I don't get it. What's depression like? Do I need therapy??
If you were to ask me if you 'need' therapy, my answer would be something along the lines of, "Well, there are times in everyone's life when matters of the mind can be difficult to work through, and therapy is a great way to get a little help. Whether there's mental illness involved or not. Everyone deserves to be mentally well and there's absolutely no shame getting a little help."
A friend recently expressed some curiosity about depression. He told me that some people in his past have accused him of "being depressed", but he didn't really get what that meant, he seemed to me to be open to be introspective and explore his own mental health.
That got me thinking...
Until very recently, I didn't think I needed help (read: deep down, I didn't believe I was worthy of help or capable of changing). I might acknowledge that I've felt 'depressed' at times but I didn't need to go to a therapist (the stigma was stronger with me then). There have been times when I've flat out neglected to mention that thoughts of suicide were sprinkled throughout my life.
I've only come to this new (significantly improved!) understanding of mental health in the last year and a half ago or so. Before that, I wasn't anywhere near as in tune with myself as I am now, and while I didn't know it at the time, that's something I was really struggling with for years.
Something was stopping me...
Looking back, I think it was a mix of being too prideful/guarded and not educated enough. Having the right kind of support at the right time was also HUGE for me and my recovery.
So here, I'll outline some of the thoughts, actions, and/or feels I didn't understand before.
Before going any further, I'd like to clarify/remind that my motivation is to normalize the discussion about mental health topics and assure people their struggles are not impossible to overcome. We all struggle, and that's okay. Regardless if you're diagnosed with a mental illness, it's human to have emotions and feel and hurt, and it's okay to talk to someone about it. All in all, I've had a great life and wouldn't trade these experiences in for anything. I choose to highlight my life's darker chapters as a means to promote mental wellness.
About low self worth & relationships
Duh, there's incompatibilities everywhere and dating is bound to result in multiple failures. That's the point of dating! But, there's a lot of be said about the old saying that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. That saying has never rung more true to me.
I used to base too much of my self, my worth, happiness, sense of security, etc into relationships. All the while, failing to own up to the fact that I felt an incredibly low self worth. At a certain point, that's going to sabotage most any relationship. I mean this is the most broad sense of the word RELATIONSHIP. You can have a relationship with money, a job, a car, a platonic friend, etc.. I used to believe the relationship would give me worth. It's not like I'd actively say or think this, it was more subtle. I was hoping to find happiness in external sources. I was wrong. Self worth can only come from the self.
In terms of a romantic relationships, I believe that a higher sense of self worth translates to a happier, kinder more pleasant partner. I believe it, because I've lived on both sides, and I prefer to be where I'm at now.
People aren't annoying, you're just annoyed
- Do you have a lot of pet peeves? Maybe you find yourself somehow emotionally triggered by others in social settings? I was struggling with this a lot. The incessant rambling in my head forming assumptions, expectations, hindering my ability to connect as well as I would have with a quiet mind.
- Maybe my chemistry was already off and it was so subtly different that I didn't notice, but then when that one annoying customer comes in and I'm dreading the interaction... I'd already started the spiral downward to the same old maladaptive response I said I didn't want to have. Then the physical effects hit. Heart rate goes up - sweating - I'm lost and I don't know how to stop this. Yeah, this used to be a daily experience. A simple innocent question could send me into an inner panic.. My meditation practice has helped big time in understanding and worthing through those types of physical responses (along with the meds, I assume).
- At a certain point, I internalized the idea that everyone's got their own shit going on, and they're not actively trying to hurt me in any way. My internal narrative turned from "I'm a fat little kid and those other people are talking shit on me" to something like "Everyone's fucked up in some way, let's just be happy together and enjoy this". As much as the voice in my head might like me to believe it, things are not always about me.
Social lubricants are a slippery slope
- Alcohol is all too easy to abuse normally, and that risk grows exponentially when it's your life's work, and that work is your passion. One form of alcohol abuse that I've personally performed is using it as a crutch to 'loosen up' and become more social. Drinking, in my personal opinion, all fine and dandy if you're doing it in a way that minds your health. But, when it becomes a "I've gotta drink this first pint quick so I'm not as nervous", that's a serious red flag. I've done that all too many times.
- It's not hard to guess what happens next. I didn't realize but I was drinking to numb myself & distract/quiet my mind. What might feel like a good idea at first can easily bring you to a dark place. Alcohol is a depressant, and I was feeding it to my mind, somehow expecting to feel better. The overall effect can be slow and incremental, until the last piece of straw is placed on that camel's back, and your chemistry is so off... Alcohol is not the way to quiet your mind.
- If you do drink regularly, it's necessary to do a regular sort of 'pulse check'. Just a little mental check in to make sure you have a healthy relationship with yourself and with alcohol.
I'm harder on myself than anyone else
- Having high standards for yourself is great. But punishing yourself more than anyone around you would dare to is NOT HEALTHY. There's a growing amount of research that confirms this is true.
- Negative self talk might be my conditioned instictive response, but once I internalized the knowledge that positive self talk is healthier and more productive, I've learned to quiet that negative voice and trust in the process. I found that the same internal voice that was hypercritical of myself also grew to become hypercritical and presumptuous of everyone else. I would project my own bullshit drama on others.
- One time, it devolved into a full on panicked paranoia, walking around teary eyed and panicked in a room full of warehouse full of co-workers at what was supposed to be a happy celebratory release event, swearing everyone was making fun of me behind my back and it was unfair, but also somehow my fault. For this, and more reasons I'll get into another time, that night ended up being one of the most difficult nights of my life. The whole time, I just wanted to skip to the end. My skin was crawling with so much anxious panicked nervous energy. I was sooooo furious with myself for feeling like how I did. But... You know what? That experience is branded into my mind. I learned from it. I'm better because of that night. I wouldn't trade it for anything. My struggle has made me better.
We'll stop here for now. Here are some fun infographics I found online, related to some of the topics