I have a lot of things to say about depression, but this post is only about one of them. That being said please know that this is in no way a comprehensive explanation of my personal experience or even my opinion on the topic. Just one little epiphany among hundreds of thoughts about mental health.
Exactly two years ago yesterday I started a barista job working alongside my BFF, Paige. I was so excited to work with my bestie because up until that point we had never lived in the same city. Our entire relationship had been sustained through long-distance phone calls (sometimes from China!), Skype, and LOTS of texting. We always had great conversations and loved each other a lot, but this was going to be totally new!
One night while Paige and I were closing together she said something to me that changed the way I think about everything. Here it is completely out of context: “Look, this is something I live with, not something that controls my life.” Gut punch. Exactly what we were talking about doesn’t matter nearly as much as what her comment revealed to me about how I thought about challenges. In my mind struggle = characterization, but Paige was saying that a struggle is just a small part of a person’s whole life. Whoa.
PrettyRx is a blog about style, being twenty-something, and womanhood and I write about those things through the lens of my own personal experience. A large part of my experience is as a passenger on the struggle bus. My life is pretty good, but I am really unsatisfied…what’s wrong with me? When Paige said the thing about living with an issue as opposed to living under an issue it was like the clouds parting… I live with depression and anxiety, but I am not DEFINED by those things. I mean, really, there is something to this! I can have depression, feel the force of it in my daily life, even really accept how it affects me, but I DO NOT have to give up because of it.
I’m a creature of high-highs and low-lows. There is very little in between and the highs and lows are not dictated by external influences—it’s just how I am. When I’m up I am motivated, creative, excited, social, engaged and passionate. I get shit done and I want to connect with all the people. When I’m down—I don’t even know how to describe it—I am detached, it’s like being stuck in the mud or wandering through the desert. I am exhausted all the time, like, bone-deep tired and nothing makes a difference. If I were a cartoon I would be a line ambling along through time and space always curving up and down like a soundwave or something.
I’ve always thought this was a problem. “Normal” or “healthy” or “well-adjusted” people are like straight lines steadily pushing forward somewhere above the zero mark. They occasionally spike up or down in response to a legitimate good or bad circumstance. But I am wobbling all over the place like a jump rope at recess FOR NO GOOD REASON. Thinking of myself this way has left me overwhelmed, disappointed in myself, and feeling helpless. I constantly feel guilty about being emotional and I isolate myself because I don’t know how to explain what I am going through. My driving force has been to escape the lows and force myself to feel better so that I can be like everyone else.
What if, instead of viewing depression as a problem that I just can’t seem to fix, I decide to learn how to live even with depression? What if the goal is to LIVE MY LIFE even if I feel difficult and complicated feelings? Maybe I am a squiggly line—does that mean I roll over and die? The problem isn’t that depression stops me from living my life, it’s me conceding my life to depression. I have a choice here!
To be very clear this is not a “just try harder” approach to mental health. I know better than to think that if I just try harder then I will feel okay. I am saying that a change in perspective is a game changer. Rather than view myself as someone who is afflicted I see myself as someone who lives with certain challenges. Paige is right, I can live my life even when it’s hard because the lows WILL PASS. That squiggly line is constantly moving up and down, it never stays down.