girl smiling with pit bull terrier dog

Why My Dog Is My Weapon Against My Anxiety and Depression 

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When I graduated college, I was struggling. I was nervous, anxious and panicky about everything. I was worried about my future and I was depressed. I thought nothing was going to happen for me — nothing positive.

Only a couple weeks after graduation, I noticed I couldn’t open my laptop anymore. I couldn’t look at it or turn it on. The thought of work, papers, loans and adulthood paralyzed me and made me want to sleep. I found myself sleeping a lot, if not sleeping all day. Sleeping was my escape from reality and every time I thought about being awake, it would instantly make me want to sleep more.

One of my dogs is called Baby. She’s a pit bull and she’s been my secret weapon and therapy for my anxiety and depression for the past 10 months. I hadn’t noticed how much she meant to me until I looked forward to waking up, because she would be excited to see me out of my room. She would sniff under my door and patiently wait until I would wake up every day.

Even though I hadn’t been home for a long time, Baby loved me and I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t believe my mom when she told me Baby would wait around the house, then get excited to see me whenever I would be out and about and not locked up in my room. There were several occasions when I would stay up at night, unable to sleep, and Baby would be lying on my floor, awake, keeping me company. Sometimes I would have a depressive episode and Baby would sit up, look at me, then place her head on my lap and lick my hands. She would wag her tail and she would look at me, and that made me feel better.

She loves kisses and hugs. After I was all done crying, I would give her a big hug and we would sit there for a minute while I composed myself. Since I graduated, I’ve realized how much better I feel and how much Baby had a part in that. I write on my laptop all the time and I’m not afraid to think about my future anymore. I still sleep a lot, but not as often as before. Now, me and Baby always have our little cuddle sessions even if I’m feeling OK. She sits on my lap and we just relax together. She has helped me calm my nerves and helps me cope. I even taught her to give me her paw and sit down. Even though I still don’t understand the depth of a dog’s love, I know how much I love my Baby.

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How the 'Game Grumps' YouTube Series Comforted Me During Depression

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About two years ago, in June, my brother shows me a video. It was an animated video of these two guys having a chat about a texting exchange they had earlier that day. It consisted of utter nonsense and obscenities about the movie “The Social Network,” which of course is about Mark Zuckerberg. Little did I know then, that video would be the start of a hobby — or maybe even an obsession — with an internet gaming show I love and am grateful to this day.

Game Grumps, which stars “Egoraptor” (Arin Hanson) and Danny, is a Let’s Play show on YouTube. They play and commentate on various kinds of video games, as well as have conversations about various topics or life events, make jokes or do character voices. They don’t play the games the way people want them to and ironically the common gag is how “Arin sucks at video games,” which I’ll admit is true to a degree. On the other hand, he doesn’t if he is really interested in the game. The premise is that Arin is usually the one who gets constantly angry at the games while Danny watches and has a great time laughing at Arin’s misfortune. Therefore Arin is “Grump” and Danny is “Not-So-Grump,” which makes them the “Game Grumps.”

When I fell into my depression after my break up with my boyfriend, I watched a lot of Game Grumps to make me laugh and help to comfort me, as well as when I was unable to sleep at night. One of their Long Plays I watch and re-watch is the play through of “The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD.” I love “Zelda” games, and have always wanted to play that version because the graphics were cool and the music was beautiful. The reason I love this playthrough, in particular, is because of the 19th episode of the series. In this specific episode, Danny revealed he dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression when in college. When he talked about learning about his disease, he had the exact same sentiment I had when I received my first diagnosis. Knowing I had a specific disorder and I was not “crazy” was a relief, and hearing he felt the exact same way made me feel a connection with Danny and helped me to feel understood. He also talked about going on medication and saying, “it evens things out in your mind to help you solve your own problems.” This also helped me when I started a medication for my anxiety, and relieved some of the looming scary feelings I had about starting it.

I watch them when I am down and when I am happy. I feel proud that I am a part of their community of “Lovelies.” I honestly wish I could personally thank them for helping me cope during a terrible time in my life. Finding something to laugh at and for finding a person to relate to, I couldn’t be more grateful for the animated video that led me to these two goofballs. So thank you, Game Grumps, for helping through my past trials and current trials. You guys are awesome.

Sincerely,
One of your Lovelies.

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Let's Get Real About Antidepressant Side Effects

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Your doctor just wrote you a prescription for your depression. They probably gave you some info on what the drug is, what they hope it will do for you and (if your situation is like mine) they may have mentioned “some mild side effects” may occur.

Maybe they don’t really know, or maybe they don’t want to frighten you, but I’ve found an alarming amount of doctors don’t inform you on just how common side effects are. In my experience, they certainly don’t tell you about the really intense stuff.

I remember coming back to the doctor after that very first prescription and had this interaction:

Me: I’ve been having a lot of headaches and stomach issues since I started taking that medicine.

Doctor: Yes, that’s unfortunately very common.

I didn’t say it out loud, but I definitely remember thinking, “That would have been good to know before I started taking this!”

Drowsiness and fatigue can also be common, which is wonderful because we depressives already struggle with fatigue and lack of motivation.

Weight gain is reported from many antidepressants. Great, now I have a body image issue to add to the mix. What kind of sick joke is this!

Nausea and other GI issues are common. Fantastic, now I can’t even enjoy my damn ice cream without feeling like it’s going to violently come back up.

It’s taboo to talk about, but sexual dysfunction is very common. It’s as high as 50 percent (or more!) in some studies. For guys, that can mean erectile dysfunction. For men and women, this likely means difficulty or inability to achieve orgasm. As if being depressed wasn’t already bad enough.

And last, but not least, there’s other weird stuff. Dry mouth, lightheadedness, dizziness, agitation and my all time favorite… “brain zaps.” Yes, I’m talking about this really freaky sensation that I’ve only had when taking an SNRI. My brain says, “You know what would really lighten up the mood around here? An electrical shock!” At that moment, a bolt of lightning starts in my brain and zaps out into my face, hands and feet. It’s like a party — in hell.

My journey through this valley of cupcakes and rainbows has basically been a cruel game of “Would You Rather?”

I’ve pretty much run the whole gamut. I don’t know if there’s some sort of prize for my achievements, but I figure I should at least be considered for the Hall Of Fame of side effects. Perhaps I should start calling myself the Babe Ruth of depressives. Please, no requests for autographs though. I’m tired, nauseous and agitated, with a dry mouth and headache from dealing with these damn brain zaps.

Sometimes you have to laugh about it or else you’ll cry. And I’ve already met my lifetime quota on that. Plus, I’ve already written about how serious, scary and horrible it is to have a major depressive episode here.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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31 Things We Want the World to Know About Depression on World Health Day

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On World Health Day, April 7th, the World Health Association is highlighting the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide — depression. So on behalf of the 300 million people who live with depression, we wanted to send a message to the world, from people who actually live with depression.

We’re not hiding. We’re not ashamed. When educating other about depression, don’t forget to include those with lived experience. There’s a lot they want you to know.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “How tired I get, even when I’ve been in bed all day. I have high-functioning depression, so life exhausts me period, but on the weekends I need to spend a lot of time in bed to ‘catch up.’ I’m not lazy, just tired from having to try and function typically all week long.” — Joselyne S.

2. “It’s not always constant, I can be happy for a period of time then get hit by it for no obvious reason. The smallest thing can push you over the edge and fighting it is the most exhausting thing ever. That exhaustion from fighting depression can lead to a depressive episode.” — Amy C.

3. “On my bad days, I’m trying my best. Sometimes that’s going to class or work, sometimes that’s curled up on my bed; it’s still my best. I had to learn to consider being alive a victory when my depression makes me feel like I’m suffocating.” — Kaylie C.

4. “You can’t always see it. When I say I’m tired, I do mean physically exhausted. I also mean I’m exhausted from fighting with myself mentally.” — Adriana R.

5. “It’s not just feeling sad all the time. It’s feeling nothing. I can keep a smile on my face and crack jokes and laugh, but inside I’m really constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.” — Liz A.

6. “How hard everything is. From standing up and getting dressed to having a conversation and even smiling. All while I look ‘fine’ from the outside. Because it is not just a little tired or a mood I can snap out off, but an illness I did not ask for or deserve. If people knew that, it would be easier for them to respect my efforts to communicate my boundaries, accept my requests for being left alone and to stop giving me well-meaning ‘peptalks’ and quoting motivational memes from the internet…” — Cynthia V.

7. “I wish those that don’t experience it could understand how hard it is for me to function when I’m in a hole. Just because I ‘seem happy’ doesn’t mean I really am. I have three kids and a husband and a life. I can’t lay in bed all day, staring into the abyss, even when that’s all my brain and body need from me. I love my family and they are a huge source of happiness for me. However, I am rarely, truly happy, but I am very good at pretending, because sometimes that’s all I can do.” — Courtney W.

8. “People with depression sometimes just need a hug or a meal made for them. Don’t ignore them until they are out of their ‘funk.’ And when they say they are just tired… it’s not usually from lack of sleep. Don’t say go to bed earlier. ‘Tired’ is the acceptable thing to say when you mean — ‘I can’t stand being awake. There’s a void in my stomach that feels like it might suck me into oblivion. Sleep helps me get through suicidal thoughts. I wake up and start fresh.’ We may not be tired but no one seems to want to hear, ‘I’m sad for no explainable reason. I’m weighing pros and cons of life in my head.’ — Autumn H.

9. “How exhausting it is. How despite all my efforts my brain is my enemy, constantly chuntering badness in my head. How frustrating it is when my thoughts are so tangled that I can’t express how I’m feeling. How somedays just the simple act of getting out of bed is insurmountable no matter how hard it try. The guilt of not being able to do the simplest of tasks and feeling like a burden to family and friends. I want people to understand how hard it is to keep fighting every single minute, every single day. How I have to constantly stop myself just ending it all. I want them to understand that it is an illness, I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to be depressed and anxious so how can they expect me to just ‘snap out of it’?” — Heidi B.

10. “Saying ‘cheer up’ is the same as telling the tide not to come in and expecting it to happen.” — David L.

11. “The constant drain on my energy, wellbeing and mood. Currently I’m in about my sixth week of a severe ‘episode,’ and I’m struggling so bad. I get up, get the kids ready, work evenings, do all the things I have to do, all while feeling like a big, useless, worthless, stupid, can’t do anything right person who is even afraid to go to the doctors, cos I feel like they’re sick of hearing my name. Currently sitting here trying to summon up the energy to get changed for work and crying because I just don’t want to go. I can’t think straight.” — Emma D.

12. “I can’t just snap out of it. Trying to force me to be social because it will ‘make me feel better’ is the worse thing someone can do. I know how much of a drag I can be when I just want to sit at home… I know how lazy I look when I just want to lay in bed… I know how pathetic I seem when the only other living being I want around me is my cat. I’m permanently exhausted. And I can’t change that. There are days I feel ‘accomplished’ when all I really did was take a shower!” — Kate M.

13. “Fighting depression wears you, when I’m sleeping all day or taking naps I’m not being ‘lazy,’ I’m trying to keep myself alive. Fighting off the suicidal thoughts and tendencies take a lot out of you.” — Aron W.

14. “It’s a battle I so much want to win, fighting against your thoughts is one of the worst things ever. I wish people would understand that living with depression is not a choice or a moment of weakness… I keep telling myself tomorrow will be a better day and I will be OK, but sometimes it is so hard to function. — Lili P.

15. “Depression isn’t just being sad. Depression is feeling nothing and everything all at once to the point that you can get overwhelmed and your brain just kind of shuts down.” — Paige L.

16. “It’s not easy to fake a smile for the rest of the world to think you’re OK. It’s exhausting to have so much on your mind and just have to say you’re fine. Everything suffers because of it. My sleep. My work. My friends. I may look fine but I’m not. Inside I’m drowning and there’s no lifeguard.” — Dani B.

17. “It’s OK to still include me on their lives and events or hangouts. Just because I might say no doesn’t mean anything. It means a lot to know people still want me around and that I’m still thought of even if I’m struggling.” — Nikki L.

18. “It’s as real as any other illness. Depression may not necessarily kill you, but it is an illness and a very real health issue. So many people write it off because it doesn’t necessarily manifest in physical ways, like if I’m physically healthy, I must be perfectly fine.” — Shannon R.

19. “Just because I seem OK, maybe even happy on the outside, really doesn’t mean a thing. On the inside, I could be struggling.” — Mary K.

20. “I can smile and laugh like everyone else. I’m just faking it at times. I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I struggle to feel happy all the time. I just want to go hide and pretend the world doesn’t exist.” — Katie C.

21. “Maintaining my appearance of being ‘OK’ so I can do things like going to work is exhausting. So if I’m home and need to let myself cry, don’t make me feel worse because my emotions are showing.” — Erin N.

22. “I don’t need your pep talk, criticism, bossing around, questions. Sometimes I just need to talk and know you’re truly listening to me. That even if you don’t understand you’ll be supportive.” — Julie T.

23. “That it’s not easy…ever. Sure you’ll have your good days, but the exhaustion and overwhelming feelings of dread will always come back and I guess you just have to learn to deal with it.” — Cody H.

24. “I feel like a burden to those around me. I can smile and do what I’m supposed to no matter how hard I’m struggling. You may not always see it, but it’s a daily battle that I’m fighting.” — Ashley K.

25. “As someone who is recovering from depression it’s not something I make up. And I’m definitely not faking it. I’m living with it everyday because I wake up everyday hoping today isn’t one of those days where I will feel depressed. If not yay. If I am than it’s a terrible thing I have to deal with. If you don’t have to great for you but don’t undermine my condition because you don’t have it. Everyone has to deal with different things in their lives.” — Monica S.

26. “I have not chosen to be this way, did not choose to be depressed. I would not wish this on anyone, even someone I don’t like.” — Karen D.

27. “It’s not just a state of mind, it’s not just an attitude, it’s not just about being a little sad.  — Missy G.

28. “I wish I knew how hard it was to ask/receive help. How there are good days and bad days, bad days and worse days. How you feel guilty about being depressed and how your brain turns against you. How you feel hateful and sad at the same time.” — Emily D.

29. “My ‘victories’ some days are as small as managing to get out of bed to have a shower, and other days can be as big as performing my music in front of a crowd. It all depends on how I feel and no, I can’t ‘switch it off’ and ‘just be happy.'” — Emma Z.

30. “It can exist behind smiles.” — Sukriti T.

31. “Talk to someone. Reach out. You matter. Depression is exhausting. No energy to drive, take a walk , shower, eat or make food. You can lose weight without trying. Poor quality of sleep. Trouble falling and staying asleep. It’s isolating. It affects you physically as much as mentally. It’s scary. It’s lonely. Kids can get depression, too. No one is immune. Any age gender race religion. It can get better. There is hope. Always.” — Jessica S.

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Depression and Creativity: Don't Wait Until You Feel Better

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I’ve been talking with friends about creativity a lot lately, and how difficult it is to sustain riding the surf once you catch the wave. The dilemma of the creative process — and this is especially true for artists — is that we impose pressure on ourselves to make impressive, or at least good, creations; they must be meaningful and make sense right off the bat, and if they are none of those things, then self-doubt, fear and discouragement seep in like poison to passion.

This unrealistic pursuit in thinking every painting must be a Sistine Chapel or every novel should be literary prize-worthy is toxic to the creative process, and that’s what it is — a process. Creativity is a process and a practice. As with chores, you must press on with the creative practice even if you aren’t in the mood, and especially when you’re not in the mood. In the long run, fighting and forging through the doldrums of uninspired and passionless episodes of “forced creation” inevitably proves the juice is worth the squeeze.

But there’s a distinct difference between falling into a creative lull due to a natural periodic lack of inspiration versus experiencing the absence of inspiration at the hands of depression. It’s common knowledge that one of the symptoms of depression is the depressed person loses interest in activities that were once enjoyed. But the thing is, you lose interest in everything, which makes the effort a depressed person must put into convincing his or her mind to be creative, in spite of the depression, exponentially more challenging.

Julie A. Fast reminds us that, “[d]epression makes you feel that you’re artistically limited, but you’re not,” and she has some really good thoughts to consider in “Create Creativity”, Chapter 49 of her book, “Get It Done When You’re Depressed”:

  • Think of the supplies you use to create your artwork. Put them on a table and look at them. They are your friends, not a sign that you can’t create anymore.
  • Don’t think of how it used to be. Think of what you can do now, and create something that comes from this moment.
  • Create something that shows what it’s like to be depressed, a snapshot of where you are now. If you cry on the art, that’s just a part of where you are now.
  • Expect resistance from depression. It hates creativity for some reason. You need to break the hold depression has on your creativity by making something tangible, so you can see the results of your work.
  • Think of how you feel in the middle of doing something creative instead of how hard it is to start.
  • Remember: Don’t wait until you feel better! Create something now! When you’re better and you look at the work, you’ll see that you are just as creative as always.

I especially appreciate Julie’s reminder to ‘create now’ because when you look at your work later, you’ll realize your creative juices flow even when depression fools your mind into thinking it’s put a dam in place and the depressive levee will break only after the cloud has lifted and you feel better. Not true, if you don’t believe it. Try it and see. Even if you’re not depressed and you’re feeling uninspired, create something. Create it now, and remind your “future self” to look back at what you’ve made so you can prove your “now self” wrong, later.

And so, I’ve spent some time reading through my old writings, and I must say I’ve read some great stuff. The process of reading through my old writings inspires me to continue my writing practice. Yes, it is entirely possible to be inspired by your own work!

In the spirit of sharing apropos material, I’ve included a couple of my old writings that incorporate observed elements of the process of creativity.

Journal Entry

I can’t write every day or just any day. Even sometimes when I feel like it, when I want to … I start to doodle. Ideas start and stop. If my pen ran out of ink, at least I’d have an excuse to put it down and turn my mind off. It’s just, creativity can be shy or stubborn and that scares me when I think of my future, because I want to write every day, all the time. I want brilliance to be signed with my name somewhere around it. Maybe when I figure out exactly what I want it’ll be easier and instead, I’ll be scared that in the midst of creativity and a flow of words, the ink will run out or I will have forgotten my pen.

Written Tuesday, March 30, 1999.

Poem

(untitled)

My hurt has been petrified for so long.
The patterns lay fossilized.
Scattered.
I can hold them in my hands now
without attachment.
It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten
or that I don’t take responsibility.
It’s the lack of responsibility
that’s kept them strapped to my skin.
I feel good. I feel in control.
I feel like there is direction.
The precursor to my future – the one I’ve
been wanting and searching for.
It feels good to be honest.
To be honest with myself.
It’s like I’ve sprouted wings
and there’s nowhere I can’t go.
Nothing I can’t see.
I’m thankful.
Thankful for my weaknesses.
Thankful for my mistakes.
Thankful for my realizations
and my determination to succeed.
Thankful for my ability to forgive
others and myself.
Thankful for my strengths.
Thankful for my beauty – and my ability
to see beauty in everything and everyone
I see.
Thankful for my hardships.
Thankful for my ambitions.
Thankful for my creativity.

Written Saturday, August 23, 2003.

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What Depression Taught Me About Happiness

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In September 2011, I wrote a blog about coming out of my depression by choosing happiness or deciding I was going to be happy.

I’ve considered deleting it, but I think I’ll keep it as a testament to where I was and what I’ve learned since. Because depression isn’t about choosing happiness. In fact, I’m not convinced it’s about happiness at all.

If those of us who face depression could choose anything other than the apathy or sadness or internal chaos we feel, we would. In the blink of an eye, normalcy would be the instant choice and better would be reality because we don’t buy into the romanticized bullsh*t of what depression is.

The truth is, when it comes to depression, the only thing we can choose is recovery.

And maybe in some misinformed way that’s what I meant by what I wrote, but I know now telling someone to choose happiness is not only unhelpful, but inaccurate.

My second severe wave of depression came crashing down on me at one of the happiest points in my life, which is honestly what made me realize the illness isn’t about sadness or happiness or any of that. I was probably confused before because my depression at that point was fueled by malcontent, misery, melancholy and an intense feeling of self-loathing. My depression latched onto and exacerbated those feelings to the point they almost destroyed me, but it wasn’t those feelings that created my depression.

Depression is its own entity.

One thing I’ve learned about my mental illness through my experience is it’s all about self-preservation. It’ll do whatever it can to survive and make sure I don’t get better, whether that means depression grabbing hold of intense negativity or leaving me with a near-constant undertone of apathy and inadequacy like it does now.

Depression has taught me its brokenness can come in many forms, not just the “sad and crying your eyes out” form we see in media. To some degree, my depression is exactly the same as it was six and many more years ago. I still shut down, I still numb myself and I still struggle with the negative internal dialogue. What’s changed is then I would have once blamed all of it on the fact I hate my life and was sad all the time, whereas now I understand those were just external factors playing into it. I especially understand this because I’ve been able to let go of a lot of what caused me misery, and yet, depression still came knocking.

I’m always reminded of a quotation from poet Shane Koyczan’s “Circle” when I think of this.

“If you keep your eye on depression and back away, spacing yourself farther and farther, but all the while watching depression shrink in the growing distance, when that tiny speck of sadness vanishes from sight completely, it’s at that precise moment your periphery will catch hands reaching up from behind you to cover your eyes, and you will hear a small voice whisper, ‘Guess who?'”

Depression exists on its own terms and in realizing this, I’m learning how to better deal with it.

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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