I just want to feel better.
That’s what I told the doctor yesterday when I walked out of my house after dinner, drove to the clinic and sat in her office. My family doc is away right now, but his colleagues have my file, and in it, you can clearly see where I found my way into his office in 2015 with the same set of symptoms.
Back then, like now, I was dealing with a pile of issues beyond my control that were sending me into a daily anxiety spiral. I wasn’t sleeping well, eating well, or dealing well – at all.
But beneath that, buried just below the obviousness of anxiety, was depression. The two often work in pairs in my life. The problem is the anxiety is so in-your-face that it’s hard to see anything beyond it. So, like now, I treated the anxiety. I went to the gym, practiced mindfulness, saw a therapist, talked to friends, reduced my caffeine (no small feat as a writer, believe me) and anything else I could do to keep it at bay. Anxiety was the focus.
This time, it was also the focus. And again, this time, depression festered. I didn’t see it until it was suffocating me. Last night, as I heard about one more stressor to add to the pile of stressors going on, I suddenly realized I couldn’t do this without help anymore. My mind and body are exhausted. I’m no longer seeing the good stuff. I don’t want to be around people most of the time; I'd rather be alone with a good show on TV.
By the time I saw the doctor, I had done an online depression test to show her the results. I had made a list of my symptoms, and they were clear as day. This is what depression looks like for me. This is how it manifests. I still function, but everything is a giant hurdle. I still push through each day, but with an immense amount of effort. I’m not sitting in a corner crying all the time, but I'm not happy either. Everything is just bleak. Gray.
Insidious and cruel, manipulative and suffocating, hiding and in plain sight. That’s depression for me.
Today is my first day on anti-depressants. Again.
I took them at 7:30 am, right before leaving the house to do a speaking engagement at a local high school. The school was downtown, and I was coming in from the suburbs to the west of the city. When I left, the GPS on my phone said I would arrive at 8:28 – 22 minutes before the start of the assembly. But as I drove, as the traffic kept building up, my time of arrival kept inching up, closer and closer to the assembly’s start time.
I broke out in a cold sweat. I didn’t want to be late, to let people down. I started worrying about missing a chance to talk to hundreds of Grade 9 students about how to be a solid pal to the LGBTQ community. I take talking to youth seriously, because I know how engaged they are and what an impact they have. This group is just starting high school and have four years to change and shape school culture in a more inclusive way before making their way into other places and spaces to do the same. I couldn’t miss this.
In the car this morning, with my arrival time inching up, I realized none of my calm-down-Amanda techniques were working. No deep breathing, no thought analysis, no reminders that traffic was out of my control or that this wasn’t the end of the world. Nothing. And I consider myself a pro and slowing my roll.
“Well, of course nothing’s working,” I finally said to myself aloud in the car. “You’re depressed. You’re depleted. You can't counsel yourself out of this right now. You need to give yourself a break.”
The other day, I read something the incredible Elizabeth Gilbert wrote on Instagram. She was talking about her own negative thought processes and how that morning, she had tried to use thoughts to deal with her thoughts, creating a giant tangle. Then she remembered thinking her way out of it wasn't going to be the answer. She needed to let her heart do the work. In that moment, she simply chose to love herself, and to let her mind rest.
I loved what she had to say so much that I turned it into a quote to carry with me, obviously. And I remembered it when I was in the car. I let my mind be anxious, and I chose to love myself through it.
The assembly was great. I got there with a few minutes to spare. The room filled me with positive energy, and I engaged with students both during and after. Even on my hardest days, speaking to a room full of people is one of my happy places.
But yeah, I'm pretty tired now. My mind is a heavy thing to lug around.
The drugs will start to work soon. It took a little less than two weeks last time, and I hope for the same this time around. It’s a relief to know reinforcements are on the way. I’ve fought so hard, and I carry no shame. I saw I needed help and got it; what’s there to be ashamed of? I still believe I’m what strong looks like – now with a little serotonin army forming behind me.
Hey, everyone needs an entourage.
For now, I’m going to allow myself to just be, without too many expectations. I have to get better. So, I rest, I recuperate, I work as much as I can and no more than that, love my family and let them love me, and one day soon, I’m going to wake up with a spring in my step again.
If you’re struggling today and you’re wondering if you should make that doctor’s appointment: do it. Don’t even think about it anymore. Dial the number, send the email, or walk right in and say you need help. Do it for you, do it for the people you love. You deserve to be happy.
And then, together, we can both start shining again.