Mental Health Musings

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One of the things I never took into account when I was younger was that mental health was not an either/or kind-of state. As a teenager I, like many other teenagers I knew, held onto my depression and anxiety as markers of who I was as a person. I was concerned about medication or the idea of “getting better” because it seemed threatening to my identity.

In the past few years there have been a lot of changes and most of the time I think I come across as a relatively stable person (certainly comparatively). I don’t spend most of my days depressed, I’m very accomplished (most of the time), my anxiety seems well managed, and I feel in general on solid footing. But what I’m gradually coming to realize is that depression doesn’t necessarily go away, so much as take on different, hopefully more manageable, forms.

These days the pattern is pretty predictable. There is a catalyst. It might be a big deal, like my chosen grad school putting off my application (and me correctly being certain it meant I was not going to get in). It might be something smaller like me ascertaining that the girl I’ve been on two dates with and have fairly fond feelings towards has probably decided things aren’t going to work out. Whatever it is, I spend most of the first day rationalizing it. I explain to myself all of the reasons this is a good learning opportunity and all of the things that I will be able to derive from the experience. A lot of them are often even correct, but probably not at the moment. I think about writing a blog, sometimes I do, but usually I put it off until later. I explain to a lot of people why I am fine and all of the many clear reasons that is true.

Then, by the end of the day I feel that part of things end and I start to spiral. I wouldn’t say it’s negative self-talk, although I suppose that occasionally comes up. Mostly everything just seems grey and I feel incredibly, overwhelmingly sad. I can bring myself to interact with others, and sometimes even to be charming but it takes a lot more out of me and I end the day collapsed on the couch staring at the television.

Once that happens I have realized there’s basically nothing I can do to get out of it. I also know it isn’t really about whatever the thing was that happened. My brain just takes that as a reason, or with whatever the catalyst is I go down the path my neurons have the most well-worn? Whatever it is, once I’m to that point I am aware that we just are where we are and it is time to hope it passes sooner rather than later. The one about school took I think close to a week. This one took two days.

I have a lot of frustration about the whole thing when I think about it. Like in some ways it feels out of nowhere every time. The cycle is predictable once it starts but the catalyst isn’t and it always seems like maybe this long period of being okay is the time I have thought my way out of it. Maybe this is the time I have finally made myself “better” (whatever that means). In fact this is far better than it was before. It is predictable and relatively rare. Knowing that it will pass makes it mostly easier to get through and my awareness of what is happening typically makes me more open, which makes people more supportive. It really is a far more sustainable world.

But I think there was some part of me that always just assumed I didn’t get better because I didn’t want to. Like obviously once I decided to get better, I should be totally fine. Except as it turns out that’s not true. I don’t know how many times I will have to realize that I cannot out-think my own brain. But it’s always disappointing.

So you know. Here we are. Everything is fine, and it will be fine. It’s just been a long couple of days and I am somewhat annoyed.

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Important 2016 Thoughts: Part 2

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I suppose this is both 2015 and 2016 thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot about both, as I am want to do. I have been thinking about what I did well and what I want to do better and what surprised me.

success

As far as my goals last year, I had a number and I’m not going to go through them all again. Suffice to say I did pretty well. My FitBit broke like halfway through the year unfortunately, and I never bothered to replace it, but it was actually quite motivating for the first half of the year. I read more than I expected to, I watched 435 movies, which I am super proud of. I got my application in for grad school.

I in general was pretty mentally stable this year, which was certainly a pleasant surprise. I had no more than a handful of depressed days in the whole year, which was pretty wonderful. But even more than that I think the best part was realizing I was much more capable of dealing with those than I ever have been. I knew what was happening and what I needed. I was very aware that it was about me, although if someone said something to add to it I was generally comfortable responding to that. I felt centered and not in dire need of attention and response like I used to. I think that was more comforting to me than the pretty few days. After all, even if I was hit by something more severe at some point (always a possibility), it’s a comfort to feel like my responses are more manageable on some level.

Brain

This is my brain! Just like that!

I asked David what he thought I did well this year and he said that our communication had gotten a lot better (definitely true) and that once upon a time, he and the Superhero would most definitely never have considered having me move in with them, and now they’re totally good with it. So I must be doing something right. Hooray!

It’s nice to feel like I’m progressing, although I question if that’s the word I want. Centering? Sometimes I do feel like I’m making definite progress in a forward sense but often, when it comes to things like this, it feels more like a settling and removal process of some kind. Either way, it’s nice.

For 2016, I have thoughts but I feel a little stuck at the moment. It is hard for me not having any idea what things will look like for me this time next year. Will I be in grad school? Or will I be crossing my fingers for my application again? I have a hard time making plans when that decision could alter a lot, even though it doesn’t really change that much of the fundamentals of my life. I just really like plans.

Planning person

Little known fact: I am actually a creepy little computer person…

In a general sense, I do have some ideas. I have created a finance spreadsheet for the year. I’ve really never tracked my finances before and although I’m not yet ready to budget as such, I think it’ll be good for me to see what’s happening to the money. So that’s a thing I’m going to try to keep on top of.

I am going to try to go for a 30 minute walk most days. My idea of activity is always weird but I’ve been googling things and it seems that if I was to do that most days, I would meet the advised activity for an adult. Whatever that means. I don’t trust ANYTHING TO DO WITH FITNESS. But. Still. I did intend for it to be unrelated to things like walking across campus (even though that is solidly 20 to 25 minutes) but today that’s what I ended up doing. We will see how it goes. In theory, there is no day that I cannot fit a 30 minute walk in, the question is whether or not I will.

Pug

But my goal is to turn into a curious pug when I grow up.

I want to try to foster more curiosity in my life. This is sort-of a weird one, and I have thought about it a lot over the last few years. One of the things that I noticed last year was that I started googling things. Like a lot of things, random things. I wanted to follow the news and I didn’t know how and I said, “How do I follow the news?” It turned out that not only had many people asked that before me, but many people had written articles trying to answer this very question. I picked out a couple of things and now, while I will never be as on top of things as I wish I was, I am absolutely more aware of the headlines and tenor of what is happening than I was before.

Christians are not, as a general rule, encouraged to ask questions. They are encouraged to have the answers. Particularly when you were raised the way I was. When I am in a situation in school where I am encouraged to think of questions, I consistently draw a complete blank. I was not taught to ask questions and I’m not good at thinking in that way. So essentially what I have started doing is using the internet in this way. Anytime ANYTHING comes to my mind that I’m curious about, I google it. Not only does this reinforce asking questions in my brain (at least I hope it does — I feel like I have noticed a difference) but I weirdly feel better when I ask something and Google autofinishes my question. It is affirming to know that many other people have asked the same things.

Google searches

Of course, some Google searches are NOT affirming…

So this year I want to be more curious. I want to be more open in this blog. I want to work hard and play hard and have a very good year, whether or not I get into grad school. But I still would really, really, really like to get into grad school.

Depression and Presentation

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When I was a kid, I thought that people were pretending or exaggerating when they claimed that they were so depressed or anxious that they couldn’t get up, or couldn’t go somewhere. I didn’t know what that felt like. But I knew what depression felt like. I knew what it was like to have my head full of static and feel so tired and overwhelmed all of the time, and to be certain that nothing would ever get better. But in spite of that, I also knew that if I needed to do something, I could always step up and do it. So, throughout my adolescent years, I pretended to be unable to function because I thought that’s what people did to prove they were depressed. I wanted to be taken seriously.

As an adult, this has continued to be a battle, although in many ways it became a more challenging one. See, I realized at some point that people were not pretending about the whole not being able to function thing. That’s something I haven’t really experienced. And I also stopped being able to put on a show without feeling like a very disingenuous person, rendering any attention I got fairly useless. But I didn’t stop needing to be validated and heard when I was sad (or when I was anything else — being mirrored is definitely my jam).

I had basically one time in my adult life where I felt like I actually was not capable of getting up and going to work one morning. Things had been so bad for so long and one morning I woke up and I just couldn’t go in. There had been mornings I had occasionally chosen not to but that morning I couldn’t. It freaked me out so badly that I decided to make a doctor’s appointment and finally go on medications. This is not the norm for me.

See, this is relevant because really I’ve been pretty depressed all quarter. I’m not engaged with my school, which sucks because I have some really good classes and I really wish I was more invested in them. I dislike the way I feel about doing only the minimum I need to, but I don’t have it in me to do more. I know that’s more or less what’s going on. But it’s not immediately obvious. I still get all my homework done. On time, which for me means at least four or five days early. I do my reading, I engage in class discussions. I have even set up extra work for myself. I have more or less kept up with this blog, I’ve been doing my recaps, I have maintained and even sometimes expanded my social life. It’s not obvious. And it’s not as bad as it has sometimes been in the past. But I’ve been unhappy and when I come home, all I really want to do is sleep and watch movies.

I know I’m not doing great. It’s tiring and it makes me feel whiny. And then, when I complain, I feel like people don’t take me all that seriously. Because I’m not crying, because I’m not having a panic attack. Because all of my work gets done, because I still manage to socially engage. It’s hard to explain (especially when I’m already just frustrated and tired) how much more effort that takes for me right now. Of course I’m functional, I’m always functional. I’ve been functional right through periods of being suicidal (which I am not right now, for the record), but that doesn’t mean I’m doing well.

I’m not really sure what the point of this is. I guess I just wanted to talk about it because it’s my blog and I get to do that. This is what’s been on my mind lately. Monday I had a crying fit about how sad I was and was feeling very dead and depressed after. I went to David and the Superhero’s house and we watched Superman II. It was ridiculous and silly and I felt better afterward. But I don’t know when I’ll feel totally better. I hope when this quarter ends, I hope this is about me being burned out, but obviously that’s not a guarantee.

We will see what happens. Maybe I don’t explain the response I want very well. Maybe I will learn more about how to be content with the people in my life who do see me and support me. Maybe some of this is leftover or a throwback as a part of my depressed brain times to being a kid and feeling like attention will fix it, all the attention, any of the attention. All of that probably deserves thought. But tonight I’m gonna go watch Desperate Housewives instead.