You cannot be second.

This phrase needs to be the most important phrase you think each and every day.  While it should always be a phrase you tell yourself, it becomes so much more vital when you are experiencing depression or any other mental illness.  You must be willing to put yourself first.

I am the type of person who genuinely loves to make others happy.  It makes me feel joy knowing that I, even in some small way, can bring joy to other people.  And many times I put that above the desire to bring happiness to myself.  Who am I kidding?  It is almost all times.  I like to say it is both my best and worst quality.  When I love and care for someone or something, I do it with my entire being; which is sometimes the most rewarding thing or the most absolutely devastating thing when it is not reciprocated.

Sometimes when I am going through a difficult situation, I expect others to put my needs first in the way that I do with them.  Life lesson: 99% of humanity does not operate that way.  And that’s OK!  But I did it know this is how things worked or that it was OK for a very long time.  It brought on a lot of resentment towards people throughout my life.  Now?  Well, now I’m realizing they’re just putting themselves first and it should be alright for me to do that too.

While experiencing depression, I had no idea how to help myself.  I was so trapped in my own mind that I could not even begin to decide what would be something that would help me.  And this is why I looked to others to guide that process.  Then got upset when they did not have answers because they wanted to respect my own processes and healing.  I just figured they did not care as much as I felt they should.

But through everything I knew something had to change.  And knew that it ultimately had to come from me.  So one day, it randomly popped in my head “you cannot be second.”  Since I have had this thought I have been able to slowly but surely believe that.  I cannot be second.  Not only for my own health, but if I want to continue to want to make the people in my life happy then I must first be happy and satisfied in my own life.  If I truly care about those around me, and I do I really do, then I must be the best version of myself so that what little potential positivity and happiness I am able to give them, I can do so with no obstacles.

This is why I have bought in and realized “you cannot be second.”  What will be your motivation?

 

-mnw

Ordinary Days

“Just a day, just an ordinary day, just trying to get by.”  This is the beginning of a song by Vanessa Carlton (random, I know).  But this song describes many days in the life of someone with depression.  Days feel ordinary and many times you are just trying to get by.

Have you ever experienced this?  You know if you have.  Waking up, feeling that any responsibilities you have that day are giant burdens and you have no idea how you are going to tackle them.  No one responsibility is more important or difficult than another. They are all equally heavy.  No day is more important or difficult than another.  They all feel ordinary.  It is really not fun to feel this way.  You wonder what will end this if nothing feels important or meaningful.

You try to tell yourself that something will come along that will feel important or worthwhile to break you out of this fog.  You wait…and wait…and wait.  Alas, each day still feels like that ordinary day and you are just trying to get by.  Seasons come and go, you have glimpses of hope but they’re completely overshadowed by the notion that everything feels hopeless so those glimpses must be false.

One of the hardest parts of feeling that everyday is ordinary is when those around you find days enjoyable.  They think you will also find the day enjoyable and meaningful.  And while you may have enjoyed the day, you know ultimately it will not change anything and tomorrow will be another ordinary day.  That is hard to explain and hard for someone who is not experiencing depression to understand.  As the person going through depression you want everyone to just understand and get it without explanation but that unfortunately is not how it works, which is when rifts start to happen.

It is really hard when days feel ordinary and you cannot express that to people in a way they will understand.  Truthfully, I do not have any great advice as to how to break this cycle.  But you have to keep trying to break it…it has started to break for me.  I feel at times there is no hope.  Then I realize there are many others who have continued on after experiencing something much worse, so if they can do it why would I not be able to?  Maybe I am weak.  But that is likely not it.  Some days have started to feel more than ordinary.  That gives me hope that one day there will be more extraordinary days than ordinary.

 

-mnw

“I am where I choose to be.”

Many times we here quotes like this. They tell us we are completely in control of our own lives. Or at least our own happiness. “There is no reason you should be unhappy and if you are, do something to change it.” This makes sense…unless you’ve been in a position where it inexplicably doesn’t.

Telling that to a person with depression is like tell a person with a broken leg that they can just walk if they’re willing to try. They might be able to hop along for a bit, but until that leg is healed, they will not really be able to walk the way they did before. The same goes for happiness. Until your mind heals, you can’t just “find happiness” or “be happy” when your mind is not well. It must be accepted that this is the way it is for mental illness.

Nobody chooses depression. Trust me when I tell you, NOBODY wants to be depressed. And often times there’s no explaining how it happened. For some, there are traumatic, life-changing events and for others it is difficult to pin down one main reason.  This is why it’s so difficult to just “be happy.”  If we knew what it was making us unhappy, we’d certainly change it. Or at least try to because it may be something out of our control.

It’s funny. This is a quote I always looked at and enjoyed. I wanted to believe it to be true, and to an extent I do. Many times we are in control of our own fate, whether we recognize it or not. I am also willing to accept the truth that maybe we are not always as in control as we think. Sometimes it’s not just due to emotional instability or irrational thoughts. There are times we are genuinely unable to change something about the way our minds work. At least we cannot change it on our own.

If we do not allow something or someone to help us, what will stop us from continuing with the same mindset we currently have?  I certainly do not have an answer for that. I always struggle with asking for help. I do not want others to feel the burden that I am feeling and do not want to make them feel as though they need to be responsible for me and my wellbeing.  But I have come to the realization that I cannot do everything on my own.  Especially the really difficult things like feeling down, responding to negative situations, and coping with my emotions.  These are things that probably have not only led me to my current state but also have perpetuated my feelings.  As I wrote about previously, one of he hardest parts about depression and mental illness are the cyclical thoughts in your head that you often feel you cannot control.

While I do believe we must be the ones to take responsibility for our own lives and wellbeing, it would be naïve of anyone to fail to recognize the role outside factors can play in how we feel.  It is human nature to allow them to affect you, positively or negatively; and when you are already feeling morose, the negative weighs heavier on you than normal.

If you are affected by things outside of your control, or even some things that might be in your control but you are having a hard time getting a grasp of, do not feel weak. It is so easy to feel that.  I do all the time. I feel it is my lack of strength that makes me feel this way. While in reality, it is likely just a result of the current circumstances of my life.  This is difficult to remember, but crucial in not blaming yourself for how you feel.  Do not be afraid to free yourself of the responsibility of how you got to where you.  But try to be strong enough to realize you are capable enough to find help if you are willing to seek it.

It is not an easy road and it is always so simple to read it. The first step on the road is the hardest. The next twenty steps after might be just as hard…but somewhere along the line it’ll get easier and you will realize you are somewhere you want to be. Somewhere you CHOOSE to be.

 
-mnw

Stressed vs. Depressed

In my last post I spoke of the ever repetitive thoughts that take place in the mind of someone with depression.  However, many people cannot understand where to draw the line between when they are just experiencing stress or if they are depressed. I can tell you in my personal situation, for the first three months of what I now realize was depression, I thought it was just stress.

How did I know the difference? Well, stress (to me) goes like this…

“WOW, so much going on right now. Tonight I need to go to the store, cook dinner, pack for the weekend, and make sure my pet sitter is lined up for when I’m gone.  Tomorrow, I’ll go to work then need to rush to the airport for my 6 PM flight to this conference.  It sucks I’ll be gone for so-and-so’s party, but I’ll grab dinner with them when I’m back!  Plus, they’ll be sure to have another one soon.  At least while I am gone I will get to explore a new city when I have some down time!”

That sounds stressful. A lot on your plate, but managing it all as best as you can.  Let’s look at the same scenario in the mind of a depressed person.

“Ugh. I have so much going on right now.  I will just skip the store tonight because I just want to go home after work and relax before I have to go to this conference and interact with so many people.  Packing is going to be terrible too.  How professional do we need to look for this thing anyways?  The flight is tomorrow at 6 PM…the time I usually come home and wind down but instead I will have to do just the opposite, be around a bunch of strangers.  Hopefully I get a cold from the flight so I can skip parts of the conference and people don’t judge if I stay in my room during some down time.  Oh my goodness…and I’m missing so-and-so’s party. She’s going to hate me.  I feel I always miss her events.”

This is more along the lines of depression.  It probably sounds like someone who is just negative and not choosing to see the positives that the stressed person was still able to pick up on, but what it is hard to portray is the fact that the depressed mind thinks this is the only way to think.  The depressed mind is controlled by the negative side to any situation – the streaks of gray.  It KNOWS there are positives there, but it will not allow you to feel them.  The FEEL of it is important, because you can acknowledge it but if you do not feel it, it is difficult to follow through on it.

It’s one of those ‘people who are stressed are not always depressed, but people who are depressed are always stressed’ situations.  The imagery that always comes to mind when I’m trying to convey how my depression feels vs. how stress feels is this; imagine you are claustrophobic (and I so apologize to anyone reading this if you are claustrophobic and this anecdote makes you uneasy!).  Now imagine you are claustrophobic and you are told your body needs to fit into the smallest box it possibly can.  So you enter the box.  You’re barely in there, let alone with extra room to move or to breathe.  You are so constricted in every aspect of what you are accustomed to doing. You could not clap your hands EVEN IF you wanted to.  Well, this is what it feels like to be depressed.  Your mind is constricted to this small universe of feelings.  You know there are more feelings out there and you may even want to feel them, but you’re so constrained by the disease that you cannot break out of the proverbial box that is holding you in.

It is certainly an uneasy image to think of.  Almost makes you feel as if you are in that box, experiencing that moment.  This is what each moment of depression is like.  Just as uneasy, just as scary, just as tense.  So next time you try to think of whether you are feeling stressed or depressed, try to remember that imagery.  Think about whether you are in that box and if so, if it is something you feel all the time or it was just temporary.  This will likely help you know the difference.

I would love to hear in the comments how you define the difference between “stressed vs. depressed” in your own life or even if you never realized there could be a difference!

 

-mnw

Pete and Repeat…

Have you ever wondered what goes through the mind of a person who has anxiety and depression?  Have you ever wondered what makes them feel the way they do?  Why can they not break themselves free of this “mindset”?  Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that.

When thinking of how to describe what it’s like in the mind of someone who is depressed and anxious, I thought of the old riddle I used to LOVE to tell when I was little (I guess now that my brain is feeling like this, it’s some sort of weird karma for me torturing others’ all those years…), Pete and Re-Pete.  If you’ve never heard it, it goes like this.

Me (in my whiny child voice): “Pete and Repeat are sitting on a wall. Pete falls off. Who’s left?”

Annoyed other person: “Repeat.”

Me: “Pete and Repeat are sitting on a wall. Pete falls off. Who’s left?”

Other person: “Repeat.”

So, yes, you get the picture. The point is it’s cyclical.  When you think it is done, it’s not, it is really just starting over.

An example of what this looks like in the mind of a depressed person is this: “I feel really terrible right now, this is awful. Everything is stressful.  Work has been exhausting lately, my friends are all so busy we barely keep in touch, my family lives far away, my significant other is probably so annoyed by me since I’ve been so down lately.  If I had more energy, I’d go do something to make myself feel better but I am tired so I’ll just rest.” (a bit later) “I really hate being alone, this sucks I want to be able to go do things but I just feel so exhausted and nobody would understand why I feel this way, so I will just stay by myself.”

Those thoughts lead to a day/night/weekend home alone.  After that time alone, you feel just that…alone.  You feel you’ve been so shut away and shut off and somehow more exhausted, that if you tried to explain it, nobody would understand.  Sometimes if you have prior obligations (such as works or plans with people), you can force yourself to get up and get out for that.  While it is not easy, just going and doing your best to get through it is often times easier than having to explain because you do not even understand your feelings fully yourself.  You also do not want people to worry about you, though secretly you wish someone would notice. But you try to suppress the feelings, so of course nobody notices and everyone thinks things are good for the most part. Maybe they think you’re stressed, but certainly not depressed.

After your day at work or your dinner out with friends you come home.  You think: “Thank goodness I’m finally home and can just let my guard down and be alone with my thoughts.  It was so exhausting to be out around people and put on a good face and pretend to care about socializing.” (a bit later) “I just hate that I spend so much time alone and being around others is so draining emotionally for me.  But I know that when I’m alone I just overthink everything.  But being around people is too much. But being alone sucks.”

You see how this is a lot like the Pete and Repeat riddle?  It makes no sense, yet it is repetitive and ultimately destructive.  You tell yourself the same things over and over, but then you get so angry at yourself for thinking this way and you beg to be released of this agony.  But you know the way out is the exact thing this illness is preventing you from doing – asking for help, putting yourself out there, and being willing to be vulnerable even when it is uncomfortable.

It is quite difficult to explain this to someone who has never experienced it.  People think you enjoy feeling “sorry for yourself” after a while. And maybe you do end up finding some comfort in it because it becomes routine.  Routines somehow become comfortable even if the routine is an uncomfortable thing.  While I know this analogy to a pointless riddle may seem silly, but I believe it sheds a bit of light for those on the outside to understand how we are feeling on the inside.

 

-mnw

“Help Wanted”…no, help needed.

no-help-wantedOnce Fall 2015 rolled around, it was clear what my issues were: anxiety and depression.  The next step would be figuring out how to deal with them.  After a numb September, November became too much.  I can remember it specifically. November 14. It was a Saturday. For some reason, being home alone in my new solo apartment and everything else in life was too much.  I wanted nothing to do with anything or anyone.  I had a girls dinner planned with my friends, which I attended.  I can’t say I said more than 5 words at that whole dinner.  They visibly noticed something was wrong and I just said that I was not feeling well.  They laughed and drank and had a great time.  I barely ate, did not drink any alcohol, and certainly did not share any laughs.  I guess I went because I did not want them to know something was wrong. Or maybe didn’t want to have to admit to myself what was happening inside my head.

Then I left…and I just felt that was it.  This was going to be the last day of my life.  And frankly, at that moment I was OK with that.  My drive home I considered my options.  How would I actually go about killing myself?  I debated and finally settled on something.  Then, it dawned on me that I should think of any possible reasons NOT to do it.  “Well, I guess there are a couple reasons.  My cat would basically be homeless. My birthday is coming up, maybe that could be fun, even though nobody even knows it’s happening and I have no plans.  Family and friends? They are all strong and smart, they would get over it.  Work will figure it out, so not that.  My niece Lydia would probably miss me.”  Those were the thoughts I had.  And it was that last thought about my little niece that made me pass that night; but I did cry myself to sleep while shaking and wondering what would become of me.

After that I knew I needed help from a professional.  I then somehow mustered up the energy during work one day to look on our health plan’s website for a therapist.  I looked at the first five pages and felt very blah towards all of them.  Then on the sixth page, I saw a last name that resembled the last name of an athlete I like.  At that moment, I knew she was who I needed.  I have no idea why I knew, but I did.  It felt silly that was the “reason” I chose her, but as it turned out, she was the therapist I needed.

Life got a little better.  Our weekly sessions helped me.  Some of the things I shared at times felt ridiculous as I said them aloud, but she never made me feel as what I had to say was invalid or unimportant.  That was crucial for me.

December 2015 felt great.  Many great things happened, as generally happens for a lot of us during that month.  At times I felt very anxious, but overall things felt as though they were moving in the right direction.  I was feeling good over the holidays.  Even right after, things were alright. I was holding steady and coping.  Then after a work trip in January kept me stranded across the country due to a winter storm, my strength I thought I had so aptly built up came crumbling down.  I was lost again.  My relationship hit some bumps that frankly, I did not know how to handle.  February 2016, things again got unfathomably overwhelming.

Again, I can remember the day so vividly.  February 13.  Another Saturday.  As I drove home in late morning, everything came crashing down. I felt totally helpless towards everything in my life.  I could never escape this.  Or at least that is how it felt.  I came home, and this time I not only had a plan, but laid everything out.  It was all there, ready for me just to take the next few steps to complete the process.  I stood in my kitchen over my counter, crying to the point where my vision was blurry at best, and began to take the first step.  It felt weird but I could not stop.  Then, for some reason my body stopped working and it walked me out of my kitchen into my living room.  There was no real thought behind it.  It just happened.  I was in a haze.  And the next thing I knew, I was on the phone with my sister.  Basically, I ended up leaving a few hours later to stay with her for the weekend because being by myself was probably not the best for me at that time.  I never told my sister (and still haven’t) what happened that morning, but her being so understanding without questioning may just have saved my life.

Once I returned that week, I talked with my therapist and explained I felt it was time to seek the help of a psychiatrist.  She gave a recommendation and I was able to make an appointment which ultimately led to the decision to seek the help of medication.  I did tons of research on all the medications, their benefits, and their side effects.  Ultimately I ended up with the lowest dosage of Zoloft (50 mg).  It’s helped.  Am I “better”?  Absolutely not.

What I’ve learned is the path to feeling yourself again is not linear.  In non-nerdy terms, the path is not straight.  Imagine a mountain…you are probably picturing a triangular image like this:

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You, as I’d imagine most people would, might look at that and think “mountain.” Sure, definitely true. But let’s look at a REAL mountain, up close and personal.

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(Picture taken in Capri,  Italy by me)

If you look on the right side of the picture you can see the bottom of the mountain and the top on the left.  However, look at the route up.  Does that look completely straightforward and simple?  No.  There are ups, downs, and even plateaus that ultimately help get you to the top.  This is how I have started to think of my journey towards feeling myself again.  It’s not simple.  Sorry to say, but I am not going to be a blogger who tells you any amazing secrets to recovery.  I am not going to pretend that I am healed or better myself.  I am very much still recovering.  I will continue to try and recover, even if I do not understand the reason completely.

Many times I’ve wondered…will I see the top of the mountain?  What is the point? What will getting to the top of the mountain even do for me? Honestly, I don’t know those answers.  Many times I wonder why I still try to get to the top of the mountain.  And too many of those times, I really have no idea.  But to this point, I have continued.  And I continue with the knowledge that the trip up the mountain will not be simple.  To be perfectly candid, I consider myself still at the bottom…slowly scratching and clawing trying to climb the way up.

 

-mnw

Mental Illness: In My Own Words

Before going into more detail I first want to talk about mental illness and what it means to live with mental illness.  Truthfully, I know the statistics and could look more up and share all of that, but for this blog I want to be more raw and talk about what mental illness feels like and might look, sound, and feel like in people around you.

While there are the medical definitions of what constitutes mental illness (whether that be depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.), often times we lack descriptions on what it looks and feels like to those who are affected.

Having been on both sides of the fence, first observing what mental illness can look like while I am feeling mentally healthy and now as someone experiencing depression and anxiety first hand, I can tell you that though there are obvious signs, things are not as black and white as they seem.

As a friend, family member, partner, or coworker, you usually can tell when something is off with someone close to you or whom you interact with regularly.  The blaring red flags are they seem down, they no longer want to do things they used to be interested in with no real reason behind that, they struggle to find motivation or purpose in their activities/work, they basically slowly begin to shut themselves off from the world.  Yes, yes, these are all true and I have felt all these in my depression.  But it is hard to navigate as the one not affected though because the topic is so sensitive and you don’t want to seem accusing; you merely want to show the person suffering you care. It is a difficult territory to navigate when you visibly see someone struggling.

However, it is worth noting that sometimes the person who smiles at you everyday when you walk in the office, the one who is quick to respond in the group chat among friends, the person who somehow always shows up to your events (even if only for an hour), can be suffering just as much as those who wear it noticeably.

Personally, when I began to feel depressed, I attributed it to work and life stress for about three months. Three whole months of telling myself and everyone around me that there was just a lot happening and that’s why I was antisocial, restrained, and ultimately not acting like myself.  Then once I realized what was happening, I still felt like it was not acceptable to just come right out and tell people “sorry, getting out of bed right now to go to your birthday dinner that is 30 minutes away is just too much for me to physically and mentally conquer right now.”  I struggled with this mightily.  In future posts, I will get into how it felt to finally tell people, what I learned about opening up, and how they reacted.  I will also do my best to explain how I still managed to do some of these activities.

Experiencing all this for myself has opened my eyes to everything that people can be going through in life without others knowing. I’m sure many of you have seen of heard the quote “You never know what battles others are fighting, so be kind always” (or something to that affect!), but it is true.  I know at my work nobody knows what I am going through because it is not an “appropriate” workplace topic.  Well, let’s be fair here, I also do not know what others are going through either, potentially for the same reason.  Maybe someone is dealing with infertility issues or another has a family member recovering from addiction or WHO EVEN KNOWS what else.  It has made me be kinder to others, even though sometimes even mustering ‘hello’ can be hard for me.  At the very least, it has made me less judgmental and not to be so quick to make assumptions.  I now give every person the benefit of the doubt for their behavior, even though it may not always be warranted…but maybe it is?

In summary, living with mental illness is not always the dark, dramatic picture we always think it is. Sometimes it’s a bright sky where some clouds come in to cover the sunshine that is trying to peek through.  I say this not to discount those moments where it can be dark with those extreme scenarios, but to bring awareness to the fact that it is more, much more, than just those scenarios.  Many times, those scenarios only happen because these “non-extreme” warning signs are ignored.  Hopefully, we can admit firstly to ourselves if we are experiencing these warning signs, however subtle they may seem.  This will be a difficult, but necessary, moment in order to try to help yourself in this journey.  And if someone you know seems to be acting unlike themselves, just reassure them you are there to listen to anything whenever, if ever, they are ready to talk about it.  Pressuring them will not make them more likely to tell you, but letting them do so on their terms will make it easier for them to open up.

 

-mnw

Welcome!

Wow. Here I am. After debating many times about starting a blog and what the topic of the blog should be, it finally dawned on me as to what the topic should be.

Around May 2015, I started to notice a change in myself.  I was not as happy, outgoing, and positive as I normally had been my whole life.  I thought work was becoming overwhelming so waited until after I knew I had a vacation planned that same July.  Thinking the vacation would be a nice, necessary break, I came back and ended up feeling worse.  It was then that I began to admit to myself that I may have depression and anxiety.  I was living in a new place for the first time in my life (grew up, went to school, and had my first job in Pittsburgh; now in the NYC area) and the reality of being out of my comfort zone was hitting me harder than I had prepared for.  In the fall, everything became too much and I began seeing a therapist.  Things were clearer after talking with her each week, however I still had the same feelings deep down.  In February 2016 I decided it could be time to seek out the help of a psychiatrist.  I have been on medication since then and am still working to get back to my old self.

While I have days and weeks where I feel better, there are still times when I feel weak and unlike myself.  I love to journal and figured why not share those thoughts and experiences with others?

The purpose of this blog is to discuss what living an everyday life with depression and anxiety is like.  The images so often portrayed in the media and other publications are those of people who do not get out of bed, do not function well, and sometimes even commit suicide. While these are all very real depictions of the disease, there are still countless others who carry on through life, forcing themselves to continue their daily activities, sometimes mustering up a smile, while living with the very real feelings of depression and anxiety.

I will share my own stories, those I have observed, and even educational information on this topic and hope that along the way we can all learn something from one another and help each other through this ongoing journey.

The name “Streaks of Gray” came to me when reading something that said “every silver lining has a touch of gray.”  To me, this jumped out because while I used to be positive and know many people who can always find the ‘silver lining’ in situations, sometimes we get to a place in life where no matter what, we cannot help but notice the ‘streaks of gray.’  Thanks for stopping by and look forward to connecting with you!

 

-mnw