Sometimes it’s anger. Sometimes it’s frustration. Sometimes it’s sadness. Most days it’s a lack of motivation to do anything at all. Getting out of bed seems like much too opposing a task to even consider conquering it. My bed is more inviting, and it’s already there without expectation. I can stay there and nobody will notice. Surely I can come up with some clever justification for why I can’t come in to work or why I have to miss that lunch meeting. After all, I have another meeting. With Netflix. And Netflix demands nothing of me.
This is generally just the start. After I shrug off my responsibilities for the day, that’s when it really hits me: the thoughts, the introspection, and the weight of everything bearing down on me. It descends on me and brings with it an overall lack of desire to face any of it.
This past Sunday I woke up at 7:30 in the morning and could not fathom getting out of bed. My body was sore and my throat hurt, but mostly I was just exhausted: spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally. On every front it seemed I was running on fumes. So I called my boss and let him know I wouldn’t be coming in. I then proceeded to stay in bed and watch movies in an attempt to gain some semblance of the energy I needed to get up. This is what a bad day looks like for me. They are generally few and far between, but when they come, it’s like getting hit by a bus.
In case you haven’t caught on yet, I am talking about my personal struggle with depression. I’ve realized over the last few years that it has always been there, affecting almost every facet of my life. It wasn’t until I was about 24 or 25 that it had a name. Until that point it just seemed like there was something different about me: I was on a rollercoaster when it came to my emotions. I had the ability to feel everything at once and then nothing at all in the span of a few days. I was incredibly self-deprecating, which I hid behind the mask of humility. People would tell me these great things that they saw in me, but I was completely unable to see them until recently. All I saw were the worst things about myself, and I was always waiting for everyone else to catch on. Eventually they would see it: this inability to measure up to their expectations, this darkness that stayed just below the surface. The anger issues. The lust. They would see through the facade and everything would come crumbling down.
These are lies depression tells you:
You aren’t good enough. You’ll never be good enough.
You are only as good as what you can produce for people. Once your usefulness runs out, so will they.
Don’t get up. There is no reason to.
For a long time I thought I was just insecure. But even after I started to see all the positive things about myself, I still had days where I had no desire to do anything productive. Thankfully my depression has started to feel less like a personal weakness and more like what it actually is: a form of mental illness.
Mental illness often goes beyond the person just bearing it. It is not something that can be wished away or put aside with “good vibes” and a strong will. It can’t be cured by trying harder to be happy or focusing on positive things. It’s overwhelming. At time, it seems unconquerable.
Over the last two years I’ve learned how to manage the struggle. I have learned both my weaknesses and what helps me recover. Below are a few of the things that have worked for me.
Find an anchor
Find something solid, something concrete that you can go back to when the struggle is especially hard. This may be your family, a friend, a hobby, or a song. For me, it’s my faith; that is my anchor in the storm. No matter how I get tossed around, I can always come back to that and know it is a True North.
Find something that will help you see in the midst of a struggle that what you are feeling is temporary. Find something that will remind you that it will get better.
Embrace your community
One of my biggest weaknesses is not asking for help when I need it. I hate feeling like I am imposing or like I am putting undue weight on other people. Over the last few years I have learned the importance of community – not only in the bad times but in the good times as well. The old adage goes that no man is an island. We are not built to be alone.
Know your rhythms
Sifting through my feelings and emotions is crucial. I’ve learned to pinpoint what things bring me energy and what things wear on me. I am an ambivert by nature. I need a good balance of time alone and time with people. Too much time out with my community and I feel emotionally, mentally, and physically drained, but too much time alone and I feel isolated and insignificant. For every two or three days I go hang out with people, I need at least one night where I just sit at Starbucks and read by myself or go sit by the water.
Ask yourself: “What makes you more vulnerable and what makes you more resilient?”
Talk to someone
Sometimes you just need someone to talk to so the thoughts can get out in the light. It is amazing how just verbalizing something can bring so much clarity and understanding to it. Many times, once I have said something out loud, it opens the door to healing and restoration. If you can, find someone you trust or go see a counselor and let them know what your struggles look like. Sometimes we just need someone to say, “I have been there. Let’s talk about it.”
I know there is someone out there struggling because, if I’m being honest, I struggle more than I’d like to admit. But if you’re reading this, you should know: I’ve been there too.