The Depression Maze.

Having depression is like being stuck in a maze that has no exit.

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Like this, but with less meaning.

You don’t ask to be there, and you don’t necessarily realize that you’re even in it. It’s often a slow-boil scenario where you slowly begin to detect that you’re not where you used to be. You keep turning a corner to get somewhere new, to make sense of things. But there is no point. You never make the correct turn into a field of flowers where unicorns prance around beneath a rainbowed sky. You’re stuck.

Several years ago, I noticed I was in the depression maze and that I’d been wandering around it for an indeterminate amount of time.

When I first became aware that I was in this maze, I kind of looked around and it became apparent that although I’d been meandering left and right for months, I didn’t actually understand what my goal was. Like, aren’t you supposed to enter a maze intentionally, with a purpose? To reach the exit on the other side? Or to reach the middle and win a prize? With blatant disregard for my need for clarity and purpose, the depression maze did not provide me with an answer. I was just kind of there.

The depression maze has zero objective. You don’t even get to meet David Bowie.

Despite this, I decided to look at my circumstances so that I could evaluate and plan a course of action. I noticed a major shift within myself: a few months earlier, I’d written “I just love life!” on my Facebook info page. But depression had crept up behind me very slowly, wrapped its arms around me undetected, and stripped me of all energy and motivation. Over time, things for me had just kind of become devoid of meaning. I no longer had interest in doing things or being around people. I was kind of sad, bored, and uninterested in life. In the months preceding, all I accomplished was watching every episode of Lost on Netflix. Where was that girl I used to be? Well, she was lost in a fucking depression maze.

Naturally, when I first began to realize that I might be depressed, my course of action was to wallow in it like a real sonofabitch. I mean it. I really took advantage of the situation and indulged in every trite ‘depression activity’ that crossed my mind. These activities were easy and required little energy.

I began each day by curling up in a little ball revelling in my stoicism. I moped around and stopped using my smile muscles, and spent more and more time at home alone. I turned down plans that would make me happy, and stopped reading and exercising. I no longer wore makeup or got dressed on weekends, instead staying in bed until noon. Or later. I fantasized about living in a mental institution where there were no stressors, and no expectations. Just PJs, slippers, and prescription drugs.

And I cried. I cried a lot. I cried hysterically, and quietly, and dramatically in the shower. Crying was all I had to hold on to. It was the only way I felt like I was experiencing emotion. Crying = Sad. Right? Sitting in my closet crying really hit the spot. I would consciously think to myself “Look at how sad I am. This is so sad. I am hiding in my closet crying, all by myself, and it is just so sad. I could be in a movie about depression right now.

But veritably, sadness isn’t really a good representation of what depression feels like. Feeling sad is more of a nice side effect than anything. Because for me, depression was the absence of feeling. I didn’t care about anything, and I didn’t feel compassion for myself or anyone else. I didn’t feel sad; I felt empty. And I wanted to keep it that way.

I recall my sister coming over and writing a very inspiring letter to me about self-love and self-care. But I folded it up and put it away in my nightstand. I didn’t want to experience self-love. I wanted to be left alone, crying and eating my cup-a-noodles in bed without interruption.

That was the most fucked up part of depression. I wanted to feel like this. If something that could potentially bring joy or change came about, I gave it a dirty look and rejected it. I didn’t even doubt the love people in my life had for me, I simply didn’t care about it. Nothing mattered anymore. Even when my cat came running up to greet me with little meows, purrs, and head-bumps, I somewhat resented him for trying to change my mood.

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Not today, fuck-face.

Truthfully, immersing yourself completely in a sea of melancholy is very satisfying – to a point. Everyone basks in that pity party once or twice in their life. But I had taken it to another level. As I became more and more detached, it all began to feel very frightening when I recognized that I didn’t want to live anymore.

To be clear, I did not want to kill myself. I just didn’t want to be alive. I wanted to just sort of disappear, stop being, hit my off button. I was exhausted, and this depression maze had proven to have not only no significance, but no escape. Wanting to be not-alive scared me. Sleep was my only avoidance strategy, and it wasn’t working. There was no end to this existence in sight.

At one point or another, depression, for many of us, morphs into a real problem. It starts out like a limp. You can function like this, limping around for weeks, still able to do all the normal stuff in life: you can still manage to get to work, buy groceries, and, uh, bathe. But eventually it can become a full-blown broken leg. And you can’t carry on like that without some kind of intervention. You need medical care, a cast and crutches, and a way to heal.

One particularly dark day, I had been in bed crying for hours. Nothing had triggered it. I was just laying there detached and pathetic, indiscriminately emptying my tear ducts into my pillow. I hadn’t showered or dressed in several days. I hadn’t been able to drag myself to work that day, and this intensified my feelings. Or not-feelings. I wasn’t sure if this meant I was getting closer to the point of wanting to end my life. Depression had morphed into a tangible problem. It was very disturbing.

This hollow mental existence was now threatening my physical existence. It went beyond an aversion to showering: it was jeopardizing my job and my life. It was one thing to take morbid pleasure in the experience in my pretty apartment, knowing that I did have a life to return to, even if only in theory. It would be another thing entirely to wallow in my parents’ basement, unemployed and futureless. It would be even worse if I became suicidal. I was a tiny step away from hitting rock bottom.

But I noticed a glimmer of hope in that.

Now, I still didn’t want to get better. I was still messed up about that. But I’d arrived at this groundbreaking cognizance that I didn’t want things to get worse. I knew that I wouldn’t take my own life at this moment, but there was no way to magically cease to exist. This was as far as I wanted it to go. I didn’t want to lose everything in life I’d worked for, and I knew that feeding my depression was leading dangerously close to just that. The things people respected me for, and the things I was proud of – they’d be gone, irrevocably. I realized that I’d found a secret trap door in the depression maze.

It was a sobering moment, and without allowing myself to move past this realization and think worse of it, I called my mom.

Removing myself from that deep level of depression didn’t happen overnight. It involved going through that trap door, which was mortifying and daunting, and wandering uphill and down through another maze. It was painful. But pain is good. Pain isn’t nothing. It kept me going.

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To an extent, I am still in the maze. But in this other maze, there are doors. There are opportunities. There are people I can talk to, doctors and therapists. There is medication. There are friends and family members who listen and don’t judge.

It’s hard work, and it’s ongoing. I have ups and downs. But I try very hard not to lose sight on that glimmer of hope, even on the days when I feel hopeless and don’t want to feel good.

There is time. There is love. There is healing.

There is another door to walk through.

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Out of the Woodwork.

You know how when you buy a new car, it seems that suddenly, everywhere you look, that same car is there? It’s strange, but as soon as you slapped your insurance sticker on the licence plate, you realize that you’re not the only one who had your idea.

You probably chose this car because it’s unique. Maybe it’s flashy, or maybe it’s understated – either way, you chose it because it’s uncommon on some level. You’re exceptional and not like everyone else, so you chose that car to parallel that.

But it turns out that you’re not the only one with that car after all. There are tons of other people just like you, who didn’t choose a Mazda 3. Those fuckers.

As soon as you think you’re the only one, others like you come out of the woodwork.

Same goes for mental health issues. You think you’re the only one, but the reality is that you just weren’t paying attention. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of people out there just like you. You just have to be deep within it to notice the numbers.

Damn, girl.

I felt very alone before I started writing here a month ago. It’s just as well that I have social anxiety, because misery hates company anyway. But as I delved deeper into this online world, I learned a lot. If I look up the hashtag “anxiety” on my blog reader, I find hundreds of blogs on the subject. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with them all! And when I started my Instagram account? I was blown away with how many similar accounts are out there. Mental health warriors like me are out there – they’re everywhere. Maybe they’re in the deep end of the anxiety pool like I am. Its omnipresence is overwhelming and interlaces itself into every aspect of their lives. Some just throw out a #panicattack after an acute flare-up. But look for it, and you find that people everywhere are struggling. They’re everywhere.

Recently I learned that my go-to esthetician wasn’t working full time anymore. We aren’t friends per se; since I’ve been seeing her for years, we do have a bit of a relationship. We have chatted about our personal lives a fair bit and I do think she thinks of me as more than just a client.

But her new schedule struck me as odd because she was previously a cyborg who was working 15-hour days and had a management role in the salon. My mental health radar was beeping.

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I thought I’d drop her a text. Just in case something was up. If nothing else – was she working elsewhere? My eyebrows are very important to me.

When this girl text me back, I learned I had been right: she was working part time due to work stress and burn out. I obviously will not get into her story here, because it’s not mine to share.

I offered her my words of support and told her if she ever needed it, I can be a good listener. She thanked me politely and graciously.

When my appointment time finally rolled around, I was a little nervous to see her face to face. I was freaking out that I had overstepped a boundary. Who am I to barge into her life, assuming she’s not happy or something is wrong? Did I make her uncomfortable? Did I make it awkward? Would I need to find a new eyebrow girl?!?

My need for great eyebrows is apparently stronger than my anxiety.

Once we were alone, I timidly asked her how it was going. A nice, gentle, normal conversation opener. She also took the safe route and asked me a similar question. I realized quickly that this was 50/50. How could I expect her to feel safe if I lied and told her life was great and everything was “fine”? If that’s how I would proceed, she would surely follow my lead and the mere exchange of pleasantries would be the extent of our conversation. There’d be no depth. We’d do nothing but grimace behind our masks and add to the stigma that the tough shit in life is something to be ashamed of. That we need to convince everyone that everything is fine. That talking and being real is not okay.

That’s not real life. I wanted her to feel safe. I wanted her to feel normal, and not alone. So instead of telling her things were “fine”, I took the first scary step forward and told her things were going okay….. but that I was off work and on stress leave so things were not perfect.

At least I got to do this while laying on a table with my eyes closed. Which was awesome since eye contact is fucking impossible for me.

To my relief, she took the same scary step and opened up. She spoke about what she was going through too. I think perhaps it evoked a sense of relief for her as well. Our conversation was not long, but we both rattled off such a mirror image of thoughts that it actually made me smile. We even tentatively made plans to get together for coffee or wine and have a real girl date.

I was on a mission for the greater good and her wellbeing. But an amazing side effect was that I ended up feeling better about myself. I hope she did, too, but it made me realize I am not the only one in my life going through tough times. We all know your 20s are for learning and making mistakes, but apparently your 30s are for falling on your ass. And if you’re brave enough, talking about it. Opening up about it. And that can lead to healing and growth.

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Fear is here. Again.

 

The other night, I was at home reflecting on a conversation I’d had earlier that day with a friend. She is also on medical leave (for vastly different reasons), but what we do have in common is the fact that we both feel guilty when we are enjoying ourselves during this break.

I mean, if someone is off work because they’re laid up in the hospital with some kind of illness, they’re supposed to be miserable, right? They look miserable. Maybe they’ve got a physical injury like a broken bone – that’s easy enough to see and immediately sympathize with. Or if someone has cancer and has just gone through chemotherapy, it’s possible that they do not look like there is anything physically wrong with them, but we sure as hell wouldn’t blame them for staying in bed all day. And if that someone is on a leave of absence, no one will ask questions. It’s obvious and universally agreed to.

But when you’re dealing with an invisible illness, it’s just not the same. I feel like I have to constantly convince everyone that I’m “sick” enough to be away from work. And honestly? Sometimes I feel like I have to convince myself of that, too. It’s a really sucky double whammy of frustration.

Other people’s thoughts are entirely out of our control. I struggle with letting go of what other people think all of the time, but this time it’s more personal than ever. I worry constantly about when I return to work. What will people think? I’m sure they all know that I have not lost a family member, I haven’t been in an accident, and I haven’t fallen gravely ill. I once told someone that I hoped everyone was assuming that I had a miscarriage (please, please forgive me for saying that. I do not wish to say that in a way that offends anyone. I said it only because it’s the only ‘invisible’ thing that came to mind that would happen to a young woman who doesn’t have kids yet, that does not linger nor show any visible symptoms, and likely would not be talked about openly in the workplace). How sad is it that I’d rather they assume it was something physical because it would guarantee sympathy?

And battling these feelings with myself? That’s another story. It almost causes me to do things like wallow in bed, not shower, and indulge in endless Netflix streaming. I feel like I should not be outside, smiling, or enjoying myself. I shouldn’t have any reason to put on makeup, so I don’t. I shouldn’t have anywhere to go and no one to impress, so I have no excuse to be showering and choosing a nice outfit.

I’ve basically sentenced myself to becoming a sweats-wearing hermit who prefers sleep to showers.

I’m terrified of the unknown. What people are thinking, and what my actions may or may not cause them to conclude.

I know my Ego is the one who comes to these harsh conclusions. The Ego is who makes uncertainty scary.

I am learning more and more that I need to cultivate a friendly relationship with the unknown and uncertainty. Because when you think about it, there is no certainty.

The sun could explode tomorrow, and none of this would exist anymore – that possibility in and of itself, though very slim, proves that nothing is certain. In order to truly be comfortable in life, we need to be comfortable with uncertainty.

So if I try to think about all of this from this place, the place of being comfortable with the unknown, what would I be thinking?

I’d be thinking that Fear is here, and that’s not me. Fear is just fear, it’s just an emotion. A bunch of feelings that I am experiencing. Fear is a pretty mouthy guy, but he’s not here forever and he doesn’t know the truth about anything any more than I do.

This makes me feel relaxed, and my safety and wellbeing are not affected by Fear, by the illusion of control in life.

Things change, people think thoughts, and life goes on. My life will go on, too.

Right now, being at home feels more comfortable for me. And when I can laugh, I feel good. When I go out in the sun, I feel good. When I shower, do my hair, and put on makeup, I feel like I’m part of society and I belong. When I’m in that state, I am better at seeing all of the feelings I experience as clouds that pass by. I don’t feel like I’m stewing in my feelings the way I do when I’m closed off from the world.

I need to keep my heart open and just… chill.

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