What a Difference a Year Can Make
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It’s simple enough that there aren’t high expectations on me. In my family (since everyone is relatively local), the festivities only last one day, so I get four days to just relax and do what I want. However, it now stands as a symbol of self-care, all because of my journey last year.
Last fall was hard for me. I felt like life was spinning out of control. The ups and downs were treacherous and I couldn’t keep up with my emotions. I felt like an absolute burden to my friends and family, as they couldn’t keep up with my mood swings and the extremes I would feel right after another. Other days, I was pure apathy. I just slept every second I could because I felt absolutely nothing. No motivation. No drive. No joy. Just tired. I couldn’t even enjoy my simple pleasures, like reading a book or binge watching Netflix, because I couldn’t focus on what was in front of me. I was too busy thinking about and doing absolutely nothing. It sounds impossible, but if you’ve ever felt this way, you know what I’m talking about.
One night in early November, I was lying in bed with Josh asleep beside me (This is a strange occurrence, people. He is usually up two or three hours past my bedtime). I cracked open a copy of Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson (buy it). I had owned it for about a year, but I’m a firm believer that there is a perfect time for every book, and I just hadn’t felt the spirit move yet.
As I read the opening pages, tears rolled down my cheeks. While Jenny “spoke” about mental health, I felt like she was talking directly to me. I felt like someone was finally seeing me. This experience has done nothing but cement my belief that books come to you when you need them, as I credit this book with awakening something amidst all of the apathy. Later that week, I sat at lunch with my sister and told her that I thought I was depressed. She looked at me with the most compassion I’ve ever seen in her eyes, and said “I really think you should see someone.”
Hearing someone whose opinion I cared about so much was confirmation. I knew I needed to see someone, and I had known for a long time, but I wanted to hear it from someone who knew me incredibly well. And if anyone knows me (at my best and worst) it is my sister. So I went through my school district to find our Employee Assistance Program, which offers free counseling sessions for employees. I scheduled an appointment. Easier said than done. First of all, I had to leave work in order to make it to an appointment in the next two weeks. Otherwise I would be waiting almost a month to get in, which I knew would mean I would lose all motivation again. This is hard, folks. Our mental health services are not always readily available to people who need them, and I even come from a place of privilege. I made it work, and a friend covered my last period of the day, and I could leave school early.
Oh wow, I hated it. I absolutely hate talking to people I barely know, especially about intimate issues like my emotions and insecurities. I have such a hard time not hedging my issues and attempting to make them sound not so bad after all. This is particularly hard for me if I don’t know the person well, or if there’s not a sense of trust and rapport already built into the relationship. I knew I needed to talk to this lady, and she was incredibly kind and nice. But I played everything down. We talked for a while, and eventually, she had me complete a Depression Inventory (the PHQ-9 Patient Depression Questionnaire), which was the first moment I was authentic. I scored moderately to severe depression, and she recommended taking it to my doctor’s office and talking to my physician about medication, if I was open to it. I’ve kept this piece of paper as a reminder of where I was. It’s easy to remember that a time in life was “bad,” but the specifics are often lost. By looking at my answers and seeing how deeply this affected me, I can truly appreciate the growth that has happened since.
By Thanksgiving, I was taking anti-depressants. I understand that not everyone wants medication, and/or that it doesn’t work for everyone. That is okay. You have to do what works for you. Seeing a counselor doesn’t work for me, because I just lie. I’m working on it, but in the meantime I would ask that you would be understanding of that as well.
Life hasn’t been perfect and easy since I started, but it definitely has felt better. I remember laughing and making weird noises with my siblings over the holidays and thinking “I can’t remember the last time I felt this good.” I’ve definitely had some other ups and downs, but a few more changes to my life have brought substantial peace and joy (in addition to my medication): a solid group of friends who actively care about my well-being, a job that allows me to function in my strengths 90% of the time, an awesome husband who is happier and more supportive since he has taken a job that allows him to function in his strengths 90% of the time, and so much more. The key here is I needed to be motivated to make these changes. I had to care about life, and the care I pursued because of my depression got me here.
Friend, please take care of yourself. I know there is stigma attached to mental health; I know because I succumbed to it for so long. I should have sought help a long time ago. Most people wait ten years before seeking mental health treatment. Don’t be a statistic.
And if you need encouragement to take that first step, reach out to the people you care about. The people who care about you. Heck, reach out to me. I’ll put a fire under your butt. Make 2019 the best year yet by trying to be the best version of yourself. And step one of that is taking care of yourself.