(Disclaimer: I hold no counseling license or degree in psychology. This post is my story with the intent to raise awareness about depression, self-care, and getting help if you need it.)
Over the past two months, my life took a completely different turn and in the process was dumped upside down. I’m still living in the aftermath, still healing, still fighting to get better because I was almost better when I got pushed back down. And over the past two days, I’ve stared at this most-recent picture of myself again and again as it slowly hit me: this is what depression looks like. This is the face I wear before going off with friends, before slipping unnoticed into family reunions, before someone snaps a picture. This is the I’m okay face, but it’s a lie. I wear it to make people feel comfortable around me, to not be too much . To act like I’m doing just fine, but right now–I’m not. In reality, I’m terrified of the future and unmotivated and overwhelmed and lonely and hopeless and anxious about everything all at once. And you know what? It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Unfortunately we live in a society that likes to put on a good face and not do the hard talking because…THEY CAN’T EVEN. But you know what? That’s on them. You and me, we’re the real MVP’s because we’re dealing with our baggage and fighting the battles and being the best we can be. Even if we’re not okay, but getting there.
We were eating peanut butter pie when it suddenly hit and I was left, staring at a wall and wishing I could sink into nothing. They were talking about their lives when suddenly I just didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to go home and bury myself in a book where I could submerse myself in a better story where I was just a few page-turns away from finding they all lived happily ever after. Suddenly I just wanted to be alone.
Loves…that’s not me. If you knew me, you’d know. That’s not who I am.
I got up, slid my chair back, and zombied (Can we please make this an official verb? Because it’s a thing.) into the bathroom, closing myself into one of the stalls. I stayed a few minutes before taking a deep breath, wiping at my tears, and finding my place again at the table.
They ask what’s wrong, press for what’s wrong, but I don’t know what to say. I didn’t want to talk about it–I don’t want to talk about it. After a long pause, I tell them it’s just too much sometimes to hear about their lives when mine is in pieces. It’s suddenly too much again and I leave again, this back and forth between almost okay and not okay at all.
I close myself completely in the stall once more. The stall door held a pinkish hue and was chipped away at, scrawled over, and it seemed to match me, line for line. I pressed my palms against the door, carefully noting via the crack in the door whether or not there was another occupant in the room. Tears slid down my face. How could it have gone so wrong? How is a girl who just wanted to be a journalist, just wanted to be loved, just wanted to write into people’s hearts–have gotten it so wrong? And what do they have that I didn’t? 24-year-old post-grads aren’t supposed to be jealous of their 21-year-old college student sisters simply because at least they’re headed in a direction. 24-year-old post-grads are supposed to at least have a job, at least have a roommate, at least have loved and lost once.
The door opens and she slips in, “Hey, you okay?”
I peek out the door, nod slowly. She gives me a hug and I cry quietly into her shoulder–she knew what happened. “You know it’s funny because we were talking about how sucky our lives are,” she eyes me, “But I know you’d rather have that.”
I nod vigorously. There aren’t words to say. I wipe more tears and tell her I’ll be right out.
What most people miss is that depression doesn’t look like crying all the time. It doesn’t look like moping around. It doesn’t look dramatic. It looks like less, to be honest with you. Less interest in old activities. Less interest in interactions with friends. Less opening up. Less emotion. It looks more like staring at blank walls than crying into them, to be perfectly honest. It looks more like apologizing, saying, “I’m kind of in a funk, sorry guys.” It looks like pushing yourself to show up when in reality you really aren’t there yet.
Here’s the thing. You have permission to to cry it out. You have permission to take time for yourself. You have permission to hurt. Struggling isn’t a dirty word–it’s just a human thing that sometimes takes all our attention, that’s all. When you’re struggling, don’t be ashamed or beat yourself up, just take everything one day at a time. Know yourself, know your triggers, know the problem, know the action steps you’re going to take to get better, and press into the healing process.
A week from today will be my two-year anniversary from graduating with my BA degree in Journalism. In four days, I’m going back to that campus to watch my little sister graduate with her associate’s and, despite my happiness for her, I know that I’m going to be flooded with memories, regret, and reminders of all the places I thought I’d be by now. But you know what? I’m going to take baby steps. I’m going to take care of myself, physically, emotionally, and mentally. If wearing makeup is too much, I won’t do it. If questions about job-hunting from friends and family become too much, I’ll politely decline answering. If tears start to flow, I’ll have a tissue and a piece of chocolate ready. That morning, I’ll eat well, drink my coffee, and try to squeeze in a workout. I’ll water my plants, pet my cat, write out anything I need to say, do whatever I need to do to take care of myself.
It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. And you know what else? You can still show up for important things, even if you have to take the back-burner for yourself. If people ask questions about why you’ve changed, you don’t have to engage. I firmly believe there are times where you’re allowed to simply let yourself be, take steps back, and just worry about breathing.
I didn’t want to end this without talking about self-care, so here are a few action steps for you.
- Talk to a therapist. The good thing about therapy is it’s an objective individual whose sole concern is how you’re doing, what’s really going on emotionally/mentally, and working to find action steps to get better and prevent mental health issues from getting worse. While your friends and family are always there for you, they don’t always know the best way to help you.
- Do what your doctor says. If you’re starting to notice a shift in your mentality, go to your doctor. See what they recommend–then do it. I wish I could get down on eye level with you because this is so, so important and I want you to hear me: Mental health is one of the most underrated health issues, if not the most underrated issue, and it’s easy to believe the lie that you’re weak or not doing enough, but you’re not weak and you are doing enough. You know when you’re in pain and you know when something’s off–listen to yourself and do what your doctor says.
- Take care of your body. Take your vitamins, detox your body, stay active, and eat foods that help you rather than hurt you. That jar of Nutella doesn’t do much past your taste buds, so put. it. down. Take it from someone who knows–binge-eating only makes you feel worse about yourself. There’s tons and tons of natural things to benefit your mental health. Get outside and grab some Vitamin D!
- Talk it out. This one is key because depression aims to isolate you and make you believe you’re alone in this. But the truth is, you’re not. You’re so, so loved and depression is a liar. So if you’re struggling with something and someone hits an emotional trigger, walk away if you need to, but don’t shut down. Tell your people what you need from them. If you’re going through a break-up, it’s okay to sit out the relationship discussions. It’s okay to sit out the girls nights if they’re just too hard. It’s okay if you need to take a step back, but talk it out and don’t leave your people hanging. If you need to take a step back, explain to them what you’re doing and why. And you know what? If they don’t understand or make it into an issue, that’s on them. Find people who love you enough to let you take time to yourself.
- Find the thing. You know the thing–it’s buried down deep, under years of growing up and shoving things aside that you once used to love. It’s the Jessie doll under your bed, if you will. For me, it’s books and singing and climbing trees and imagining wild and beautiful things and laughing loud. For you it might be ballet or soccer or piano or pottery–only you know what it is and only you can bring it back to life. Dedicate 15 minutes every day to doing one thing you love to do. It doesn’t have to be big, love. It just has to sing back an old song you used to know and love.
Lastly, if you know someone who you suspect is struggling, here are a couple action steps for you. Every person needs a support system, especially if they’re struggling, and these are things that should be used in friendships anyway.
- Listen. Don’t interrupt, minimize what they’re struggling with, or try to make it funny. It’s as serious as they’re telling you it is and if they’re willing to talk, be willing to listen.
- Check in on them. Depression is out to isolate and degrade. Don’t let it happen on your watch–send a text, a card, or invite that friend to coffee. The most important thing is to be there. You don’t have to be perfect–you just have to show up and be a friend.
- Encourage them to seek help. Show them that getting professional help and taking care of yourself is healthy, not showing an area of weakness.
- Do your homework. Being educated in mental health and self care is so incredibly important.