It’s been a while since I posted anything about Depression, but today I want to talk about different symptoms that my personal anxiety/depression portrays, and how I deal with each of them. As always, this is my personal experience and does not describe every person’s depression. But hopefully my willingness to talk about things makes it easier for other people to do so, too. Thus, feel free to comment, share or discuss the topics here if you feel comfortable doing so. It’s a reminder that there IS help available out there, you’re not alone, and–no matter what the stigma of medication is–it CAN work, and no one has the right to tell you it doesn’t. Keep your heads up, friends.
Most Common Symptom: Low Self-Worth. My symptoms, when I show them, often vary. The most common, even when I’m on medication, is that there is always an underlying self-doubt about my worth, importance, or even my ability to be useful. I often feel like wasted space and oxygen and just try to hide that from everyone so that they don’t realize it, too.
How I deal with this symptom: I remember to take my medication (Sertraline for those who are still trying to find the medication that works for them). There’s no denying it– since I found this particular treatment about a year ago, it has given me the ability to cope with (and sometimes not even experience) the most common feelings that I lived with for the first 27 years of my life. I’ve finally started feeling like a worthwhile human for the first time, and I love myself. But that doesn’t mean that it always works, and I have a list of things I like about myself that I repeat over and over when the self-worth gets too thin. Sometimes, the mantras don’t work, or I think I’m lying to myself, but there’s usually something that I can agree with and smile about, even if it’s small (i.e.– you brushed your hair this morning and it looks nice. You’re good at calligraphy. Your spelling is impeccable. That one guy called you beautiful in the 8th grade).
This is my most common symptom, and even if it doesn’t present itself daily, it doesn’t mean that I’m not still constantly fighting my Depression, and there are some days that have much darker, deeper symptoms.
In case you ever think you’re the only one who has varying symptoms or that no one has such highs and lows as you do, remember– you’re not alone. Here we go with the things that my regular medication doesn’t always combat efficiently:
Symptom: Suicidal Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Or S-OCD). Okay, guys. This is a big one because I’d never even HEARD of it until I casually brought it up with my Doctor. I honestly thought I was the ONLY person to deal with this like I do. S-OCD is when you get a casual suicidal thought out of nowhere and then stress about it because you don’t think it’s normal but you also don’t have any intention of ever doing it and so you don’t think you should call anyone about it (Example: You’re standing near traffic and you suddenly imagine yourself jumping into it, then immediately feel shock, fear, or self-loathing that you even thought that). GUYS– THIS IS NOT UNCOMMON. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. While often experienced by people with depression and suicidal thoughts combined with intent (something I’ll discuss later in this post) this is also something that people without mental health issues experience, too. The biggest issue with it is that people who have Depression, Anxiety or other mental health problems tend to think that it’s a sign there’s something wrong with them and stress themselves out over it for minutes or even hours afterwards because they’ve become more aware of nearly every symptom and are constantly monitoring whether or not this is a sign of an incoming episode, while people without mental health issues tend to dismiss the thought almost immediately and not stress over it at all.
How I Deal With this Symptom: I Remind Myself that the Person Next to Me Might Have Just Thought the Same Thing. Seriously, guys. I use to STRESS OUT about S-OCD episodes. I would spend the next hour mentally checking to see if I was feeling suicidal or if I was feeling any undue fear, anxiety, self-loathing, or rage. And, because I was thinking about it so much, I would, inevitably, start feeling those things. When I found out that MOST people between ages 18 and 45 often have these random thoughts, and it’s ONLY considered S-OCD when you CAN’T let go of them afterwards, it became a lot easier to stop obsessing over it. I often, literally just look around at a stranger nearby and tell myself that they probably just thought the same thing, and see how calm/composed they look. Somehow that helps.
Symptom: Complete and Utter Apathy. One of my most extreme symptoms, these are the days where I sit and stare at the wall or don’t even try to get out of bed. Even when I’m able to put myself through the motions of my regular day-to-day I feel nothing about any of it, except for a deep, angry screaming somewhere in my soul that just wants to know why it doesn’t care. That keeps screaming that it WANTS to care. But it never seems to be able to get through the nothingness between it and the surface. These days break me in many ways, and they are often accompanied by thoughts of suicide, but the apathy is strong enough that even that seems like too much work. Usually I feel a strong sense of self-loathing after the apathy fades (often because I feel like I “wasted” the time spent in apathy and that makes me “lazy.” Logically, I realize that this is a stigma that I’ve learned from society, but I’ve yet to unlearn it).
How I deal with this symptom: I watch something with humor. I don’t watch very much TV because it’s too passive for me most of the time, but if I’m in the apathetic stage of depression, some part of me knows that I’m just going to be sitting and staring, anyway. It somehow seems easier to deal with or even to break out of if I’m able to watch something funny, but that I don’t really have to pay attention to. Sitcoms are my go-to.
Note: Obviously, watching sitcoms does not fix the symptom. It’s just a different version of staring and not caring. But when I come out of the apathy hours or days later, I feel less self-loathing after the time was passed watching comedies. I don’t know why this is, but it’s true in my experience and may help you, too.
Symptom: Anxiety/Sense of Being Trapped. I feel like this is one of my more common symptoms. It involves feeling like I can’t escape from this room, or this life. I feel like nothing will ever change and ten years from now I’ll be in the exact spot I am now and then stay that way until I die.
How I deal with this symptom: I go for a drive OR I look through old diaries. How I deal depends on what I feel trapped about. If I literally feel like something is keeping me in my house (it’s hard to explain, but sometimes it feels like there are ropes binding me or some sort of evil entity in the doorway) I get into my car and drive. I’m lucky and live in Montana, so it’s only a ten minute drive or so to get where I personally need to be to break away from this: I find a spot of road that stretched onto the horizon. Being able to see a road that could take you beyond the sunset makes me feel like I can go anywhere, and it usually calms me down. If it doesn’t, I drive for another 15 minutes until I see a different horizon.
However, if I’m in a sense of being trapped as a human being– where I feel like I’m not learning anything or adding anything to the world, and that my life is being wasted (think the MC from Office Space) then I look at old diary entries or blog posts, or Facebook posts and I just remind myself how much I’ve changed in a year or a decade. This is one of the reasons I write– because it gives Future Me concrete evidence that I am always growing and improving.
Symptom: Stress/Deadlines/Feeling Like I Have No Control Over My Life. Sometimes I feel like everything is out of control and it all seems WAY too overwhelming. This is most common when I have a lot of things to do or a coming deadline. It’s also one of the hardest symptoms to combat because if I try to take myself out of the chaos my brain fights with me and tells me that I’m just wasting MORE time and it’s all going to get harder. Note: Many people are able to meditate for this particular symptom, and if you haven’t tried it you should. It doesn’t work for me, however, so I did not list it in the next section.
How I Deal with this symptom: I Clean or I Color. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ve discovered that cleaning often helps. But a very specific type of cleaning: I start in one corner of the room, or one shelf, or one bookcase. And I organize it perfectly. If I find something in that area that goes somewhere else I DO NOT move to a different area to put it away; I just put the item to one side and stay put until that area is perfect. Then, I move on to a next one. In this manner, I’m able to focus on ONE thing and calm down while simultaneously feeling like I did something productive.
When even that little bit of cleaning seems too overwhelming, I find a coloring book. Again, I focus on ONE piece at one time. I don’t look at the picture as a whole or even at sections. One piece, one color. Fill in EVERY bit of white in that tiny piece. Make it perfect. Pick a different color. Move on. Sometimes I finish the entire page; sometimes I only need ten minutes or so and feel calm enough to tackle the big things.
Symptom: Desire for Self-Harm (Cutting). This is one of the most common outward symptoms of Depression, and one that I have very rarely experienced. As such, I would love for someone to explain how they deal with this symptom to give other people who DO experience it often another option. On the few times that I have self-harmed, it was less of a “way to feel something” (which is described as the most common motivation for self-harm), but as a way of proving to myself that I can overcome any pain. That I’m stronger than it. I don’t know how many other people that self-harm have the same reasons for it as I do, but I keep telling everyone else that they’re not alone, so I have to believe that I’m not alone, too.
How I Deal with this Symptom: I Do Things That Make Me Feel Powerful. Honestly, when I was younger I used to hit things. I would find ways to show my strength through other ways. I’d avoid cutting myself by punching a wooden beam that was accessible to me at the time. However, I eventually realized that this is just a different version of self-harm as I was, ultimately, still hurting myself and causing myself pain (usually broken/bloody knuckles). Then, I started boxing in High School. That helped a bit, but my depression worsened considerably when I moved to a different state. It took me years to realize that the boxing had really helped in many ways. Since then, when I feel like I need to prove to myself that I’m stronger than whatever’s happening, I drop into a fighting stance and punch the air. I imagine myself knocking out an opponent. I started downloading MMA-style workouts and do those often enough that I don’t ever feel like I’m too weak to cope. (This is a good play to mention that many people say that working out is a good way to treat Depression. This might be true for some people, but I say again: even when I worked out, I was still depressed. I did everything everyone said and still hated myself. Some people (including you) may be able to deal with their depression through purely “natural” methods, but I couldn’t. I need to be on medication. And there’s nothing wrong if you do, too).
Symptom: Suicidal Thoughts Combined with Intent. This is one of the scariest parts of Depression, and usually by the time it gets to this point then there’s not a lot I feel that I can do to stop it. This is when things get so low in your mind that you feel like it’d be better/easier to just end it all. This is the one that ends in tragedy.
How I Deal with this Symptom: I take Preventive Action When I’m in a Healthy Mindset, and I Know Where to Get help. I don’t know how many times Preventive Action has saved my life. The first time I attempted suicide, I tried to overdose. Luckily, I only had low-dose Tylenol in the house and I lived through it. That taught me something, and now I never keep anything in my house that I can commit suicide with, just as a precaution. If I develop a new “suicide plan” at any point, I get rid of anything that it involves immediately. Sure, not having pain medication or razor blades in the house can be inconvenient at Regular-Happy-Me times, but it means it’s ALSO inconvenient during the lowest periods, and Suicidal-Me does not usually have the willpower or motivation to go and buy the things that she needs to do something terrible. If it gets to that point and I’m considering driving to Wal-Mart at 2 a.m. to buy an extension cord for my toaster, that usually seems like a lot of work and Suicidal-Me thinks that I’m not worth that much trouble. But calling the suicide-prevention hotline that’s on my fridge isn’t nearly as difficult, and the sign next to it that says “suicide doesn’t end pain, it just passes it on” is usually enough to make Suicidal-Me dial the number and get help. Because there IS help out there, and there ARE people who won’t judge me for needing it. And that’s important to remember too.
Wow, friends. That was a heavy post. Obviously I didn’t cover all of the symptoms associated with Anxiety and Depression, but I think that I covered all of the ones that I have personal experiences with. If you feel comfortable discussing on this post or with your own group of people, then feel free to tell us how you deal with any of the symptoms above. Or, if you experience symptoms not listed here, what are they? How do you deal with them? As always, my biggest goal is to help people who think they’re alone realize they’re not, so being able to discuss any/all parts of our depression is a big step towards societal acceptance and, more importantly, self-acceptance.
Take care. I love you all.