Oh, boy. This one…well, I’ve hesitated to write about this because I kind of out myself. I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 20, and weirdly enough, that seemed to make sense. Why, as a child, I would obsess over things and be unable to just stop thinking about them. Why, as a teenager, breakups broke me. Why, as a newly minted adult, I couldn’t sleep to save my life. For months. And why, as I got into my early 20s, I started having these wonderful little episodes called panic attacks.
So what does this all look like?
I think everyone experiences these things differently. For my experience, depression means worry. Worry, worry, worry all the time. What if? What if this happens? What if it doesn’t? Is it ever going to be okay? How will I get through this? All. The. Time.
It means extreme nervousness about social situations.
Am I talking too much? Am I not talking enough? Oh my god, they think I’m boring. Oh, sh*t, they hate me. Or worse, what if I go to that networking event and have no one to talk to?
Also? Compulsive behavior. Super fun. I don’t wash my hands a thousand times a day, but I do chew my lower lip to the point where it bleeds. The only thing that kind of helped for a while was smoking, but the tradeoff was obviously sucky. So I stopped. Now I chew lots of gum, and sometimes it helps.
Fear of failure.
Jesus, the fear. I wanted to start this blog back in 2013. What stopped me, you ask? What if people think I’m stupid for doing this? What if people don’t like it? What will my friends think? Surely they will think this is a trivial, frivolous, pointless endeavor. And now that I’m actually doing it, those thoughts aren’t far away. I just. . . shush them.
And the overwhelming feeling that this is all pointless. Why? What are we all doing? Why struggle just to have it all end so spectacularly in a way that no one understands or can really articulate? And feeling alone in this because, oh my god, why can’t you just be happy?
Depression makes everyday life harder.
Sometimes it’s okay; other times it’s a struggle to just get out of bed and brush your teeth.
Anxiety is a little different. My first panic attack was nothing short of spectacular. I was having dinner with a former professor of mine, and all of a sudden I felt really tingly. And really panicky. And unable to focus. I had to be driven to a parking lot where my mother picked me up because: a) I couldn’t drive and; b) I felt so foggy could barely put a sentence together. The result of which is laying in bed for the rest of the night trying to put together what the hell just happened, while at the same time praying that it never happens again (spoiler: it did).
Depression creates a sort of moat around you, especially when the people you love don’t get it.
And trying to explain it to them usually leads to some iteration of, “But why can’t you just be happy? Have you tried meditating? Are you sure you need that medicine?” Yeap, I do. I tried to wean off of it once and boy, did that not go well. Got to the point where those same people encouraging me to try my life without meds were practically shoving them back into my hands.
Anxiety tells you that you’re not good enough. It whispers in your ear that you’re not worthy. Makes you doubt yourself, your decisions, your life. Tells you that you will never win.
Depression is not something that’s fully understandable, even when you have it.
I don’t know why there are some days that I feel awesome and other days when I can’t get dressed. When the only thing that seems to quell the impending panic attack is curling up with my cats and watching “Friends.” And just when I feel like I’m starting to get it, another curveball happens.
Anxiety and depression also manifest themselves in the form of extreme irritation with everyone around you.
“I just want to be positive,” you think. “But if he/she does/says that one more time, I’m going to scream.” Every little thing bothers you and it’s like you’re an exposed nerve, but no one can tell that and you look human and fine, but little does everyone know that you’re not. And you can’t stop it and you can’t make it better and oh my god, why can’t I sleep? Are my legs moving? Why is he breathing so loud? Why is this so easy for everyone else?
But here’s the deal. After coping with this for the good part of 15 years, I’ve learned some wisdom I’d like to impart.
- You are not crazy, and you are not alone.
- It isn’t your fault, and you can deal with this.
- You can get through this. You will succeed. You will face your fear.
- In. You.
And in the spirit of helping my fellow depressees (not a word), I’ve come up with some coping methods that sometimes help me.
How to Cope With Depression and Anxiety:
- Chew gum. I know, this one sounds crazy. But psychologists say that chewing gum is calming because it basically convinces the body that you’re eating, and that primal part of humans knows that you wouldn’t be eating if you were in danger. Weird but cool, right?
- Meditate Even for a few seconds. Do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise (in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, out for 8 seconds). I swear, it helps.
- Talk to someone you trust. Doesn’t have to be someone who completely understands. Just has to be someone who’s willing to listen without judgment. Personally, I love therapy for this very reason.
- Exercise. This one’s pretty elementary, right? Endorphins. Exercise high. Increased serotonin. And don’t wait until you feel shitty. Exercise regularly.
- Go home. Look, if you’re in a situation that you can’t handle, just leave. No shame in taking care of yourself.
- Journal. Sometimes, just getting it all out of your brain into a different medium can help you reset.
- Stay off of social media. Hey, I need social media as much as the next guy, but sometimes, looking at what other people want you to think their life is like makes you feel bad. So don’t.
- Go outside. Breathe fresh air. Get some sunshine. Clear your head.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can trigger panic attacks. Seriously. So stay hydrated and if you’re hungover, drink more water 😉
- Take up a new hobby. I live in LA now so I feel like I don’t have a lot of need for knitting, but I learned it back when I was having a serious bout of depression and boy, did it help.
- Listen to some music. Something upbeat. No Sarah McLachlan. Something that always makes you smile. For me, ‘Walkin’ on Sunshine’ always does the trick.
- Be kind to yourself. You’re smart. You’re beautiful. You have a great ass. Tell yourself these things. They’re true and you need to hear it.
- Take a bath. Or a shower. Like I’ve said before, baths aren’t really my thing. Or float around in a pool, if you have access. Just give yourself some time to breathe and chill for a bit.
- Focus on the positive. Gratitude journaling is huge now for a very good reason. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on what you’re grateful for when it feels like everything is terrible, but even writing down a few simple things that make you happy can turn your whole day around. That flower you saw. The fact that you have shelter and food and your needs are met. Your great husband. Whatever it is for you, focus on it for just a bit.
Hopefully, these tips will bring you some relief in the midst of feelings of helpless/hopelessness. Remember, you’re not alone. What you’re going through is real.