On Depression, my own

Just focus.

Just focus focus focus. Just focus.

Just focus on what you need to. Focus. Come on. Focus.

Please focus. Focus. FOCUS! Just focus.

Just focus focus focus. Please please please.

And so it goes round and round, the thoughts in my head.

Even now, I just looked off to the side and blanked and then thought about something else entirely, even though I’ve been trying to compose this post for a while.

[just focus]

I’ve written before about my struggles with what I had self-diagnosed as depression.

This post is from back in November 2010, when my blog was anonymous:

I feel like I am constantly drowning and there are brief moments where my head breaks the water and I catch a breath. But almost instantly I am back under, flailing, trying to do whatever it takes to make it to the surface again. The panic of my day-to-day is crippling at times, it makes it so I can’t do anything except focus on it.  This, of course, causes more panic. More flailing.  Inevitably crying and more crying.

That whole post was about whether I would quit academia all together, my dissertation more specifically. I don’t mention depression in that post but, WOW, when I read that paragraph, it maps so perfectly onto the feelings I’ve been having for the last two weeks. And my breath leaves my body. That was November 2010.

And today, finally, after years of suffering, I was diagnosed officially for the first time in my life with depression and anxiety.

[just focus]

In the midst of this bout of intense depression, one of my best friends said something to me that jarred me into really taking stock of own reality. She said, “Jessica, I think you’ve been depressed for years. And I think most of the time you manage it. But you need to consider seeing a doctor about medication because your management is failing you and you deserve better than this.”

It was effective messaging.

[just focus]

When I get really sad and overwhelmed, I often retreat. I retreat most fully from the people I am most fearful of failing, the people closest to me, who mean the most to me. I know this is related to the rise in my anxiety and so I stop responding to emails, I refuse to talk on the phone, etc.

What’s hardest about all of this is my son. He’s 4. And he’s totally aware of what’s happening. He wants to know why I’m sad. We talk a lot about what makes me sad (I’m still saying what he said a year ago, “Mommy makes mommy sad”) and I reiterate that he does not make me sad. When I feel good enough, I try to interact with him as long as I can.

I think everyone who parents has fears about failing their child. And I have no false ideas like that I will never fail him. That will happen. Everyone at some point fails everyone else and the more someone means to you, the more acutely the failure is felt. We are just people making our way through complicated relationships, major life events, every day drudgeries.

But my child drives things home for me and with him, the stakes feel the highest. He is only 4 and there is only so much that can be explained. His world is so incredibly small and I am such a central part of it.

On Saturday night I could not sleep. Or maybe I did sleep but then woke up in the middle of the night. So many restless and sleepless nights recently it is hard to remember each one specifically. In the end, I calculated possibly 3 hours of total sleep. After an early morning run/walk with yet another wonderful friend, I needed to nap on Sunday afternoon. I was dragging hard that day both due to my energy level and my depressed, anxious thoughts. I lied down and was asleep in moments. I remember my son coming in and out of the room, one time to give me a picture he had made and another time to see if I was awake. The final time, after hours of me napping, he came in, got right in my face, and said, “Mommy, when are you going to get out of bed?” I felt like I was living in a depression medication commercial and my son was an unwitting supporting player in my mini-drama. It also felt like a ton of bricks had been dropped on my heart.

I pulled myself out of bed and I did my damnedest to give him the attention he was clearly craving. But I kept thinking, “How did it get to this point? How did I let it get to this point? My son deserves better than this.”

[just focus]

In the last few weeks I’ve boiled everything down to small victories. Sometimes that is just getting myself up and dressed. Sometimes it is preparing a meal and then another victory if I can eat it. Sometimes it is going to the grocery store or making a meeting. Other times, it is finally responding to that outstanding email staring me in the face.

Today’s small victory was going to the doctor. And then it was getting up and going to the pharmacy and getting my new meds. And soon I’m supposed to go to a happy hour for a local politician and if/when I make it, I will remind myself that it’s no small feat that I am there.

[just focus]

Lack of motivation and inability to see things through has been one of the largest obstacles for me. Of course, this is easiest to see in the writing of my dissertation (or rather, lack thereof). This has been the unending project that should really have an end. I can literally see it all sketched out in my head. I know what the main argument is, I know what needs to be written, I know what sources from which to pull. I believe the project has worth. And yet. And yet. And yet it is not finished.

I credit this as procrastination, a classic problem. It’s then something controllable that I can overcome if I can just limit distractions. The problem is that the distractions are not all external.

[just focus]

But this lack of motivation can also be seen in the laundry basket that I’ve filled with dirty clothes but haven’t taken out to the garage to put in the wash. It can be seen in the reviews I start to write that never make it out of draft form. It can be seen in the hours of time that lapse between when I’m going to start dinner and when I actually do.

And it’s these smaller moments that get translated in my own mind as laziness, something much more sinister than procrastination (idle hands and all that, I guess). And part of my fear is that when the meds kick in and I finally start feeling like “my real self” (whatever that means), it will turn out that I am just lazy, I am just a hard core procrastinator, I am just easily distracted. It is just me and I am unfixable.

[just focus]

I feel better when I write. I feel better when I tell the truth about my situation and my personal experiences. I feel better when I have time to think through things and craft a narrative.

I spend a great deal of time in social media. That’s no secret. And I love it. But it’s interesting with the depression. Because what I do in social media is, for the most part, a carefully crafted narrative. I put forth what I want to people to see and I’m keenly aware of this. So, as my day-to-day world feels like it is crashing at my feet, I go online and write blog posts, send some tweets, tumble a quote, and post a picture to instagram. Things look managed, ordered, in their proper place. I appear together and with it and accomplished.

Appearances can be so incredibly deceiving. I think part of why I do it in the midst of all of this is to try to deceive myself, to believe my management of this situation is actually working and I can pull myself out of this.

And then I repeat to myself, “You deserve better than this.”

[just focus]

I have a lot of good friends. I have a family who cares deeply for me and I never doubt it. I have a partner who does not always understand what is happening but who continues to hand me tissues as the tears keep falling.

Thank you to everyone who has sent me a kind word, a note of encouragement, checked up on me, let me know I’m not alone in this struggle, etc. I’m not the best right now at getting back to people but it all has helped and I’m forever grateful for the giant network of wonderful people who surround me in my everyday life and virtually.

Depression sucks. Anxiety sucks. I am extremely fortunate that I have the means and time to see both a therapist and a doctor and to afford the long-term prescription that my doctor thinks I need.

[just focus]

I’m now debating whether to publish this post that feels incredibly self-indulgent, that is tied to my name, and which reveals my weaknesses.

But reading other people’s words, knowing other people struggled as I do, that has been helpful to me. So I’m going to hit “publish” now and put this into the virtual/social media world. And I’m just going to hope that maybe it does some good. Writing it has certainly been good for me.

Here goes nothing something.


15 thoughts on “On Depression, my own

  1. Thanks for stepping out on the ledge. It is still scary and I’ve had a diagnosis for over 20 years. I really like what your friend said to you about your “management failing you.” That is a really helpful way to put it. You aren’t on your own. You don’t have to pretend to be perfect. You are pretty cool, even if you don’t accomplish anything else the rest of your life. Solidarity.

  2. Thanks for your honesty and for speaking to this topic. I’ve struggling with depression since my teens and my experiences are much as you’ve described. I hope that medication and therapy are helpful – they certainly have been for me.

  3. I can really identify with the “Is the lazy just me?” part of depression. I spent a very long time both hearing and believing that I’m just a fundamentally lazy, selfish person. Depression certainly exacerbates whatever tendencies towards that that I may have. And it’s much easier for me to get mad at myself for being lazy (I’m good at that part) than to acknowledge that it’s my jerkbrain, but hey, at least I got out of bed for a while today.

    I’m also a withdrawer, but I continue to participate in life in a superficial sort of way. For many of the same reasons you mention. It’s the first time I’ve heard someone articulate so clearly what it is that I feel.

    Many hugs if you want them. You aren’t alone.

  4. Wow, I can relate to so much of this, particularly to the struggle with graduate school. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  5. You are very brave. You are doing the right thing. Depression has been a long winding road for me, and I see some of me and my life in your words. Hang in there.

  6. I hear a bit of my own in your words. Now, no longer in that depression but seeing a psychologist helped immensely. It’s been many years but I still remember the feelings strongly. It first happened in high school or middle school and came and went but graduate school kicked in the anxiety piece that was always underneath. You are on a path that is long and likely closer to relief than even before. I know it. Hope and peace and love are around the corner.

  7. So brave of you to write about this and more so to get help. I can relate to so much of what you wrote, as well as the other comments here. Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. “Lack of motivation and inability to see things through has been one of the largest obstacles for me.” That’s a bg one for me too. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety three year ago, but, like you, very likely had it a long time before that. I may have inherited from my dad (whether by genes or habit, I don’t know), who had it bad. I have a therapist I’ve been seeing every week for just over a year (the previous one was okay, but I wasn’t getting anywhere, so tried a new one), who helps me see symptoms/behaviors (like lack of motiovation) that I work on, but behavior therapy is not enough, and he also helps me see the origins of my depression/anxiety–and that really helps. I also like social networking…. And I make no secret but no great big deal of having depression, which I like to think is right for meand socially responsible for the so many others who have them, especially the undiagnosed and even perhaps the unknowing. Otherwise, on a more day-to-day basis, like you, I say to myself keep focused, and sometimes I just headbutt my way through the day. It doesn’t always work, but, as you say, you fail sometimes but the important thing is to keep on keeping on. Anyway, my main point is, if I finished my PhD, got an academic job, published etc, then so can you! I’m sure you will.

  9. Thank you for hitting “publish”. The world can always use more honesty about mental health issues. And I totally relate to the complete inability to focus. It is so draining – but somehow it’s always helpful to know you’re not alone.

  10. honestly? I have struggled with anxiety and depression on and off throughout my life.

    Depression and anxiety run in my family, but I didn’t deal with it until I went to college. I went to college and after experiencing a sexual assault followed almost immediately by getting involved in an intensely psychologically abusive relationship that sometimes verged into being physically abusive. That relationship lasted for TWO YEARS. TWO YEARS!

    Anyway when I came to grad school I was still dealing with a lot of that fall out, seeing as I made the super-questionable decision to go straight from undergrad to grad. And in a lot of ways was pretty immature. I actually wouldn’t say I was that depressed during grad school, but I definitely had super-intense anxiety issues throughout, and every time I would try to come back and finish the MA thesis. Then when I was pregnant and dropping out of grad school I was depressed again. And then when I was breaking up with my ex, going to court, I was super-super-super depressed again.

    The funny thing is for me that holding down a decent regular job has been the best thing. Of course for me getting a decent regular job also coincided with getting a functional relationship for the first time… like almost ever. But honestly, grad school is an inherently depressing/anxiety-creating situation. When I left grad school, finished the drama with my ex, and got a job – the ANXIETY IS GONE.

    Now, I’m not gonna say I don’t get down. I do. And I probably get down slightly more intensely than the average person. It especially crops up for me situationally, particularly if any drama with my ex arises. But getting the FUCK OUT of grad school was probably the best mental health decision I ever made.

    I mean, for you, getting the FUCK OUT is finishing at this point. Which… YAY!

    It’s funny, because for years I thought I had depression that might need constant medication through life. Now it seems it might be more cyclical/situational for me… I probably should have been back on in 2010 when I was going through my legal stuff. But yeah, there is hope out there!! So much hope. And grad school is created to give you mental and emotional problems. For serious.

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