medications, doctors, and appropriate therapy. I did not see the light at the end of the tunnel for the longest time and then finally, I was able to get out of bed sooner than 10am one day and make it to school. I must have tried 3 or 4 medicine combinations and 3 different types of therapy sessions. It took work, but I did it, with the help of my parents.
Eight years later, I still struggle with depression and anxiety daily. Some days are harder than others, for no particular reason. Nothing sparks this depression, and nothing bad needs to happen. Those “spurts” as I like to call them happen a few times a year now, mostly during the summer when I am out of my routine and during dark rainy or deep winter days. It often happens when I am alone, feeling overwhelmed, or have too much going on that I just give up on everything. I get so “low” that I choose to sleep and stay in bed, instead of tackling the day and trying to overcome my feelings of sadness.
From the outside person looking in, I lead a pretty “perfect” life. I have an incredible fiancé, family, and friends who love me unconditionally. I have a 4.0 in graduate school and am about to begin a career that I absolutely adore. I have a lot of materialistic items and travel to amazing destinations each year. I have a safe, comfortable, and happy home and lead a pretty fulfilling life. By the basis of a textbook, I don’t fit the stigma of a depressed or anxious individual. I soon learned that there doesn’t need to be a reason I feel depressed. It is simply the way the chemicals in my brain (or lack there of), work. It is how I was made. Again, from my own research and schooling, this is what’s known as high-functioning depression and/or high-functioning anxiety. It is some of the most successful people in this world who deal with this dark disease (and yes, I consider it a disease because it effects my day to day living). From the looks of it, and the amazing life I live, I have absolutely nothing to be sad, anxious, or depressed over – yet still sometimes, I am.
[ Outfit details: Shirt similar here & here // Jeans similar here & here // Booties similar here & here]
I know that I am not the only individual out there who deals with severe high-functioning depression/anxiety and what’s helped me in my past, is reading others share their experience and coping mechanisms. With the help of this platform, I hope to help someone else out there who experiences life similarly. In order to break the cycle of depressive episodes, here is what I do in my everyday life.
6 Daily Habits:
1) Getting out of bed — this is huge. Even if I watch TV in bed at 4pm and am not sleeping, I slip back into that mindset that is hard to get out of. I try to make my bed everyday to avoid going back into it when I get home. Sometimes it just has to be enough to get up, dress up, and show up.
2) Establishing a routine — I need things in order. This is why I struggle most often during the summer months. As fun and amazing as vacations, beach days, and sunlight are, I struggle immensely with not having a routine in place and knowing what comes next. This often triggers depressive episodes for me. During structured months, it is easier for my brain to adapt and force myself to stick to a set schedule.
3) Staying organized — before I go to sleep every night, my room needs to be perfectly cleaned up, lunch packed for the following day, clothes planned out, etc. This may sound excessive but if I don’t do all this ahead of time, I feel scattered, confused, and unorganized in the morning. Mornings are hardest for me so if I’m not prepared for them, its easier to just stay in bed. By staying organized, it makes my mornings much more helpful to get where I need to be.
4) Taking medication at the same time daily — Ive tried 6 different antidepressants over the years until I eventually found a remedy that works best for me. If I skip a dose even for just 1 day, I feel it. I get “brain zaps” (google it.. it’s hard to explain), feel confused, and uneasy. I once went an entire week without taking my medicine and it threw me off for about a month. The chemicals in these medications are crucial to someone with a chemical imbalance (like me). Your brain eventually becomes almost “dependent” upon them (for lack of better word) and therefore it is expected to receive these chemicals around approximately the same time each day. Even just one mishap can throw me off guard for days at a time. On top of this, it’s important to remember that medication is trial and error. I’ve learned that it’s important to remain patient.
5) Surrounding yourself with people — when I am alone, that is when I notice my depression most. As much as I can, I try to surround myself with people. I usually hate going out late at night or having dinner with friends on a weekday (since it’s out of the ordinary routine), but sometimes I have to literally force myself to do these things because if I dont, I know the alternative feeling will be worse. Staying in the presence of others is what keeps me on my toes and probably why I enjoy the work I do with children so much – they bring out the best in me.
6) Being held accountable — the biggest thing that helps me with my depression is actually having other people count on me. If I know I have a job to be at, I am less likely to stay in bed all day since I know I am being counted on. That is partly why I went into the field I am in – there are kids that count on me to show up everyday. So as hard as it may be for me to get out of bed, they need me more. So I get up.
Now, I can follow all of the above steps, seek counseling, take my medication, and still feel depressed sometimes. Unfortunately, those are the cards I have been dealt in life. Some people are dealt with terrible home lives, cancer at a young age, a life altering accident, or worse. For me, I was dealt the cards of mental illness. The beauty of this is that there are so many resources out there today that are beneficial. While this is something I have come to terms with living with for the rest of my life, I have changed my behaviors, and learned to cope with my symptoms. My depression never truly goes away – what changes is my coping strategies. I stopped looking at other people and wondering how come they get to “always” be happy-go lucky without a care in the world. I stopped looking at people on social media who claim to have a perfect life (because trust me, they don’t). And finally, I stopped asking “why me”? I just plain dealt with it.
It Gets Better
My hope is that this post reaches someone out there who also struggles the way I do. Let me tell you, it gets better. It gets better when you get to walk across the stage at your high school graduation, knowing 6 months prior you could barely make it to school for 3 hours. It gets better when you move to Tampa far away from your family who you thought you could literally not function without (trust me, you can). It gets better when you help someone else out who may be struggling through something similar. It gets better when you realize that there are people out there who actually have it worse than you, and that you CAN handle what life throws at you. It gets better when you start to see your future actually come to life by falling in love and moving into your first home. And it gets better on days when your biggest accomplishment was simply waking up, getting up, and showing up. Sometimes that is my biggest achievement of the day – just waking up and getting to work. And I’ve learned that THAT IS OKAY.
If you are still reading this novel by now, I thank you! I hope that my story inspires someone out there and helps people understand that we all have struggles to deal with. No one’s life is rainbows and butterflies and we all have challenges to overcome. Go to sleep early, wake up before 9am. Have a routine. Start working. Have someone count on your for something. Celebrate little victories. Ask for help when you need it. Stay patient. And remember, it gets better!