Lifehacking Depression: Two Years Later

“And that’s the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn’t always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn’t even something — it’s nothing. And you can’t combat nothing. You can’t fill it up. You can’t cover it. It’s just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.”

Hyperbole and a Half: Depression Part Two

Nearly two years ago I wrote about growing up with depression and how I have managed the crippling side effects without medication. In a sense, I came out as a depressive who hit bottom and made it back to normalcy, no longer feeling shame. Turns out, coming out was just the beginning of my recovery.

Opening up about my private torment in such a public way truly revealed that more people are secretly dealing with any number of issues, most of which are lifelong, and sadly, with a negative stigma. Since my essay, in such a short period time, that negative stigma seems to be easing up. A big part of that dialog was the suicide of Robin Williams and the litany of young teens taking their own lives care of bullying. The media put a spotlight on these tragic deaths and social media revealed a divide of options running the gambit from sadness to victim shaming. While at times uncomfortable, this discussion was much overdo and desparately needed. A key example would be Henry Rollins initial response to Williams’ death, in his essay entitled, “Fuck Suicide” and his profuse apology. Those who are not known or famous have come to this conclusion as well, but this is a stark instance of how one can admit their ignorance in a very public and sincere fashion. It takes real guts to admit that you made a mistake and truly apologize.

To change one’s mind is a powerful thing. I know this first hand. My brain being the biggest troll with a default mode of naysayer, I may have learned to temporarily lifehack my depression, but I was a fool to think that I had singlehandedly wrangled my demons for good. I am still free of medication (going on six years) yet I hit a wall a little over a year ago and sincerely needed professional help. Tips and tricks can provide a path to wellness; however, there is no replacement for therapy and a serious commitment to recovery.

I’ve had a few therapists in my youth. I didn’t feel a connection to them or to getting better. I worked very hard putting on the act of recovery. As a child, I was taught to be seen and not heard. Perfectionism was so deeply ingrained in my DNA that I learned that the appearance of mental stability was just as good as actually being healthy: A talented actress from a very young age out of fear and a strangely strong urge to be liked by all. The bandage I used to repair my depression was just another facet of deep denial. Sure, I was no longer suicidal but I was still eager to please others and in private binge eat and overexercise in tandem with denying myself other needs on a martyr level. I was only telling part of my story because I honestly and truly did not know there was another part, that is, until I started the real work with my current therapist.

My therapist is the captain of my mental dingy navigating the rough waters of my emotional life. Of course therapy is not just about a good counselor who listens, take notes, and ask the hard questions, its about the patient and the work to be done in the hours outside of that room. In a sense, I am the first mate taking my commands and doing the grueling manual labor to keep the mental dingy on course. Okay, that’s a lot of nautical references, yet the core imagery cannot be understated: My therapist helps guide me in my goal of a balanced healthy life when I only see potential disaster.

A year ago, I met my Yaya of a therapist. All my grandparents are dead. I didn’t know that I needed a surrogate grandma until a few sessions in. She provides me with a familial comfort that has been missing for a long time. She hugs me after each session. I really feel good when she tells me that she is proud of me. Since I’m an excellent student, I ask for homework and extra credit after each session. Admittedly, I first did this to impress her, so she can see how dedicated and hardworking I am. Ever the performer, I read all the books and had a report of what I learned from each. These books were of the candy-coated self-help variety. A genre of literature I was well-versed in and have used for temporary relief. She was lining them up and I was knocking them down like a super patient. That was just an illusion, really, I didn’t connect to those books. I didn’t see myself within those pages. I was reading but I wasn’t doing the work required of me.

Then came the bright orange book: Understanding Codependency. A book from my therapist’s bookshelf. A manual for counselors and therapists. Not a softball of a text directed to patients. This was hardcore. I was reading from another perspective. The one person I was trying to snow with my best-patient-ever act saw right through my bullshit. Within those pages I read about a patient like me. The rage, the confusion, meaning well but controlling, and passive aggressive instead.

Wait, what? I’m codependent?

This is not the label one wants. This isn’t easy to take. This is very unlike me. I am fiercely independent, sure, I have a large friend group and equally large family who I work especially hard to please. Sure, it’s always at bars or involving alcohol. Sure, it’s always late at night. And isn’t it funny, how they keep plying me with alcohol and shaming me for my moderation. Some friends and family member I have no boundaries. Most only contact me for something they want from me. Most don’t like it when I say no. It’s an odd thing to realize that your depression is a side effect of low self-esteem and want to fix others.

This was the moment I realized that I had to stop acting like the prefect patient and start being myself. Whatever the hell that is! I was so confused and disarmed that it took quite a long time to undo the pretzel my brain was twisted into. To figure out who I am and be that person without fear. To start letting go of past behavior and old friends. I did a major spring cleaning of my apartment, mind, and body. That is not to say that I am cured, now that I know what my issues are, and how to start repairing old wounds. This is the lifelong part. The depression, sadness, and anxiety are temporary, as is, happiness, joy, and excitement.

For all the work, I don’t know more than anyone else. I’m busy trying to help myself.

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