Today I woke up feeling like shit so I thought let me write about it now, so that when you feel like shit and you read this, it may help you through a dark day.
I have depression and anxiety, I was diagnosed a while ago, five years ago I think, I don´t really remember. Being diagnosed by my psychologist was an absolute relief for me, it made sense; it meant that when other people can function every day and I can’t, that there was a scientific explanation for it, the serotonin levels in my brain wasn´t as high as it should be.
Most people´s serotonin is up here, mine is down (pretend I´m doing the started at the top now we´re here gesture) Even though I was diagnosed, I did not go onto medication right away, it took a few years. Stress from working shifts in a hotel, social anxiety had landed me in the hospital. I had a cist, from stress, pure stress from being me. After the second night in the hospital, I was having non-stop panic attacks to the point where I was sedated until I was discharged on the third day.
Before I left, the doctor asked me what was going on, I said I´m having a panic attack? It happens almost every day. It was normal for me. He said that is wasn´t, he asked me what triggers them. I said pretty much everything, making eye contact, driving somewhere, driving in traffic, answering a phone call, talking to people, and at this time I was working at the Front Office in Hotels. Every day of my working life was causing me to have a panic attack, to get lightheaded, to pass out, to be a hypochondriac, crying, not being able to eat, eating too much, not being able to talk, not shutting up.
Apparently, this wasn´t normal, now, this may sound very fucking obvious, but when you have been told your entire life that you´re lazy, you are making excuses, walk it off, go for a run, eat something, just get over it, just ignore it. Jesus that shit sticks with you. When you have depression, you blame yourself. Why? Because uneducated `normal ‘people tell you this.
Before I was discharged, my surgeon suggested I start taking anti-depressants. He explained that I would be less of a hypochondriac, answering a phone might not be so difficult anymore, and my panic attacks will be manageable. I said no.
That was my first reaction, no, I don´t need medicine to help me. I can manage this. I was lying to myself. While I was on bed rest, I read everything I could find on Google about serotonin, depression, and anxiety that I could find. I learned that I have a chemical imbalance, my brain doesn´t produce a normal amount of serotonin. (Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer) this was not my fault, nothing I could do could have caused this. Learning that was already a relief. I am an analytical person; I like logic, facts, proof, tests, and experiments. So having facts on my side helped a lot.
Now, I still struggled with the idea of going on medication, why? My boyfriend at the time. He was sweet and funny, but completely ignorant of matters of the brain. He did not believe in medication at all, this idiot would literally not even take antibiotics prescribed by a doctor, and he had fucking bronchitis. He just stayed in bed until he was better. So, me telling him that I might go on ´happy pills ‘was incredibly difficult. I was so scared and so vulnerable, and I felt like I needed to convince him of this medication before I was ´allowed´ to go on it. After I did the research, I told him the facts. He was skeptical. I told him that I would send him the facts I read about it, to convince him. I never sent him one damn thing. I thought, f**k you and f**k that. you don’t believe the science, that´s your problem. Go read up on it yourself.
A week later, I went to the hospital for a post-op check-up. I told him I wanted to go onto the medication. He was happy. He told me that things would be easier. I wept. I am crying as I am typing this. What a relief that the things I struggle with every day might be less. They might be more manageable.
When I was at the pharmacy, I asked the chemist what it would feel like, he said that I would feel like I was on cloud nine, basically like I was high, for 7 to 9 days. Then I would return to normal. Normal in this sense meaning that my brain would produce the right amount of serotonin.
I never felt that cloud nine feelings. But the shift was incredible. I could enjoy my morning before late shift without obsessively looking at the time, I stopped scratching myself, I didn´t go to the doctor for every little thing, I didn´t think I was going to die because I had a stomach ache. I didn´t panic when I had muscle spasms any more. I didn´t feel like I was constantly going to die. My god, was this it felt like to be normal? I don´t have to force myself to go to Pick n Pay to buy food, I don´t have to throw up when I need to make a phone call? No wonder other people get so much shit done every day, they don´t have to fight a battle first.
Back to today. I woke up feeling depressed. That cloud was over me again. I knew it when I opened my eyes, you know that feeling you get when you´re down, the sun is shining, you are not tired, you´re not lazy or moody, but you just know. The last time I felt like this was during a hard lockdown, in April. For three days I kept feeling like this, I thought, I want to die. I don´t know why my inner Nikola always says I want to die, because I don´t. then I read a post on Tumblr that said `I didn´t want to die, I just wanted my life as I knew it to end` That explains it very well, because I don’t want to die, but I don´t want to be in this house any more, I don´t want to sit and home and wait for travels bans to lift so I can do what I had planned since January.
People do different things when they have these days, Rahul calls it ´riding out the sad´ and I think that is a nice way to think of it. Some days you need to ride it out. Sit in bed, lie on the couch, eat a lot, shower, don´t shower. Just get through it. I have days where I get mad at myself, mad for not performing optimally like I am a robot or something. Some days I force myself to exercise, to eat something sustainable, to go outside, even if I just drive to the garage and buy chips. I will force myself to get up and do something, and today, luckily, I feel better, but I don´t always. Some days I force myself to do certain things, and it doesn´t work. Then I go put on my comfy pajamas and go lie in bed and read or put on a series that plays in the background.
What I learned from doing all of this is not to be hard on myself. I used to compare myself to other people and say things like “some people can´t get out of bed, I can. Some people don´t shower for days, today I took a shower so I am okay´´ This was a really bad way of thinking, because what happens if the day comes where I can’t get out of bed, or take a shower? I was setting bullshit standards for myself. Do not compare your days and your abilities to others. Depression is not something that can be measured from one person to another. This is a battle that hits us all differently.
One thing that I have done that has had an incredible impact is to surround myself with people who understand depression and or anxiety. I have the most incredible friends who get it, when I talk to them, when I have a bad day, I have never gotten a ´just ignore it, go for a run or why are you depressed´ question from them. I get ´are you okay, how can I help, do you want to talk, I love you, you are strong´
This has been very important to me. If you only have people in your life that doesn’t understand depression, they will make you feel bad about yourself. Surround yourself with people who understand, the type of people who don´t get irritated when you have ten bad days in a row, or understand when you cancel last minute because your anxiety is flaring up.
I don´t think I have ever typed so much in one go, but this is important to me. I want you to understand that depression is an illness. Your brain is an organ, like your lungs or your pancreas, you would not tell someone with asthma to get over it, they have lungs that don´t function the way they should, you wouldn’t blame a person with diabetes for their pancreas no being able to produce or store insulin, so why would you say that to someone who has depression. You did not do this to yourself. You are not to blame.
Here are some links you can follow to read more about depression and anxiety. They helped me a lot, maybe they will help you. Another thing that helped me a lot, was Pinterest. There are a lot of links from Tumblr and Twitter about people talking about depression. Short posts. Sometimes just one or two sentences. That had the biggest impact on me. I have learned more from these people than I have from any medical journal.
One last thing, if someone ever tells you that they were depressed, or they have also struggled, and then they became really positive and now they aren´t depressed any more, tell them to fuck off!
Feel free to follow me on Pinterest, because maybe, just maybe, we can help someone else.