I've spent the past few days trying to figure out how I wanted to put this information and perspective out into the world. I thought a live video, or just a regular Youtube video, but in all honesty that feels a little too vulnerable for me with this subject matter right now. I'm already nervous when I talk about my mental health, as I always am. It's a scary thing to talk about, to leave yourself open to judgement to feelings and thoughts you don't have much control over and that, despite efforts to normalize, are still stigmatic. I can still hear echoes of my childhood and youth of "get over it", "it's not that bad" and "god, why are you so dramatic/depressing." It's been a long journey and a lot of therapy to come to this aspect of self-acceptance and self-love. So in keeping with that silly promise to myself, let's talk...
I've been in a depressive state since the end of July. It's been a while, years, since an episode lasted this long.
There's a lot of factors at play right now: stress, exhaustion, job pressure. One of the major ones being that I recently decided to go off the pill. I've been on birth control since I was 15 or 16, and I've been on the same brand for about that long. In the past year I started to feel "off". I had no sex drive. Like, none. And it was frustrating. And after evaluating a bunch of other factors (my stress levels, my relationship, etc) the final factor came down to my birth control. So when I was starting to come to the end of my last pack, I thought now is a good a time as any to stop. So I did. Within the first few days my sex drive returned and it was excellent! I also noticed I was more emotional and sensitive to all sensory stimulation. I explained it to a male friend of mine that, after going off the pill, it felt like I had switched from standard definition to high def. But if you know anything about any kind of hormonal treatment, you know the transitions are never that smooth. Which is how I got to where I am. It's well known that one of the side effects of any kind of hormone based birth control is fluctuations in mood, depression, and on some brands suicidal thoughts. Having had depression well before I was on the pill, I am in one of those depressive episodes.
It's all so eerily familiar! It's been years since I've had one this severe bit it feels like I never left this state of being. It's that comfortable (for a lack of a better word). It starts mild and unassuming: you have an off day. You just feel blue and a little more melancholy. You chalk it up to the weather, or being overtired or maybe overworked, or that fact that maybe you haven't eaten enough today. You have some water, take a walk. A couple of days past and nothing has changed. You continue on as you think you should, as you must. You go to work, you're social, you make excuses for these feelings that you're not "supposed" to feel and dismiss them because life goes on right? And you can't be left behind. And that's where it can get dangerous. Slowly and surely those feelings creep across your feet like a fog and begin to achor you. It becomes harder and harder to hold yourself to obligations. You starting finding ways to pass off the things you're obligated to do: Call a sick day to rest, find a replacement for a job. And you don't feel bad about it because let's be real, these aren't tasks you wanted to do, you just have to do them because they're a part of life and living. But then you start putting of the things you actually like doing: seeing people you actually want to see, finding excuses to not do activities that actually bring you joy. Even the usual activities you consider therapeutic are now daunting and sometimes scary tasks. But if you're me, you push through. You've worked hard to build your life and now there are people that depend on you, on your initiation and follow through. You can't halt their progress and happiness because you don't "feel good". And sometimes it's that personal obligation that actually helps you! It takes you outside of your own head and put the focus on the needs of other people. It makes you feel useful and wanted. It gives you worth and purpose. But not this time...
Instead your brain decides to literally warp your reality. Every misstep, every insignificant mistake feels like it holds too much weight. You find yourself taking responsibility for things that aren't yours to make up for the guilt you have about not feeling "happy". You take on other people's feelings because it feels better than taking on your own. You exhaust, and it feeds this fog, which grows thicker and thicker around your feet as it creeps up your shins to your knees. You begin overcompensating: over working, overly caring, you try to pacify others' misery because you feel terrible. And the happier you make others, the more guilty you feel about not being happy. Then your mind starts to swirl as the fog rises to your thighs. If I'm not happy there must be something wrong with me. You feel transparent to everyone, that they can see through to your misery, to the pathetic, desperate being you actually are. Overcompensate. Try harder, work harder, love harder. Nothing changes. Question every facet of your reality because you're doing everything in your power to "fix" this and nothing has changed. Your friends don't like you, they simply tolerate you. Look at how happy everyone is. Know that's not you. Maybe it never was you. Forget what "normal" feels like. Try to remember your career accomplishments and suddenly struggle to find them. If you have no accomplishments, then what have you done with your life? Feel ashamed that ridiculous thought crossed your mind and logically know it's false. But the feeling is unshakable. Feel guilty. Feel transparent. Feel familiar. Watch the fog raise to your waist. Want to talk about it to those closest to you, to those you know love you, and start hearing past voices: "Don't be silly, you're great!" "It's not that bad!" "You're not really feeling that." "Others have worse problems than you." "You're just being dramatic." "Stop making problems for yourself." The fog rises. "Why are you so depressing?" "Do you have to be so aggressive? So harsh?" "Stop making problems for yourself." "It's all in your head."
Well, that one is true.
And with all this hopelessness, all this shame and all this guilt, it's easy to ask all the wrong questions. What really is the point? Why do anything if it feels like it doesn't matter? People lie. They've lied before. How do you know they're not lying to you now? The fog swirls around your chest. You make a last ditch attempt for perspective: It's ok. You're only one person and this is temporary.
You are temporary.
When Robin Williams died, I had my first emotional response to a celebrity death. Not just because he was a talented figure of my childhood who's work I loved, but because I knew how it happened. I knew the long silent battles he had faced, the scars from the war, the guilt that came with fighting, and the deep desire to care for others on the outside to ease the violence on the inside. We watched a man notorious in his love and compassion both on and off screen lose a final battle in his own head. It automatically reminded me of the battles I'd nearly lost. How close I've come to being yet another statistic, another tacky bouquet of plastic flowers on some public mark, another sentiment of "she was so full of life" only to watch my mark and presence disintegrate in deteriorating memory. I now find myself thinking of him in these times as empirical evidence to contradict how I feel. Sometimes I see people call their sorrow "depression" and I want to shake them. Being depressed is not the same as having depression. It is perfectly natural and human to be depressed, especially over things that are depressing: the state of government, inequality and oppression, injustice, loss, disappointment, death. But how do I justify my pathetic state when I'm not currently experiencing anything remotely close to any of those moments? And that's the difference. It's enough to make you feel, well, crazy.
And that's where I currently am. Ticking off boxes and hitting checkpoints to eliminate factors that could make a bad situation worse. After forcibly taking a few days off last week, I feel rested. I'm starting to buy better foods, I plan on cleaning the apartment this week. Doing some costuming for a project while limiting and being selective with my social interactions have made me feel more human. The fog currently swirls again at my ankles and doesn't feel heavy, only thick. I'm not out of the woods yet but at least I have my mobility back. As odd as it sounds I'm fortunate to have the experience I have. It's taught me that there a coping methods and I have evolving protol that I follow to get me back to healthier states as soon as possible. It helps me talk to other people about mental health, because I can speak from over 20 years of my own personal experience. But I've discussed this before, mental illness is alive as long as you are, and as you adapt, so does it. Because it's a part of who you are. For better or for worse. The way a diabetic can't change being a diabetic. Which is why breaking stigma, and the language we use around mental health is so important.