A Never Ending Dance With Depression
An 8123 Community blog by Corinne Liell.
Have you ever woke up and found yourself in a deep narrow ditch, unsure if it’s the humidity of the dirt enclosing you or the sweat from being in such a compact space that makes it so hard to breathe? As you peer out, the light seems so far away and seems to be getting more and more distant every time you eventually fall asleep and decide when you actually want to open your eyes for the day that you dread so drastically.
You realize this confined and grimy pit you’re in is just you wrapped up in your blankets. As you poke half of your face out from under the covers and the bright grey light beams through your window and hits you in the eye you’ve exposed. You quickly yank your heavy comforter back over your head with one hand and groan and whimper into your pillow because it’s settled in, you’re alive for another day. With your other hand you reach around your bed for your phone, that you most likely forgot to plug in the before your body finally gave in to passing out to check the time, or maybe even for messages from at least one person who constantly checks on you - whether they really know what’s going on or they’re just curious about your day because they love you.
Depression has been known to be the “common cold” of the mental health world, which means most likely you, the reader, or someone you know and love has experienced it at least once in this lifetime. So, it’s safe to say most people have dealt with it in one way or another.
As for myself, I’ve dealt with depression and and anxiety since I was nine years old. I remember when I was a kid I was coming to terms with a lot of hardships in my life. I was understanding my chronic illness and the impact it had on my lifespan, and my father had just left our family. It was unbearable to deal with. Every single day I had these questions popping up in my head: “What is wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I be normal?”, “Did he leave because he doesn’t love me?”. It was a constant torture burning through my skull that had me running into my mom’s room every night when I knew she’d be asleep so she wouldn’t be upset that I wanted to sleep in her bed. My light pink room decorated with Green Day posters and American Girl dolls collecting dust in one corner was a prison. It wasn’t the attic creaking above me or the creepy silhouettes that the night light projected from objects scattered around my room that made me flee from my bedroom, it was the monsters that crawled from out of my ears and logged themselves into the creaves and corners of the room.
Eventually, I grew out of it. High school came around and I was always angry. I would get in trouble for punching lockers or being smart with a teacher. I had no regard for my words towards others. But, I had better friends than I did in grammar and middle school so friendship wasn’t the problem. My high school was a private “preparatory” school, which meant they “prepared” us for college, and I quote prepared because college was the complete opposite of what they had taught us.
My senior year is when it followed me home from school one day. I’m not really sure how I caught it, maybe I didn’t zip my backpack up all the way or it slithered through the holes in the bottom of my uniform shoes, somehow and some way it found its way back to me.
This time I embraced it.
Depression was my lover and that’s not me romanticizing it. I was genuinely in love with these intensely sad feelings. It’s not okay to romanticize or make it edgy and seem like you have depression. I wasn’t online boasting about it, I was festering in my own delusions because I was triggered by so many scenarios happening in my life; I really had no defense left.
It was January of 2011 and my ex-boyfriend/friend had just taken his life. I had to figure out where I was going to college in September. I cried everyday and I missed him so much. We dated, but it wasn’t anything that could ever break our friendship. As the loss of him plagued me I kept getting bad news. College rejection letters.
I was declined from all the schools I really wanted to go to and was only accepted to our local college and a community college. Being in this preparatory school, I was trained that I was a failure for not meeting my school’s standards of colleges admission acceptances. Even my dean told me I would get nowhere in life and be a nobody.
Suddenly, the idea of being with my friend seemed like the most comforting option. Have you ever had the flu? Maybe not...but a symptom is aching bones and I felt that every single day. My bones had felt shooting pains all the time, no matter what I was doing. I’d have sharp pains in my chest that didn’t have anything to do with the way my lungs were functioning. Sometimes it even felt like my organs were trying to claw out of my gut area because they hurt that bad. They were just shedding, unlatching from the correct placements, and splitting a part inside because there was some poisonous presence in my body that they needed to get away from.
In May, things changed. My friends knew something was up. I wouldn’t speak at lunch. I’d write about death in my creative writing classes. Hamlet was my favorite play (still love it, but not the way I did then). And I would even hurt myself in different ways. I was lucky, I was very friendly with everyone, but I had three really close friends. One of them reached out and it made me feel less alone.
The thing I’ve always struggled with in depression is how lonely I feel. It’s like nobody has ever gotten me or understood me, but have I ever really understood myself?
It’s still extremely hard. I went to community college and raised my grades. I applied to all the colleges that rejected me and they accepted me in my second year of community college. I decided to not go to any of them, I just wanted to prove that I could do it and I did.
Recently, I had realized I had a lot of different people I had latched onto to make myself feel better. When I was a kid I had my mom to make me feel better. In high school, I had my friends and our obsession with the New York Rangers. Going to games with them made me feel so alive, I had so much bliss spending time with my friends and giggling over inside jokes with them. I had music, I had My Chemical Romance and I had The Maine. Most recent, I had a boyfriend and he was my lifeline. It was like one obsession to distract myself over the other. (Distractions are okay and a part of recovery, but they are not the cure and are there to help sometimes, not all of the time. When they become the purpose to your life it isn’t healthy.)
It was my ex-boyfriend who knocked it in to me that it wasn’t the change of life or people leaving that destroyed me. It was my own self.
I never could be my own safe haven.
Those people and those distractions were just my surroundings and not my core. So, in September of 2017, I felt the sickness again and it was coming in stronger than ever before. This time I didn’t have distractions. I’m twenty-four years old, my friends and I have our own lives. Music and writing only helped to a degree. I knew that once I couldn’t pick up a pen or draft in the notes of my iPhone I was completely enveloped in the belly of this Kraken. It was the constant thoughts of “Why am I not good enough for anyone or anything?”, most of all, “Why am I not good enough for myself?!”
There were no more glimpses of lights from the window, I always faced away from the windows in my room. There were only delusions of ‘Me vs. The World’. December crept up and I was ready to leave because nothing really mattered anymore. I didn’t matter to myself, but then something made me pick up my phone and get some help.
I had been to doctors for mental illness before, but I had never been in the hospital. This time I enrolled in a partial hospitalization program and it was the best decision I ever made in my life. I found out I was misdiagnosed with depression and anxiety when I really suffer from manic depression, aka Bipolar disorder. Which basically means I have extremities of highs and lows. I get super uppity and I think I can be the next rockstar tomorrow when I don’t even know how to play an instrument. I speed because I’m excited and I think I’m invincible. I’m easily set off by small comments or criticisms that aren’t meant to be harmful. When I’m low, I won’t leave my bed. I barely check my phone. I have crying spells for no reason. It is the darkest and coldest day in my personal space even though the forecast could be 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky.
I learned a lot about how to help myself and how to find some love for myself. It’s pretty exhausting mentally to work at this, but it’s so worth it and I want to share some tips on how I cognitively helped myself overcome the circumstances of mental illness.
A big part of getting through this is forgiveness. You don’t necessarily have to forgive everyone who has hurt you, but you have to forgive yourself. Some of us may not even have reasons for having this illness because it’s genetic! It’s not our fault and the smallest situations can trigger the chemicals in our brain to short circuit and release or not release the wrong chemicals.
Radical acceptance- when you accept reality. We must accept what we have done and what others have done to us to move on. Radical acceptance is probably one of the hardest tools I have ever had to use in my life, but once I linked it to circumstances in my life it has been a lot easier for me to keep on fighting. We don’t have to forgive anyone, but we do have to accept that the past has happened the way it has and move on from it or else it will burden us forever. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s worth practicing. It’s used in DBT classes and is part of the Distress Tolerance section. DBT is dialectical behavior therapy and is used by many clinics and professionals as a therapeutic way to deal with mental illness. Medicine helps, but it doesn’t cure. We do have to work really hard to have our minds focus the way they should.
Another skill, which is part of the Distress Tolerance module, is PLEASE.
-Treat Physical Illness: take care of your body. When you are sick get checked out. Our mind and body are connected and when one is sick the other is definitely impacted.
-Eating: Eat the right foods and not only that, eat properly. That means eat three times a day. Don’t starve yourself or just fit in a meal because you are too busy. Make time to sit and eat meals.
-Altering Drugs: Alcohol is a depressant as is marijuana, (which is legal in some states.) That means they’re going to affect your mood. Any kind of drug, illegal or legal, is going to alter the chemicals in your brains. You definitely don’t have to stop drinking, but it is best to avoid if you notice you are prone to depressive states easily.
-Sleep: When we are depressed we most likely have an unhealthy sleeping schedule. Sleep is really important and can help your brain heal and function right when you have a normal pattern.
-Exercise: Exercising is a natural antidepressant. It releases chemicals that make us happy. It’s definitely hard to roll out of bed and put some sneakers on to do some workouts, but it can help.
These are just examples of two tools I’ve used to try to at least balance dealing with depression. The most important thing I have ever learned from working with DBT skills is SELF CARE! So, if you’re depressed you most likely don’t like yourself all too much. But, once you start treating yourself nicer, you’ll become more sympathetic to yourself.
I was taught to give myself at least one commitment a day and one self-care treat a day. A commitment is something you need to do. Often we procrastinate when we are depressed, so one thing a day is helpful on getting back on the right track. We do something we have to do. Examples: make important phone calls, pay a bill, do homework, etc. Self-care is different. We treat ourselves to something we like to do. Listen to music for a little bit, take a nice bath, get our hair done, play video games, anything that makes us happy. You name it. It’s important to do something for yourself at least 15 minutes a day. And, if you end up being committed to just breathing for one day, that’s fine, just don’t make it a habit. It’s good to start out small so you don’t overwhelm yourself.
It takes a lot of effort and hard work into taking care of yourself. When you do you realize a lot. You find more self-worth and that could terminate friendships and relationships. You have to be patient with your progress and self. Take your medicine, surround yourself with positive people, and practice on what you consider self-care and working on getting better.
There are a lot of ways I’ve done things to deal with what I go through every single day. Music has been super helpful. Traveling to shows, whether it be alone or with a friend or two to see The Maine or Knuckle Puck, or any band that relates. I’ve sat over and over reading lyrics and taking a drive just to have quality time to myself. Just do something I like, maybe I can’t be a rockstar in reality, but I can in my 2016 Jeep Patriot. I know what friends to tell my feelings to and I know who I can rely on. Lyrics and poetry are etched into my skin for the rest of my life. As much as they can be a distraction I couldn’t live without them. I really don’t think I’d be alive without music. When I’m in a crowd or just watching a show from the back, it’s sublime. It’s like a hidden wonder of the world. The lights, the vibrations, it’s just an overwhelming feeling of happiness. While it doesn’t last forever it still happens.
I’ve always gone to shows alone or with people, for me it doesn’t matter. It’s good to do both. It’s good to do things that make you feel alive. Whether I relate to the lyrics or I just feel happy when I listen to a song. It’s important and scientifically proven to help us mentally.
As much as it is important to take care of yourself it is important to find something you relate to. To do things you used to love to do or even find new things you may love. When you find communities and a place to belong it definitely helps. It’s okay to even be alone in topics you enjoy. It’s good to have a relationship with yourself. It’s always about having a relationship with ourselves and what we like. When you don’t care who you are and love who you are, you are free. The right people will attract to you. So it doesn’t matter who you have, you always have yourself.
It’s important to find what is important to you, even small pleasures. Anything that makes you feel some sort of alive is important to hold on into till you can really feel alive yourself. Not other people because that’s not fair to them or ourselves, but to ideas, concepts, music, writing, dancing...anything that keeps you somewhat on this wild planet.
There are so many factors that go into dealing with depression.
It is a battle till the end of your life. A lot of the time depression can come back. I’ve met people who were at the peak of their lives and it just comes out from left field. Depression doesn’t discriminate.
It’s a hard dance to learn, but once you dance with depression it doesn’t ever want to stop. That’s why we get so run down and tired. It’s hard to keep up with depression, he’ll wear you out hard and fast.
Here is a list of DBT skills that you can do more research on. Not all of them are for everybody, but you can find ones that may help you. https://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/dbt_skills_list.html
I hope you find some kind of solace in knowing you are not alone. It does get better and it does get bad again, but you have to remember it will ALWAYS get better. Right now, I have never been so excited to live my life. Everything changes, it’s a blessing and a curse.