I'm Not Okay - Coming to Acknowledge Depression & Anxiety
Part 1 of 4 in a Short Series on Living with Depression & Anxiety
“Rebecca, I think you’re depressed.”
I’ll never forget when getting this text from a good friend the summer before I left for college. He knew I needed more than just a good friend - I needed real help.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to accept this truth. I couldn’t accept depression as a reason for what I was feeling.
After all, I had a good home, I was well-fed, I was getting ready to go to college on an athletic and an academic scholarship - what did I, of all people, have to be depressed about?
I was able to push myself through my freshman year of college doing all the things I was expected to do until I was more or less forced into counseling for an eating disorder. My counselor was the first to diagnose me with chronic depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
Though the diagnosis still didn’t make sense to me, I reluctantly gave in to my counselor’s advice to try medication. She was able to convince me it would shut my brain off just enough that I could work through my eating disorder and, ultimately, be healthy enough to run.
Once I was physically healthy, I resisted medicine as much as I could, supplementing with self-medication of alcohol, self-destruction and excessive running when it became too much. Did I know the medicine helped? Of course. But, I couldn’t find anything in my life I to be depressed about.
I had fallen prey to the idea that depression is not a real disease.
If I couldn’t physically see anything wrong with me, I must be fine. If my basic needs plus some were met, why would I be depressed?
I didn’t believe it was a true chemical imbalance. I didn’t know it was genetic. I believed I could “logic” or pray my way out of it, think positive, and simply move on.
People in my life circles didn’t talk about depression or anxiety. I didn’t know there was a kind of depression where people still functioned – I only knew about the depression that led to suicide, the anxiety that led to shutting yourself inside, and the depression that kept you in bed for months at a time.
I was making it. I was pretty successful - at least on the outside. I always made it to class, I always went to practice, I was still running well, I kept showing up at work. I graduated from college, I got my Masters, I made it through a pretty bad relationship and I was a young professional.
No one knew of the appointments I cancelled because the idea of having to go somewhere else was just too much.
My friends didn’t know when I had “something come up” it was simply because talking to another person was more than I could handle.
My coaches didn’t know that running was often what I did to simply become numb, to forget all of the craziness that happened inside of my head.
Few people understood that my sleep patterns - days of only wanting to sleep and weeks of sleeping sporadically, only hours at a time - were truly indicative of depressive sleep.
Few people heard about the battle that happened in my head. Some who did felt sympathetic, some said I should get over it, few understood it.
Not until late in my 20’s was I able to acknowledge and finally deal with what was really happening. It took over 10 years for me to name that I am sick with a disease no one can see - that I really do have to deal with depression and anxiety and I likely will for the rest of my life.
Some days, some weeks, some months, even, pass by with few incidences and I am functional, alive, awake and present. And then it hits. Sometimes with cause, sometimes for no reason at all. Sometimes it lasts a few days, often a few weeks, in the worst cases, months at a time.
What does it look like during those times? What does it feel like? It goes something like this:
“Sometimes I simply don’t care. I want to care. But I can’t. I want to want to go to work, to interact with the boys, to enjoy their craziness, to be goofy with my husband, to walk with my students, to interact with people, to simply be at ease. But I can’t. I can go through the motions, perform all the tasks, make dinners, plan and even teach lessons, drive kids places, listen at dinner time, but the desire to engage is non-existent. I don’t want to move. It takes all my energy sometimes to engage with the boys in something that isn’t a correctional behavior. I think I want to run - but, really, because it’s the only thing that helps me breathe. The desire to live and love fully exists. The ability to put it into action comes and goes like the tide. The desire to engage more deeply exists, but the energy it takes leaves me with nothing. The desire to take care of myself is small, but the guilt at speaking that desire overtakes me and leaves me so ashamed. The desire to let myself be loved is great - it exceeds desire and is truly a need - but the critic and skeptic inside tell me it won’t last, to stay afar for the fall is near, to be on guard for the ulterior motives. The desire to simply be satisfied - not even happy or fulfilled - lies beneath all this worry, but my mind is constantly reminding me of what could go wrong, of what already is wrong.
The desire is there. The ability is not. The ability to move past it, to let it all go, to do in spite of it all doesn’t seem to exist. To count small things like going to work as a victory seems ridiculous - but, honestly, that is a victory. Doing well, my best, while I’m there would be a bonus - simply getting it done is what I can manage.
The desire to verbalize all of this fearlessly and without taking it back or making excuses - that I am really doing no better than a functional alcoholic - is strong. I am a functional depressed human. I can do, I can accomplish, but I am existing, my soul and heart somewhere lost inside of myself. I want to said it out loud. I want it to be okay that I’m not okay. For no real reason, I’m not okay.
And I’m the only one not okay with it.”
What I can’t see in those times is that the people around me want me to be okay, but I can’t be okay if I don’t acknowledge and accept that I’m not okay.
I now have a circle who recognizes depression and anxiety. I now know it’s a real chemical imbalance. I still, sometimes begrudgingly, take medication to help me live the life I want. I am more than okay now asking for professional help and do so on a regular basis.
I’m slowly accepting that I don’t have to be able to give 110% to everything every day. I’m slowly learning that I have to move past the days, weeks and months when the ability is simply not there to enjoy the days when the ability to be present is there.
I’m slowly accepting it’s okay to say I am not okay.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety or depression, please reach out and find professional support.