Mental Health Awareness Month: Darkness and Light.

Therapist is a wonderfully kind and empathic woman with a softly painted office and a couch I could take a thousand naps on. When I first met with her, she sat across from me, with no notepad or anything in her hands, which automatically put me at ease because it meant she was actually going to listen. “So, why don’t you start from the beginning and I can get a sense of your history. Take your time.”

I rearranged myself on the couch, took a deep breath, and before I could even get a word out, I started sobbing.

“Oh good lord, I’m so sorry,” I babbled, and looked up into Therapist’s eyes. She didn’t judge me. She didn’t laugh. She didn’t tell me to “suck it up.” She sat there, with her kind eyes, and waited for me.

It had taken me four long years to be ready for that moment.

Around four or five years ago, my traumas woke up. A few events led to this cataclysmic awakening, but I won’t go into that. All I’ll tell you is that everything I had repressed for the first twenty-six years of my life broke free of their chains and started to stomp around in my head. Before that I had been medicating myself by controlling every bite of foods that went into my mouth, working out too much, and doing a lot of yoga. In 2011, the dam broke.

For a solid two years, at least once a month, I would break down for no reason or due to some small trigger. There was a little demon sitting in my brain that refused to let anything good, positive, or complimentary have any effect. Nope, it shouted at me. You are worthless. You are ugly. You are fat. You are nothing. At the time, I thought I was just processing my shit, or at the very worst, I had a big case of Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder (PMS on bath salts), and it would go away in due time. But now, after more than a year of psychotherapy, I know the truth. I was suffering from mild depression.

Everyone’s depression or anxiety takes different forms. This is the form mine takes.

Patton Oswalt describes unchecked depression as a happy puppy running through your body, that screams things like “PUT ON YOUR BATHROBE FOR EIGHT DAYS STRAIGHT!” or “WATCH THE PRINCESS BRIDE FOURTEEN TIMES IN A ROW!” and you just have to sit there and go “Okaaaaay, depression.” My depression did/does that, but it also tells/told me straight up lies that I couldn’t help but believe. I was completely powerless against the feelings of corrosive unworthiness running rampant. I would get angry for no reason, and stay angry all day, until I would fall asleep very early at night because of how exhausted my brain was making my body feel. Anyone can push through being physically tired if their brain is sharp. But if you’re mentally exhausted, there’s nothing you can do. And depression is so seductive, you have no choice but to give in because the part of your brain that perceives “Hey, this is not cool, I should probably get help for this thing that’s not cool” is broken.

The depression was a direct result of my generalized anxiety. Anxiety will sit in the other corner of my brain like a boxer on meth that’s been strapped down to a hospital bed. She twitches, and punches the air, and every once and a while, if I’m in a situation I can’t control, she springs loose. She heads straight to the part of my brain that controls adrenaline and starts punching it, screaming “WE ALL HAVE TO FREAK OUT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE LIFE IS TOO MUCH” and I usually end up running out of the room with legs made of rubber. When I come down from the anxiety, that’s when the depression sidles on over and starts whispering You gave in. You are a worthless piece of shit.

My parents, God bless them, tried to help as much as they could, but depression and mental anxiety are mental illnesses that honestly can’t be controlled by just “choosing” to be happy. That’s why any time I see someone with a Pinterest quote about choosing happiness I just want to punch them in their face. Happiness isn’t a choice for so, so many people. They literally can’t choose it because their brain won’t let them. “Just suck it up!” my mom would say cheerfully, as I stared blankfaced into the carpet. I can’t!!! my brain screamed.

Last year, when my panic attacks started up again due to fears about my future, they immobilized me because while I was detoxing from all of the years of traumas and EDs and unresolved shit, nothing was actually being done about that tweaked-out boxer doing a dance on my brain. Even yoga, my most personal mainstay of mental health, wasn’t helping, because I would get two minutes into a practice and then burst into tears or start shaking because I was so afraid. My body was literally rejecting everything it was processing. I didn’t want to go anywhere. Even movie theaters, once my favorite place on the planet (…I’m a simple person with simple needs) became a den of hell, and I could only sit on aisle seats in case I needed to run out of the room and get my breath. I went to a wine tasting/cheese pairing party last year with several of my closest friends and I spent nearly the entire evening on the couch, away from the rest of the party, because I was panicking. I stayed in bed until 10AM every day (which, to me, is like 2PM) and just wish I could stay in bed for a week. I never thought about death, but I did think about sleep, because my brain was fried.

Boyfriend did literally everything he could think of to make me better. He would buy me chocolate, cook me dinners filled with my favorite foods, text me stupid .gifs or memes, do stupid shit to make me laugh (and I always laughed), direct me to Reddit threads about depression, or he would just hold me while I wept into his chest, Parks and Recreation blaring in the background.

But at some point, he told me, “I can’t fix you anymore. You need someone who is professionally qualified to handle this.”

I railed against it for months. Not just because I thought I could fix the problems by myself, but the idea of asking for help scared the shit out of me. It also made me think I was crazy. I didn’t want to be crazy. Not only does depression/anxiety convince you you’re nothing, it also convinced you you don’t need help, or worse, that you don’t deserve help. And due to the stigmatization of mental illness in this country, depression is allowed to grow unchallenged and unchecked until, for many, it’s too late.

Then, last April, I decided to not audition for the fourth musical in a row because I felt like I was too fucked up to sing. To me, that was the last straw. I couldn’t let this shit get in the way of my first love, the stage. Plus, you know, all of my relationships were fucked up and I was sick of feeling like I couldn’t face sunlight. I realized that if I didn’t get help, every single one of my goals and dreams in life – to have a successful career, to be a writer, to participate in theater, to be a wife, to be a mom – all of those would be compromised. I didn’t want myself to have any of those things until I got better. That’s why I walked into that therapist’s office that day. And that’s why I’m still going.

The first few weeks were terribly difficult (I had anxiety just from going!). We’ve covered so many topics from my life, and I’ve realized that the core of my anxiety and depression stems from this unbearable need to be the best at everything, and a misunderstood nature in my teens that led to a lot of self-flagellating and fear about my body, and of other people. Therapist has helped me see how I can let go of that a bit, and start to trust myself, and to stand up for myself. Don’t get me wrong, that shit is terrifying. But it’s necessary to the process of growing and healing. Without her, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the last few months of career flux. And sure, there are weeks where I’m doing great and I’m not sure if I need to go. But there are other weeks where I have to.

It’s been a full year since I’ve started therapy. I’m doing more now in my life than I’ve ever thought possible. I’m still not sure where my career will lead me, but I feel like I’m doing fulfilling work. I know that I want to help students, and I’m working to get a job that will allow me to do that in a greater capacity. I’m working out in ways that fulfill me, including twice-weekly spin classes with my best friend. I walk with confidence. I genuinely like myself, which has fundamentally changed my relationships and the way I behave in them. And two weeks ago, I sat in a crowded theater with Boyfriend and three of our dear friends, in the middle of the aisle, and watched Pitch Perfect 2, and I didn’t feel the urge to run out once.

I’ve come a long way since that scarred, scared girl in that therapist’s office last year. I’ve got a bit more to go. But taking that first step is the most important.

This was one of the hardest essays I’ve ever had to write, because I know too many people who are suffering in silence, whose lives are invaluably precious to me, and I want to badly to hold them tightly and tell them that they are loved. But they can’t hear it. Because depression is a horrible lying asshole and it takes you deep into the mountains with it, leaving those you love in its wake.

This life is hard. This life is painful and traumatic and devastating and fucked up and everyone is hurting. But dammit, you only get one life. I’ve lost too many friends to suicide. If I save one person, it’s enough. And if you feel like nobody in your life loves you, I love you and I know you are worth it.

If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, an internalization of work stress, or you just need someone to talk to, please get hold of local therapists in your area. And let me repeat this for the cheap seats – Asking for help means you are strong beyond imagining. It does not mean that you’re broken. It does not mean that you are weak. It could save your relationships, save your career, and even save your life.

I wasted a long chunk of my life not loving myself. Spare yourself the pain and devastation of self-hate. You deserve every piece of love that you have in your life, and you deserve to be free of what plagues you. You deserve to smile with your whole face.

You can’t love anyone until you’re prepared to love yourself first. All of the dark, and all of the light.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

ally

P.S. If your depression is going further and you are experiencing suicide ideation, the national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

P.P.S. One of the many reasons why my anxiety is tamped down is because I’m on beta blockers for an entirely unrelated heart condition. However, the beta blockers literally ‘block’ adrenaline, therefore my anxiety is a thousand times better than previously thought. Had I not been put on beta blockers, I’d probably be on anti-anxiety medication anyway.

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4 thoughts on “Mental Health Awareness Month: Darkness and Light.

  1. Your post was excellent, and you are not alone in what you are dealing with. I was diagnosed with GAD, and it has been a difficult road. I have started writing about my experiences on a blog, of which the link is included. I hope, through writing and possibly speaking on the subject, that people will get the help they need.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and keep fighting. 😃

    Like

  2. I have suffered depression for years. The other day facebook recommended your blog. I was blown away on how you could put into words what I could not. Mental Illness is so little understood. We do our best put on a happy face and hope for the best. I was in a deep dark place. I have tried many medications and therapies. I am finally in stable place.
    Thank you for putting to words the things I have thought and felt. You gave it clarity.

    Like

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