I’m coming off a low. I’ve accepted by now, at age 31, that they will come. I will, by reason or none, be consumed once again by that nagging depression I’ve lived with, some would say, for my entire life. Because it is life. It is my life. It is who, and how, I am.
And I know what some of you may be thinking: You don’t have to accept it. You don’t have to be depressed. And maybe that’s your philosophy; maybe that’s worked for you or those you know. But I know myself, and I know how I work.
And this past weekend, the thoughts filled me again: Nobody cares. You’re a failure. This six-year-long heartbreak will kill you eventually, so what’s the point?
And so on.
Because sometimes still, the doubts and fears rattle my bones, causing tears to seep out and the life to drain from my soul like the blood from my veins. But something is different now. I am different now. And that’s how I know, even as the life drains from my soul, that I will be okay. Soon enough, I will feel okay again. Better yet, I will feel happy.
And more than the detrimental thoughts, that’s what I hold on to.
Recently I opened a file on my computer saved as “notes from my journals.” Regardless of the fact that I was once chastised in a courtroom for documenting my own journals electronically, the words are mine, and no one can take them from me. And the ones that stuck out to me now were written Monday October 3, 2016 at 2:25 a.m.
“‘I’m tired in every way a person can be tired,’ I told her. But I’m waking up, I think.”
The her had been a friend of mine, checking in on me—a rarity that we should all strive to do more often. At the time, I had slept no more than a few hours a night for weeks. I was always in tears or on the verge of them. I was, for lack of better words, broken beyond belief.
That was nearly four years ago.
Since then, my mental health has ridden a roller coaster of epic proportions. To ease the inevitable whiplash, I now take both anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants. And they help. They keep me above the surface. But more than that, I have done something—a concept that infuriated me a decade ago—I have made the decision to be happy.
If you are annoyed by this notion, then you’re just like me. So there is hope for you yet. What do they know? I thought. I am not choosing this misery. Fuck them! Is that what you’re thinking now? Because maybe they don’t know; maybe they don’t know what it’s truly like to live with clinical depression. But I do.
In the past two years I have: had a nervous breakdown, endured a trauma I care not to mention, had my heart shattered by the woman I love—multiple times, experienced the death of my father and the fear from my mom’s cancer, lost friends, woken up in a hospital after a suicide attempt, had that suicide attempt used against me legally, and stayed in a mental hospital—twice. And those are just a few of the instances that could have caused situational depression. But my depression runs deeper than that. In the past two years, I have also been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Point being, I understand the depths—and consequences—of poor mental health. And I understand how difficult it is to claw your way to new heights. But it is possible. It has to be.
But to be happy, I’m not sure when I made that decision—the one I always cried bullshit on. But I had hurt people; however unintentional it was, I hurt the people I love more than anything. And finally I knew I needed to change. So I did. I’m still a work in progress, but of course I am; I’m still alive, aren’t I?
For years, I apologized to a woman profusely. Over and over and over. She could never accept it though, and she had very good reason. I was apologizing with words instead of actions. I would apologize for doing something, and then turn around and do it again. It eventually exploded in both of our faces, resulting in that trauma I care not to mention. It’s taken a long time for me to forgive myself, but I do. If she can’t offer it to me, then I have to give it to myself. Forgiveness is like a gateway drug; once received, it can lead to a world that was always just out of your reach. And I want to live in that world.
As mentioned, I felt depressed over the weekend. I cried and cried and cried. And then I read my old words: I’m tired in every way a person can be tired. Both despair and hope spread through my soul. Because my God, I remember that feeling; I remember the ache and the longing and the pain and the pure exhaustion—physical, mental, and emotional. But also, I’m not in that place anymore. Even as I fall back into the pits of depression, I am not there. I have reached new heights, and what’s to stop me from climbing even higher? I’ll tell you what—or who. Me.
What works for me won’t work for everybody, and what works for me doesn’t work every day. But here are some practices that help me; some things I choose to do in the pursuit of happiness:
Therapy. Once a week, I speak with a wonderful man who grew up running through Joni Mitchell’s yard to reach a swing in Laurel Canyon. He didn’t know who she was then, and she allowed the children from the school up the road to use her property as a means of travel. Point A to Point B. It’s important to find a therapist who not only understands the complexities of mental health, but one who you can comfortably engage with. I got lucky.
Medication. There is no shame in medicating for your mental health, just as there is no shame in taking Tylenol for a headache. Find what works for you, if needed.
Exercise. Physical health is directly related to mental health, so get moving. It doesn’t have to be vigorous, but it should be consistent. Run. Walk. Hike. Practice yoga. I love my skateboard, and maybe that’s not for everyone, but you can find something that’s for you. I also enjoy dancing and jumping on my mini trampoline, and I do this often while cooking a meal. If you’re capable, there’s always time to move your body.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is a technique that works to rewire your thought process. In short, it helps to flip your perspective and focus on the positive. I use an app called Bloom.
Meditation. It’s not about clearing your mind; it’s about gaining control of your thoughts. Acknowledge them and let them pass. Ten minutes a day should help. Use a guided technique, or play calming music through headphones. It’s your choice. Count your breaths, or use a mala and count the beads, all 108 of them. Headspace is a great app for meditation, among other things.
Affirmations. Fight those negative thoughts by incorporating positive ones into your daily routine. Write them, think them, listen to them, speak them. There’s no need to be overly specific. Search for them online, or create your own. Recently I’ve been reminding myself of this: I am safe. I am whole. I am grounded. I also listen to PowerThoughts Meditation Club on Apple Music every day. The negative thoughts will still creep in, but in my experience, they won’t last nearly as long.
Solfeggio Frequencies. Don’t be intimidated; it’s only music, and I listen both throughout the day, and as I fall asleep at night. Maybe this isn’t for you, but it works for me because of my spiritual beliefs. Does it help in the long run? Maybe. But for certain, what it does do, is help me when I’m in a bind. It soothes me and I swear by it. I use PowerThoughts Meditation Club for this too, but you can find it on youtube as well.
Set boundaries, and accept those of others. This has been big for me. Accepting boundaries hasn’t exactly been my strong suit. Remember that forgiveness another failed to offer? A year passed or not, I was wrong to seek it in the first place. But I’m learning, and I recommend you do the same.
Forgiveness. This takes time, and it will waver. But to forgive those who’ve hurt you is an important step in releasing whatever pain you’re holding on to, even if they don’t apologize. And even more important, find it in you to forgive yourself. Think you have no reason to? Think again. Because you probably do.
Get to know yourself. Understanding who you are as a person is something I cannot stress enough. It is the path to forgiveness, which as I mentioned is a gateway. Spending time alone, and acknowledging your past are important here. Educating yourself in psychology helps too. But on simpler terms—what do you truly enjoy? What don’t you? What is your process—for anything and everything?
Acceptance. Of your past. Of the unknown. Of others. Of yourself. You don’t have to accept everything as forever, but accept that it exists. If it needs to be changed, then find a way to do so. Which brings me to this: accept the nature of impermanence.
Self-help books (or blog posts). I read “The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency” by Melody Beattie. As the title indicates, it’s full of helpful advice for each day of the year. It averages to about a page of reading a day. Memoirs are great tools too. I cannot recommend “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle enough. So much so, I sent a copy to both my mom and cousin. For websites, I love wordsofwomen.com curated by Lauren Martin.
Don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes doing your best means you took a shower today. It means you went outside or cooked yourself a proper meal. Place your expectations at a reasonable level. Set small goals for yourself daily. You can increase their weight over time. Maybe today it means you got out of bed, and then another it means you finished that college application or that poem you’ve been working on. People without clinical depression may not understand this, and it’s not your job to make them.
Accept and acknowledge your feelings. I feel depressed for a day or two now, rather than weeks or months at a time—because I allow myself to feel what I feel, and then I move on. I let the bad feelings go. Emotions are complex; they are human nature. It is okay to feel sad sometimes, but please know that you don’t have to feel that way forever. Emotions are an ocean; the tides aren’t always the same.
Write. Writing has saved my life, but I’m not here to tell you to become an author. What I recommend is called “stream of consciousness writing.” It’s a practice I learned from CBT and is a way to allow your feelings to escape your psyche. Write down your thoughts and it may just help you understand why you’re having those feelings. Basically it’s an intensive form of journaling, which I also recommend.
Be yourself. Be less concerned about what others think of you, and more concerned about what you think of yourself. This relates to getting to know yourself.
Express gratitude. I’m a big believer in the law of attraction. Acknowledging what you have to be grateful for may not only bring you more of it, but it may just rewire your brain into focusing on what you have, rather than what you don’t.
Be present. The past may linger through pain and consequence. But remember that your present will someday be your past too. How would you like to remember it? And remember this too: tomorrow is not guaranteed. This moment is all we truly have. Live now.
Remember you are human, and so are they. You will make mistakes. You will have unpleasant thoughts. You are still learning and growing. We all are. We’re all in this mad world together.
And lastly: Find something to believe in. Do what brings you joy. Stay positive. And LOVE YOURSELF, LOVE YOURSELF, LOVE YOURSELF.
Four years ago, I thought I was waking up, and maybe I was; maybe it’s just a long process. But four years ago, I did little to combat my depression or anxiety. Since then, I have faced them head-on. And with doing so, I have gotten to know myself. And through that, I have learned to accept myself; embrace myself; and truly, deeply love myself.
By saying that I have chosen happiness does not mean that I am always happy, and it does not mean that I don’t have occasional bouts of depression. But I will say this: I feel a hell of a lot better than I did before. I am proud of how far I have come, and you should be proud of yourself too.
Be kind to yourself. It makes a world of difference.