A few weeks ago, it was a beautiful spring day when I was walking home, and suddenly anxiety started to creep its way into my mind, turning itself to panicked negative thoughts. What was I doing with my life? Why did I feel so stuck? I was taking action to move myself forward, but would it matter? Would I ever make enough progress to get where I’ve dreamed of? Was my creativity ever going to be pursued in the way I wanted? Was I caving into what society wanted me to be? Would I ever be good enough? What was I doing wrong? All of which spiraled downhill to bring out my battle to make it home without wanting to sit down and have what I have coined the “depressed nap”.
The first time this happened, I didn’t know anything was wrong. I was in high school and had dislocated my shoulder in a lacrosse game. Feeling like my dreams of playing in college were crushed. I kept pushing through but felt written off by everyone. I asked for help with recruiting but the person I thought was supposed to help me didn’t. My parents were concerned that I was sleeping all the time.
In grade school, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I was embarrassed by the large brace I had to wear all the time so my logical thought at that time was to not talk to not draw attention to myself, so no one would find out. I had spent so much time for years going to great lengths to hide it. When people made comments, I never said anything. I could take it off for practice though.
At this point in high school I didn’t connect that the way I handled it made me feel invisible, nor that I could muster up the courage to stand up for myself and speak up. I was unconfident and believed (what was most likely unintentional) the perception other people were giving me of myself.
Looking back, I see how depressed I was and that I let the circumstances change my mood and everything that comes with depression. Despite how I felt, the stubborn part of me quietly kept working toward what I wanted and got it. So, I didn’t chalk it up to actually being an issue.
As I told my parents and myself, I was fine.
For a few years it wasn’t an issue. I was looking forward to graduating from college and starting my professional life. Reaching all the dreams I had for myself as I sat in class learning and growing the creative skills I was passionate about.
But then the economy tanked and everything I thought for my life post-graduation seemed far off. I was ignored, disrespected for an opportunity in a field I wanted by someone I had helped immensely. I had gained weight and felt terrible about myself. I began questioning myself again. What did I do wrong? Was I not enough? I was still quiet, and everyone seemed to have an opinion about it. How do I get over that?
I became depressed again. I couldn’t stand to go to work and go home to my parents and feel worse. I knew I needed to do something, but one person can’t really change the economy. I completed a run with a friend that previous spring. I wasn’t very good but I finished and I liked it. Rather than sleep all the time and just solely be depressed, I started to go to a running path every night after work, no matter what the weather. I started with walking and slowly began to run. My parents probably weren’t fans of the money on gas, but it was the only thing that kept the thoughts out of my mind.
The terrible thoughts that I would never bring myself to verbalize to anyone but recognized weren’t normal, the ones that woke you up to recognizing this wasn’t normal. The lows that made me feel anxious and like I had no control. It was the one time of day I felt like I was moving forward and making progress. I lost a lot of weight that I had gained, and my outlook changed to start viewing the positives.
So, I kept running. I signed up for a marathon and despite being told I couldn’t do it, I did it. I proved myself wrong and found the strength I needed at the time. I believed in myself again.
Eventually, I landed where I wanted; but after this period of time, I recognized that this was something that I’d always need to be aware of. Especially since I knew I’d never seek help from a professional (because I’m stubborn).
I was fine again for a few years. But then, as it goes, once again life went out of control, things happened professionally, and it crept back. A t the same time, personally things were out of my control as well. This time it was different though. In the beginning it was the same. I recognized that the lack of control in some areas was starting to bring those feels back. I was panicking, the anxiety came back, the questions and thoughts - I felt trapped. At the same time, I saw people I loved experience some of the worst pain a person can ever feel. Why was this happening to them? How did this happen?
At this point, my parents thought I should go talk to someone and get help. I still didn’t. I recognized this time that the things I had no control over, where controlling me. Despite how much I wanted certain aspects of my life to change, I knew I couldn’t take any of this for granted because it could be worse. There was so much I should be grateful for, and while I would always have to be aware that my mind could easily slip into these down states, I was aware of what triggered it and how it affected me. I could recognize it when it started, I could for the most part control it.
While I still have yet to ever talk to anyone about it, not even really with my parents; I’ve learned a lot, especially over the last five years. I still have days that I fall into having those feelings, but rather than weeks, it changed to days, and days have turned in hours. Like the day I was walking home. It was beautiful out, but my mind started going and I snapped out when I thought something awful.
Rather than spiral down, I focused on changing my mindset. I started to think about everything I’m grateful for and acknowledged that this feeling is temporary.
The positive is that I stopped letting myself feel like I’m defined by other people. Since I started running it changed everything for me. I feel myself moving forward, I see results from my hard work, I’ve found a consistent well of gratitude, I changed the way I see myself. Most importantly, it made me realize I can do anything I set my mind to despite what anyone says and what I feed my mind is what I will believe. It still is a struggle every day to believe in myself and see who I really am. To believe the dreams that I have I am worthy of. That the person I deep down think I am, I can actually be. But it is a process that lasts a lifetime.
What I’ve come to understand is that this is something I’ll always have to deal with. I’m not crazy for having had these thoughts, and I’m not crazy for wanting more for myself either. Knowing I’ve chosen to handle it this way, makes me aware every day that I have to keep myself at peace and be happy with where I am at this moment, but it is up to me to move myself. I will always have to be mindful of how I am feeling and not let myself get wrapped up in what others are saying, doing or what’s happening. Remind myself when these moments hit, I can no longer let them tear me down and prevent me from moving forward. I can’t let them define me or let myself belittle myself because of them. Some days will be harder than others for sure but acknowledging this to anyone in this post acknowledges the changes I still strive to make to be the best version of myself.
I hope anyone reading this can understand is that mental health and illness aren’t necessarily easy for anyone to talk about. It’s easy to criticize other people, but I hope more people will try to put themselves in someone else’s shoes for a moment.
When someone’s quality of life is being affected because of mental illnesses - they’re not crazy, they’re not wrong, they’re not unmotivated; they are just fighting a deeper battle with themselves that we may be able to truly help them with. It is a deeply personal journey and in more of a personal opinion, people need to not rush to judge and assume.
We never really know what someone else is going through, no matter how close we are to them. The world needs more kindness and empathy. While my voice may not be the loudest, I’ll continue to do what I can to help the people around me and someday when I reach my dreams, I hope to leave a greater good for everyone that needs it.