Living With Depression: A Guide for Bystanders

I’ve wanted to talk about my experience with depression for a long time, but the people who know you don’t want to hear because it’s painful and the people who don’t well… don’t care.

I’ve always tried to be very honest about my struggles, not for attention but because I desperately want to break the stigma against it, breaking the silence so to say. I often get the sense when I talk about it that people don’t believe me when I say I used to cut, or that I struggle with anxiety attacks on nearly a daily basis, or that I am only alive because of the medication I take. One of the hardest things about living with depression is getting people to understand what you are going through without looking pathetic. So that is why I want to give you a day in the life of me, someone who has been living with clinical depression for the majority of her life. I hope that some of you can identify with this and know you’re not alone, or have a better understanding of what your peers are going through when they admit that they are depressed. Because just understanding us and letting us do what we need to do to treat our illness is so important.

Every day I have to convince myself to get up. Usually I remember to take my medication but I have a really bad memory and usually at least one day a week I leave the house without them. Those days are usually worse. I usually go to Tim Horton’s in the morning for a tea. The familiarity of the drink helps me concentrate and calm down. If I’m feeling particularly shitty I’ll probably also get a doughnut, although the shame of it doesn’t make me feel much better either way.

After my second class for the day I am usually in pain. When I say ‘in pain’ what I really mean is the indescribable depressive feeling I get when I can’t fake a smile anymore. I am lucky to live very close to campus so at this time I usually try to go home and take a breather, but if I have class… well I’ll often skip. I’ll tell my classmates I feel sick, or that I don’t care about class because it’s a joke, or too easy- and I’d rather just read the slides from home. In actuality, I just need to sit and cry or sleep off the shitty feelings. If I can’t go home, due to presentations or tests, then a quick bathroom visit is necessary. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve sat in a UA bathroom sniffling away tears. People will often say, ‘just smile and you’ll feel better’ but that has never worked for me. When I’m having a depressive episode, if I smile I almost certainly WILL burst into tears. I don’t know if I’m the only one like this, but faking a smile is painful a physical level.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Punishment of Perfection

I have anxiety and I know that my future success will be built upon the achievements of today.  I go through my head and imagine a day, four years from now, when I accept my degree and am acknowledged for my hard work and dedication.  What scares me most; however, is having that degree mean nothing.  In a world as it exists today, people leave with degrees that are meaningless and instead spend their adult years, moving from one precarious position to another.  I want to write a post that is inspirational and helpful, but mostly I want to write a post that is honest.  I struggle day in and day out to achieve my best, impress my professors, earn the respect of my faculty, involve myself in student activities, maintain romantic and personal connections, work to support myself and my academic endeavours and maintain my own mental health.

I feel as though the weight of my entire future happiness is resting on the achievements of today and I hope I am not alone, when I say that it is overwhelming.  I manage everything entirely well, I remain calm and persevere under the pressure and achieve more than I ever thought possible.  I manage until I no longer can.  I sit alone, crying in the bathtub, hyperventilating and feeling the panic surge through my body.  I feel a weight on my chest and rationally, I know that I am not having a heart attack, but it feels so real.  The worst is when I begin to feel dizzy and like a fuzzy feeling comes over my head, as though I am walking through a dream, as though I am stepping outside my body and I can’t manage to climb back inside.

I know that I need to accept less than perfection, I know that I am running a marathon and not a sprint and I know that something must give, or else my mental health will be the ultimate sacrifice.  I will work hard this semester to accept that perfection isn’t always obtainable.  I am trying to coach myself to respect myself and this is the true way to earn the respect of my peers and professors.  I will try to be compassionate with myself.  In that moment however, I had to settle for finding the strength to climb back into my skin, settle my breathing, calm my heart and dry my tears.  For today, that will have to be enough, for today, I will have to be enough.

Can Stress be a Good Thing?

So, a few things happened to me just before school started, I got a job with campus walk and a teaching assistant job. I got an email with a contract and information and then started balling my eyes out. Why is it that when good things happen to me I feel like I don’t deserve it. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of having three jobs, being a full-time student, peer leader, UOIT ambassador, WUSC ambassador,  mental health advisory committee member and being a vice president of my sorority. I put a lot of pressure on myself to do everything I possibly can on campus, to get amazing grades, to make money and to try to have a life. This situation is one of those times when a good cry, having a little chat with a friend and cuddling up to my dog make me feel better. I ended up not being able to do both jobs on campus which took some stress off.

I finished the semester on Dean’s list and didn’t drop the ball on any of my responsibilities. I also loved being a TA, I wasn’t perfect. I know I messed up a bit and got nervous and shuddered all the time but, I laughed it off and moved on. I’m glad I took everything on, it made me a better student and person.

Zones

I spent some time away at Nova’s Ark this past March Break and again for two weeks this summer. To say that I learned a lot would a be huge understatement, because the culmination of my experiences there have profoundly impacted me.

How does a mental health oasis sound to you? Hopefully, good, as that’s what it was like being at Nova’s Ark for me. I was able to retreat from the stress of my daily life and get away to a place that encouraged me to think about and reflect upon my emotions. It was also a place that I felt comfortable to be myself and to focus on the things that I wanted to focus on.

The Zones of Regulation

I learned about The Zones of Regulation, “a concept to help [people] learn how to self-regulate. The Zones of Regulation creates a system to categorize how the body feels and emotions into four coloured zones with which people can easily identify”.

ZonesOfRegulation1

Skilled and carefully trained teachers and mentors helped me to articulate how I was feeling, to recognize my triggers, and to help develop my ‘toolbox’ for coping strategies. It sounds easy when I say it like that, but the reality is that figuring this stuff out is quite complex. As someone on the autism spectrum, I already struggle at putting words to how I’m feeling and what to do in stressful situations, so I felt like I had a lot to learn about how the zones applied to my life.

Toolbox

One of the first things I applied to my daily life was using my ‘toolbox’ of coping strategies. This was the easiest list to develop because I had already been implementing many of them in my life over a number of years  (if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today) and so it was just a matter of being more intentional and proactive with my ‘toolbox’.

Zones = Rainbow

The next thing I learned is that The Zones of Regulation are not ONLY four colours, regardless of how much easier that would be, and I recognized that it’s much more complex.

This picture I drew gave me insight into how I interpret the zones. Think of this as a cross-section of my brain and the various sections represent the different parts of the brain, such as thinking, motor functions, sensory input etc.  First off, there’s four basic colours: blue, green, yellow, and red. However, there are blends, shades, and brightness of these colours that would make it appear more like a rainbow.Zones of Regulation

Blends

Between yellow zone and red zone, there’s an orange zone and sometimes this better describes where I am at better than yellow or red could.  Between green zone and yellow zone, there’s lighter green colour with some yellow mixed in etc. You can see in the picture that red and yellow have combined to form orange or blue and red have blended to make purples and pinks.

Shades

Even with one colour, such as red, there’s a variance in shades (from light to dark) and being able to differentiate between the shades within a zone is super helpful. The shades apply all the basic colours, plus the ones in-between (like orange, purple, and pink).

Brightness

Each colour is also expressed in its degree of brightness and how much space it takes up in my ‘brain’. In addition to light and dark sections in my brain, there are also narrow and thick sections too. I would argue that thick, dark red sections are far worse than  narrow, light red sections because of the intensity and the length that those bands represent. The darker sections are more problematic from an emotional perspective because it can be harder and take longer to recover from going into a thick, dark red zone. The coping strategies and tools in my box need to reflect the wide variety of zones within my brain and body.

The Green Zone

If you look again at the picture, you’ll see a diagonal band of green ‘brain’ that goes across the whole frame and all the other colours are intersecting with it. The green zone is my default state (and I would assume that for most people), but continuously throughout the day my brain is being challenged (or attacked) by various sensory, emotional, social, and physical inputs and I have to use the coping strategies in my ‘toolbox’ to regulate my responses. I cannot stop the external influx of stimuli to my brain, but I can internally help myself by using coping strategies.  For example, sometimes my eyes are sensitive to the lights and my brain starts to go into the yellow zone because it’s an uncomfortable stimuli, but then I wear sunglasses to cope and my brain is no longer stressed and goes back into the green zone.

Parts of the Brain

I think that different parts of the brain and body can be in different zones at any given time. For example, my body might go into the blue zone if I’ve just finished playing sports, so it’ll be tired, but my mind might still be in the green zone because that’s a part of my brain that wasn’t stressed. I’m sure you can think of other examples of when a certain part of your body or brain are in different zones; this obviously adds a layer of complexity to figuring out triggers and coping strategies. There’s no predetermined time-limit of how long a particular part of your brain will remain in a certain zone or even how long it will take me to recover back to the green zone. Recognizing the transition from zone-to-zone is still something I am working on and it was helpful to be around skilled observers that would communicate clues to me throughout the day.

How Zones Help Me

Learning about The Zones of Regulation has helped me to better identify and articulate my feelings. This process has also help me refine my coping strategies to be more effective and therefore my quality of life has increased. Being in a supportive learning environment incubated my learning and allowed me to practice without failing, and this in turn has given me more confidence to face my daily challenges. I think that most people want to live well and if given the opportunity to learn and grow, they seize that moment with the hopes of becoming a better version of themselves. Another coping strategy that helps me is being around animals and Nova’s Ark provided that opportunity for me. Over the course of the few weeks that I was there, I got to know Ewok (a kinkajou) and we are kind of ‘friends’ and he loves to snuggle. My time at Nova’s Ark has left a positive impact on my mental health and I experienced relief knowing that the problems that I encounter with my emotions are, at worst, temporary and at best, solvable. Having the space and time to process my learning from Nova’s Ark has been and will continue to be a tremendous asset in my daily life; I cannot wait to go back!

Ewok

 

Dark Waters

I’ve always been a nervous child with a mental sword on my back. I put on this sort of fake, plastic like armor around my soul to protect it from anything that could come at me. At the same time, no one was able to touch me or hold me the way a child needed to be.

So to my surprise, I encountered a body of water with different colours, perspectives and life when I enter a social setting. However, when I tried to learn to swim, I kept sinking. The armor that I trusted above all else began to rust and my sword could not defend me from the currents. It was hard to form opinions, thoughts, and feelings towards subjects I had little to no knowledge about. It is still hard to this day.

From my perspective, there are so many different people to talk to and I fear that I’ll disappoint them if I don’t share the same views. In the end, I try to avoid sharing my opinion by telling them the honest truth; I don’t have enough information.

Swimming with armor on is exhausting but when I take it off, the water is cold and I feel like it’ll carry me away. I make mistakes, I beat myself up over them and then I clean my armor when I’m alone in the tears of my regret. But, I shouldn’t be regretting these things, I mean I tried, right? I try to put myself out there and talk to other people, even when conversation horrifies me. What if we have nothing in common to talk about? What if I get lost in thought and end up saying something wrong?

I drift and float atop endless sea I’ve pictured in my mind and I think. I contemplate what I’m doing, who is around me, why they’re all here and ask myself: how many of us are splashing around with armor on? Some of us are just natural born swimmers and that’s good, good job if you are one! However, I’m sure there’s someone just as awkward, scared and packing just as much metal as I am, trying to move around and take in how beautiful the world we live in is without being engulfed by what we think is down below.

When I think about all of us people just splashing around with suits of armor on, it doesn’t seem too much like a bad idea to try and make my way towards them. Maybe I can even take off some armor (not all of it, I’m not nearly as brave enough yet for that pressure) and offer them some help with finding a small bit of land to rest upon. We could bond over adventures such as what happened in their class yesterday or what boss monster they’ll defeat in maplestory (or is that just me?). Perhaps we can support one another so that the other does not end up sinking to the bottom of the social ocean. All these possibilities are endless, just like the sea we’re all struggling to navigate around.

Well, for now, I’m still parading around in this heavy armor but I’ve learned to at least take off the helmet once in awhile so I guess that’s a start, right?

Overthinking – Pondering What Could Be the Cause of my Mental Turmoil

When someone is seeking answers to something, they seek out the experts. Meeting and speaking with them, hoping that spilling their innermost thoughts and feelings and presenting the facts that match to things that they know, they hope to receive an answer that matches the research they themselves have conducted. As for myself, I think I’m afraid to know, but desperate to confirm.

I hate jumping to conclusions and I hate diagnosing myself before a doctor can, but as I have been waiting this long to know what is wrong with me, it is only natural that a paranoid, anxious psychology student would start seeing parallels with the many mental illnesses I study within myself.

Last week, I found myself switching from general anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, and depression, as those can be diagnosed by a GP, to thinking I might have a more severe condition. Thoughts of bipolar disorders and cyclothymia crossed my mind. I almost drove myself nuts seeing if my symptoms matched the reported symptoms of these disorders. However, I am my own worst doctor, I will always think I am over-exaggerating or under-reporting my own symptoms. I don’t condone Google-diagnosis, but I still find myself doing it, in my endless search for answers.

I can’t seem to sit still, my mind is both exhausted and racing everyday, and I just want to keep moving forward but feel so stuck. The anticipation of finally getting some confirmation and answers are almost overbearing. The stress of this term has taken its toll now; I have felt an anxious nausea sitting in my stomach for almost two weeks, feeling both hungry and repulsed by food, yet still overeating. The weather has had me down for so long, my emotions feel blunted to the point I can’t remember what a strong emotion feels like, and the world is both too bright and too dull. I feel crazy and calm all at once.

I try to keep my mind away from focusing on things like this too much, but sometimes its all I can focus on. I really just want confirmation, so that I can stop adding the disclaimer *not yet diagnosed* to my statements on mental health. I hope someone else who is struggling with a lack of diagnosis can relate to my feelings, and maybe feel less alone. I hope if you are reading this, everything will fall in place for both of us in time.

Til then, good luck and much love.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

I love spending time with my friends. Being a student can be so stressful and time-consuming, but going out and relaxing with friends makes the hard work all worth it. They know how to pick me up when I’m down, and sometimes they even know me better than I know myself.

With all that being said, sometimes I just can’t bring myself to leave the safety of my room to go see them. That’s the problem with social anxiety; part of me would do anything to just go out and have a good time, but the other part refuses to be around anyone at all. I wish they would understand that it’s not because I don’t like them, or that I don’t have fun when I’m with them. It is because some days even getting out of bed in the morning is a real struggle, and anything further than that seems like mission impossible.

But the last thing I want to do is blame it on my mental illness because I don’t want them to look at me differently, or stop asking me to hang out in fear of rejection. I just wish people knew the strength of the effects of social anxiety. It has the power to completely destroy any will to go out in public and carry on with what is considered a normal, everyday life.

Maybe one day everyone will understand that people with social anxiety don’t enjoy bailing on plans at the last minute, we just need to give ourselves time to be mentally prepared to go out in public.

Drawn and Quartered

I have committed high treason…against myself…AGAIN! I once again have begun to spread myself to thin. Breaking promises I told myself like, “I’ll go to bed by 10:00pm” or “I’ll stay on top of things”, and the classic “I’m fine, of course I’m not taking on too much”. But I’m not fine.

School, work, friends, family, volunteering, applications, planning for my future, meetings! (in no particular order). Sometimes it just gets to be to much. Constantly being pulled one way, whilst another part is being pulled in the opposite direction, all by my own hand. My decisions, and mine alone cause me stress, panic, and anxiety. And I can’t stop. Apart of me wants to, but another part of me knows (or at least thinks it knows) what’s best for me. I can’t tell anymore whether I’m worthy of a break, or if my judgement is on point, I just don’t know.

So many things and so little time. Or maybe its just my time management skills. Because honestly I can’t tell anymore. So much work and effort has been put into making me who I am, because no task is to big or to small when others ask; it’s not a problem. But I think I have a problem, or maybe I don’t and its just the lack of sleep. I just want…to be happy I guess. And I know this anxiety, this ball of fire in my chest burning me from the inside out will die down, maybe even go away entirely (eventually). But right now, all I want to do is lay down and not think.

I’m always thinking. Brain racing, head thumping constant reminders that there’s still so much to do. My future is riding on what I do, on my choices and it scares the hell out of me. Like a deck of cards, one small move, one misplaced card and all my hard work is gone. As if it was never there. Poof! And then what? Disappointment. The ever crushing, self loathing, let everyone down type of disappointment. The type of disappointment that makes your body feel like a thousand pounds, and yet like it’s floating. Untethered with nothing to keep you from floating away, from losing yourself, from ever caring again. So many expectations, and so many things to tend to. And sometimes, its all too much.

Being pulled apart sucks, its sucks a lot more when you are actively doing it to yourself. And I wish I had some positive ending statement about hope floats and precious words of encouragement, but I can’t even believe the ones I tell myself right now. But I’ll still be here. Day after day. Grinning and baring it till I get home, back to my bed, my safe place where I retreat inside my head.  I really wish I had something more positive to say, but I can’t. I can’t lie to myself or anyone else and say it will be okay. Especially when there is nothing wrong with NOT being okay. No one has to be it all, no one has to achieve it all. I don’t just want to be good, I want to be great, to surpass everyone. But who I should really be focusing on is myself. I want to be better, I want to be stronger…but right now I can’t. And I have to learn to be okay with that.

Well wishes,

L.R.

nope-anxiety-comics-funny-illustrations-gemma-correll-fb__700-png

It’s okay not to be okay

Living with anxiety and depression can be extremely difficult at times. There are days where even getting out of bed feels like an impossible task….. But that’s okay. I spend so much time trying to be the strong one, the one who is always there and can give people a shoulder to cry on; that I forget that sometimes I can be the one who needs someone to talk to.

It doesn’t happen too often anymore, but I do have days every now and then in which I have no motivation, or will to go about my normal life. The anxiety becomes overwhelming which leads to a period of depression. Next thing I know, I’ve missed 2 lectures and due date. The days following this, I am constantly beating myself up for being so selfish and missing important commitments; but now I see that taking a day off every now and then to benefit my mental health is okay! As students, we are under a lot of pressure which takes a toll on our minds and bodies. So it is imperative that we listen to ourselves and allow time to relax and give our minds a well-deserved break.

Now I am definitely NOT saying to skip class whenever you just don’t feel like going, please DO NOT do that! But what I am saying is, if you are finding something draining you of your mental stability, please take a break and do something that you enjoy doing to help get back into the right mindset. But just don’t feel guilty about taking a few minutes out of your day to ensure that you are okay, you deserve it!

The End is Near… and the Anxiety is Real

Going into my final semester of my final year of University is well.. bitter sweet. I have worked very hard to get to this point but at the end of the rainbow is there really a pot of gold?

Now I don’t know if it’s the fact that I am pretty deathly ill and it’s just the cold medicine talking, or if I am still really just a little baby who does not want to adult, but the anxiety of this being over is super real and hard hitting. Do I want this to be over and all my hard work pays off and I get that beautiful piece of paper that cost me about 60,000 dollars or more? HELL YEAH I DO… but at the same time then I have to go out and get an adult job and what if that doesn’t happen?

Granted I mean I am taking another program (my family likes to call me the professional scholar) so that should give me time to reflect and take a step back and prepare myself for the future… but the future is scary and I don’t know if I am ready to get out of my blanket fort and put down the crayons. I know I am not the only one who feels this way.. maybe we can get a secret fort club together and try to one by one take it down eventually? Or we could just continue to color in coloring books until the inevitable happens. What do you say?

Positivity goes a long way, and hell so does a good nap and a blanket! Adulting can wait, til next time folks! PS. Join my club please, it’s lonely here haha

  • Trisha