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What I Can Never Seem to Say About My Depression and Anxiety

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This is what I want my favorite person to know, but I can never seem to say:

I know I’m a hypocrite. I know I always encourage you to talk to me about the things that bother you, to tell me all the things you can’t talk to anyone else about. Then, I know I can’t do the same. I say I’m fine when you ask if I’m OK, and I’m really not.

I want you to know it’s not that I don’t trust you. I really, really want to tell you. Yet, at the same time, I don’t want you to know what a mess I sometimes am. I don’t want you to think less of me. It’s not that I don’t think you’d stick by me like I stick by you, but the depression and the anxiety throw everything at me to convince me you’d be disgusted by the thoughts in my head.

I know you care, but the shadows in my head and in my chest don’t like me very much. Every day they’re there, telling me how you can do better than me and how I’m holding you back and being selfish by keeping you for myself. They say, “If he only knew, if he knew what a failure you are and how weak you are, then he’d run a mile.” Every single day. They inject my soul daily with self-pity and self-hatred until complete apathy seems the only way I can keep myself alive.

I know how lucky I am to have you. My trouble lies in holding onto the belief that you’re somehow lucky to have me. That I’m somehow a person worthy of love, time and commitment. I don’t always feel this way.

I know I come across as lazy, ungrateful and all the rest. Yet, years of living with depression has sapped me of motivation. What’s the point in getting a new job? I’ll only be unhappy there too. What’s the point of tidying up? It’ll only get messy again. Complete organization and tidiness feel so at odds with what’s inside me that it breaks me a little. I like a little chaos in my world because it makes me feel more at home.

Sometimes, you ask me to do you a favor, and I’m so terrified of doing it wrong that I don’t do it at all and offer no explanation. In fact, I’m so terrified of doing everything wrong and not being good enough that I can barely get up in the morning, let alone face everything the day throws at me.

I want to ask you to bear with me, but the depression and anxiety won’t let me. I want to tell you all the lies they whisper in my head so you can remind me lies are exactly what they are, lies. I want you to hold my hand when I’m withdrawing into myself, for the warmth of your skin to ground me. I want you to know I hate asking for confirmation of how you feel about me, that it makes me feel weak and needy. Yet, I think I need to hear it. It’s not that I don’t already know, but the awful thoughts in my head make it so hard to believe.

So here’s my bare honesty, all my neediness and the soft part of me. I really do love you and appreciate everything you do for me. Please, bear with me and help me fight my demons. You can’t fight them for me, but I need to know you’re always on my side. You might need to remind me you’re there on my bad days more often than you do on my good days.

Please, fight with me.

This post originally appeared on Waterfall Thoughts.

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The Scene in ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ That Helped Normalize Depression

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The Edge of Seventeen” has gotten some great reviews since its release this past November. It’s been heralded as the next teen movie, compared to “Pretty in Pink” or “Empire Records.”

That’s what drew me to it at first. I thought the trailers looked funny, and the fashion was quirky. It had all the makings of a decent way to spend an hour and a half of my life.

I thought it was funny how relatable Hailee Steinfeld’s character Nadine was. She was moody, self-conscious and awkward, just like me. It got even better when the movie subtly acknowledged Nadine’s depression.

In the scene, we see Nadine take a small white pill and plop into bed. It’s a move many with anxiety or depression can relate to. A friend calls just as she settles in, and she answers in a monotone voice saying she can’t talk and hangs up. She thinks better of it, and she calls her friend back to explain.

“Sorry, I just took some medicine. I’ll call you back when it kicks in,” she says.

Her friend, understandably, asks, “Wait, what’s wrong? Are you sick?”

Nadine replies, “No, I’m fine. Medicine as in, like, an antidepressant or whatever.”

After a pause, she continues, “Does that make you think I’m pathetic all the sudden?”

And he insists that she’s perfectly fine.

That is it. End of discussion.

It’s so small and not incredibly important to the story. Yet, my heart jumped up in my throat with relief upon seeing something that’s so normal to me finally normalized in a movie. She wasn’t trying to hurt herself or get high. Nadine was simply having a bad day and needed a little help. Just like many people do.

It feels like slowly, the world is coming out of its shell about mental illness. I’m looking forward to finding more of it until it’s not so noticeable anymore.

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Image via The Edge of Seventeen’s Facebook page.

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How Depression Makes Your Body Feel

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The image that we often get of a sad girl with tears on her face sitting in a dark corner is hardly the full story of depression. It is this very image that many people have that may limit their understanding of what it truly means to have depression. Do I cry more than I used to? Sure. Do I hide in a dark corner? I’d like to, or at least curl back into my bed. Am I sad? Not really; hopeless and desperate, but not sad.

To those who have not experienced depression, the question of “how depression makes your body feel” might be a strange one. What does a mental illness have to do with your body, anyway? Sure, some chemicals may be a bit out of whack, but that’s in the brain, right?

Depression can steal your physical, emotional and mental energy. Fatigue is actually one of the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder. When I get up in the morning, I wake up exhausted, even if I manage to get eight or nine hours of sleep. My body feels weak and my brain feels foggy. My brain tells me I’m too tired and it’s not worth the effort anyway. Getting out of bed is a monumental feat. I force myself up after pressing snooze a few times and get on with my day. By lunch, I feel like I’ve been up a full day already.

Depression can hurt. Research suggests depression can actually cause the brain to feel pain more intensely. Furthermore, depression as an illness frequently shows up with aches and pains. For me, a combination of stress and depression contribute to chronic pain in my neck, shoulders and upper back. When I don’t get at least eight hours of sleep, my localized pain becomes generalized pain. My whole body hurts, and I just want to curl into a ball. Cold weather and drafts make it worse. Depression plus the common cold can be a nasty combination.

Depression can feel physically heavy. It can feel like someone is constantly pushing your head down and your body towards the ground. Holding your head up and smiling can feel impossible. Sometimes, it feels like gravity is just working twice as hard on you. And, more often than not, anxiety — diagnosed or undiagnosed — can come with the depression. I feel a sensation of pressure weighing on my chest. I feel like I can’t breathe well or I’m not getting enough oxygen. It becomes very hard to focus on anything, because relieving that pressure becomes the only thing I can think about.

I’ve found depression can hold sleep captive and return it at the most inconvenient times. It can cause you to overeat, and it can cause you to have no appetite. Even though you’d like to do more, exercise more, eat better, these things can become the hardest things to do. When someone confides that they have depression, they are not revealing a weakness. Rather, they are demonstrating their strength despite a difficult, often chronic illness.

If you have depression, keep fighting. You are strong. Celebrate the small victories.

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How to Love Someone With Anxiety and Depression

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New relationships are exciting. You learn so much about a person in a short period of time and get to experience another human being’s life. It’s exhilarating. For someone with a mental illness, dating is difficult.

Many times, people with depression and anxiety tend to overthink things, especially relationships. We ask ourselves questions like:

Do they actually like me or are they just killing time?

How will they react when I tell them I have depression and anxiety?

When should I tell them about my mental illness?

Should I even tell them?

Being with someone with depression, anxiety or another mental illness takes a special person. Loving someone with a mental illness is hard but well worth the effort. We are just as good as someone without a mental illness. We just take a little extra TLC.

1. Learn about it.

If your partner has a mental illness, then do some research. Google is a great place to start. Try looking for videos or articles about their illness to familiarize yourself with what to expect. Every person is different. While some people with depression may experience poor hygiene, low motivation or lack of interest most of the time, others may experience it for short bursts a few times a month.

2. Be supportive.

This is the most important thing to remember about loving someone with a mental illness. I, and many people like me, have been in relationships where the other person simply “doesn’t get it.” When a panic attack comes along, they stand far away and look dumbfounded. After the attack, they don’t ask if you want to talk about it because they’re scared and don’t know enough to discuss it.

People who struggle with depression and anxiety may experience a feeling of uncertainty or, for me, a feeling that what just happened was foolish and embarrassing. It is not an embarrassing thing to be anxious or depressed, and you need to justify that with your words and actions. Being supportive means checking in with your loved one to see if they’ve taken their medication, asking how their appointment went, providing a support system after an episode and constantly being available when mental illness overtakes them.

This might sound scary, but it’s no more work than any other relationship would take. Just as you’d ask your loved ones if they are doing OK after a natural disaster or a death in the family, asking about their mental illness is no different. A huge factor in healing is being able to talk about your illness with others. Allow your loved one the chance to trust you and be open to discussion.

3. Be available.

Make sure your partner or loved one knows your limits. Is it OK to wake you up if your loved one is having a panic attack and can’t sleep? Are you willing to talk them into going to their therapy sessions or taking their medications or even take them to appointments when necessary? Is their mental health a priority in your relationship? If you make plans and have to cancel because your loved one is having a hard time leaving the house, will you be able to set aside your plans to reassure your loved one that you understand?

I can not stress enough the importance of loving and supporting your loved ones during times of difficulty. Love means making sacrifices for the sake of your relationship. Be willing to sacrifice watching the game or getting a few extra hours of sleep for comforting your loved one when they can’t sleep. Loving someone means accepting and understanding who they are and assisting them in their battles. After all, we’re pretty awesome people, and we deserve love, too. Just as you support us, we will support you.

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When My Body Is Heavy From the Chains of Depression

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Whenever someone asks me how I am, usually the first word out of my mouth is “tired.” Even if I’m not in a depressive episode, the fatigue remains. It’s an emotional and physical exhaustion that’s with me almost every day. My body is heavy. My mind takes a little longer to process things, and I constantly want to take a nap.

When the depression hits, my body gets heavy. Suddenly, moving is the most difficult task I could possibly undertake. I lie on the bed and my body sinks into the mattress, stuck for the next four hours. I want to get up, but I can’t.

My chest gets heavy too. Breathing becomes a little harder. I notice my breaths are just a little bit deeper, just a little bit longer. I’m trying to use my breaths to distract myself from the thoughts going through my mind.

If I can move, then I become tempted to self-harm. I will dig my nails into the palms of my hands. I will bite my lip and tear at the skin with my teeth. My eyes will become drawn to the scissors on my desk. Usually, I resist.

My eyes won’t always fill with tears, but if I’m incapacitated long enough, then I’ll cry. It isn’t always clear if I will be able to stop. Sometimes, my body convulses with sobs. My breathing becomes shallow and erratic. My nose runs and my mouth drools. Alternatively, my eyes silently pour over as I stare at something across the room and sniffle when my nose gets runny.

In public, I’ll suppress myself. I’ll smile, even if my chest is tight. I can’t be bothered to say anything about how I’m feeling except, “I’m just tired.” I will force myself to move, even if it just about kills me to do so. If my eyes water and I’m starting to cry, then I’ll quickly wipe the tears away and say my eyes are stinging or strained from my glasses.

My body becomes a prison. Every now and then, I’m granted furlough and can go out into the world without my body heavy from the chains of depression.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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What I Learned About Managing Depression When I Was Hospitalized

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Let me share with you what I learned during my stays in a mental hospital. These observations are taken out of a notebook I kept with me at all times, scribbling things that came to me in group sessions, in the middle of the night and – as we spent most of our time – while simply sitting and waiting for some change, however small and imperceptible to others. We mostly sat waiting more or less patiently for a lifting of the inexplicable heaviness of our limbs, any answer to the paradoxical numb desperation attested to by various blank stares and bandages around wrists.

Let me also say none of this is easy. You probably won’t conquer any one step once and for all. There will be a whole lot of backsliding and plain and simple, out-and-out failures, but my experience is that if even for a moment you can practice one of these principles, you’ll feel better, and even the smallest respite goes a long, long way in fighting a chronic illness like depression.

1. Replace guilt with gratitude.

If you are depressed, then chances are good the bedrock of your self-image is guilt — guilt and anger at yourself. Consider all this guilt takes energy. Remember you do have energy even though you feel completely drained.

Once you’ve recognized how much energy it takes to sustain the guilt and blame you’re constantly throwing at yourself, try transferring that energy into gratitude for what you have, for what hasn’t happened, for the things you do like about yourself.

2. Replace regret with focus on goals.

A similar process as my first point, using regret as motivation can be very helpful. Make some goals, but make them small. Just setting goals is an admission things could get better, which during depression seems inconceivable. Write your goals down, and put them somewhere you see them every day. (Don’t skip this step because it seems corny and embarrassing.) And as you work toward your goal, remember: you have an illness. Treat yourself like you’d treat a loved one.

3. Act as if your former self can see you now.

This one can be crushing. In one group session in the hospital, we wrote letters to ourselves at age 18. I didn’t make it through reading mine aloud without crying in front of everyone. I’m so angry at squandering all the promise of my young self.

At 18, I was fearless. I was also a jerk. I took my family for granted, ignored my parents, failed my friends. If my 18-year-old self could see the physical circumstances of my life now, she’d be beyond disappointed. But, if she could see my interactions with other people, the humility and patience that’s been bored into me by my disability, she’d see how much I’ve grown. I think she’d be proud.

What does “present you” have to teach “past you”?

4. Choose “fight” over “flight.”

Avoid avoiding. This is the hardest piece of advice for me myself to follow. Avoidance is my way of life. If climbing back into bed and giving up on the day were an Olympic sport, I’d be swimming in commercial endorsement deals.

One reason I avoid so much is I see my situation as fundamentally unfair, so refusing to participate seems almost moral to me. No doubt you can see how fundamentally illogical this is, but in my hospital notebook, I transcribed one sentence from a group session leader that rings particularly true for me: “Meet the needs of the situation you’re in, not the one that is just, or comfortable or that you wish you were in.”

5. Embrace the interplay of acceptance and change.

It’s demonstrably true that acceptance of pain decreases suffering. Suffering, or the anticipation of it, has a tendency to stifle and suppress us. By “acceptance of pain,” I don’t mean merely recognizing your diagnosis and owning it (though this step is important). Acceptance of pain must entail a mindful embrace of one’s suffering. Feel it.

Mindfulness is one of the greatest tools at our disposal. Mindfulness is, as Sam Harris describes it, “clear, nonjudgmental, and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant.”

Acceptance leads to change. Change leads to acceptance. The very process of acceptance changes your circumstances and changing your circumstances makes them easier to accept.

6. If your expectations don’t fit with reality, change your expectations.

Are you still expecting yourself to function “normally” with depression? Stop and change your expectations of yourself.

Shift your focus from all the things you can’t do to what you can and judge those things with compassion. Don’t belittle them. That 20 minutes of cleaning, making that phone call you’ve been putting off, walking, taking a bath or whatever it is you find to distract yourself, is a win and should be treated as such.

7. Your life is whatever your attention is focused on.

Most of us intuitively know this, yet we don’t monitor our thoughts accordingly. If you want to change your mood, shift your attention. I know this can be frustrating if you consider at times your task at hand isn’t necessarily a matter of choice.

It doesn’t have to be a vast, sweeping transformation of heart. As with so many of the strategies I mention, go small if you need to. At almost any given time, you can focus on your breath (I sometimes clutch this focus for dear life.) You can feel the air on your skin or the touch of the fabric of your clothes. You can conjure up a pleasant memory or a place you’d like to visit. Mentally grab any happy or at least neutral thing to first distract yourself and secondly, shift the focus of your attention.

8. Small steps. Small steps. Small steps.

Let me tell you how I first “started running.” I would set my alarm, which would wake me up — and then, I’d go back to sleep. After a week or so, my body had adjusted to waking up early, and I’d get up on my own.

Then I would put on my running clothes and go outside — and just sit there for a while, and go back to bed. This went on longer than I care to admit.

One day, I got up and went outside and told myself I could just walk instead of run. After about 20 minutes of walking, I wanted to run. I actually wanted to run — something I decidedly didn’t want while lying in bed. Eventually — and I mean months later — I wanted to be running at almost any given time.

I hope some of this is helpful to those of us struggling with depression. Talking about depression is important because it can be a transformative and uplifting experience for those who grapple with depression silently. As part of this conversation, I can honestly say I’ve seen improvement of my symptoms and experience more quality of life as a result of these eight realizations.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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