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How Living With Depression Is Teaching Me My Pain Is Temporary

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“If the foot of the trees were not tied to earth, they would be pursuing me… For I have blossomed so much, I am the envy of the gardens.” ― Rumi

I still remember the day so clearly, I woke up with the tightest pain in my chest. I got out of bed and went about my normal morning routine. “Normal.” What a strange word, defined as “the typical state or condition,” according to Mr. Google. But to me, this day changed everything I knew about “normal.” I felt like someone was watching me, glaring at me through the walls. I got on with working on my dissertation when suddenly I found myself staring at the darkness of the shadows on my bedroom wall. How did 8 a.m. turn into 8 p.m. in seconds? What was I doing all this time? Was I really sat staring at a wall for hours?

Shook up, I went and made a cuppa — the British solution to every problem.

Each day after that felt the same, the numbness. I woke up and somehow got on with my daily routine of getting through my final year of university, trying to maintain a social life when I put my GCSE drama skills to use. We hear about the symptoms such as feelings of dread, the anxiety and numbness, but no one really talks about how it feels like there are two people in one body. One ready to eat you up whole and another trying to save the little pieces of you that are left.

There I was, in my early 20s, at the prime of my life according to the magazines and blogs. Yet I was at the darkest, loneliest time of my life. I was scared to leave the house, I felt like I was claustrophobic and would die from all the air outside. Sounds silly right? Catching the bus was a big no no, I couldn’t cope with all the people. Why were they all staring at me? How long until they realized I was about to explode from all the worrying?

I counted down the days until I thought it would be my last. I secretly hoped each morning would be the day. Death felt easy because life was hard.

Everything I did felt half-hearted. I distanced from family and friends and at the time, this truly felt like the best thing to do because it was easy. In hindsight, I understand how easy doesn’t necessarily mean it is the wisest thing to do. I had never truly understood what was happening in my mind until many years later when a good friend encouraged me to speak to someone. I chose to go with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Being a logical person, I found peace in admitting there was an issue and finding a way to deal with it no matter how scary it felt. This was by far one of my strongest turning points. I finally saw I needed a helping hand.

Seeking help in my community isn’t the easiest thing to do when we are taught from an early age to just get on with things. For me, having to prove myself as an Asian as well as Muslim in a western world is difficult enough, without throwing emotions into it. The stigma attached to mental illness is all too common. People assume there has to be a recent “real” reason to feel down. A relationship break up, a death or even career failure. Why can’t we simply feel sad because it is difficult to get out of bed and face the day? Why is it after a year of experiencing a loved one’s death we should be expected to get over it? I could sit and go into that topic and be here for another rant. I’ll save that for another time.

I guess my point is, mental illness is a real thing. It is a state of being, our bodies telling us something doesn’t quite feel right. If someone broke their leg would you tell them to walk on the pain? Why do we dismiss mental health so easily when our bodies are crying out for support, help, even a hug? If you woke up today and managed to get on with your day, then well done. If you completed the task you took up weeks ago, well done. If the only thing you did today was take a shower, then well freaking done, because I know how hard it feels to muster up the energy to even open your eyes in the morning and plod along with a sunken heart.

Now having hit past my mid 20s, I feel each and every day I am understanding this pain. Sure, I still have my bad days or weeks, but this pain is no longer a burden. It is teaching me how to be stronger and see the beauty in this temporary world. Temporary.

This pain is not forever, hold on.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via amana productions inc.

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23 'Red Flags' That Might Mean You Have Both Anxiety and Depression

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It didn’t take me long to realize I had anxiety. I knew enough about it to identify its symptoms: the racing thoughts, pressure in my chest, pain in my back, panic attacks, plus the fact that anxiety was rampant in my family.

It wasn’t until years later I realized I lived with depression, too.

While I experienced more “classic” symptoms of anxiety, nothing about my depression jumped out at me as being depression. I was going to work and school. I didn’t have a hard time getting up in the morning. I never self-harmed (although I thought about it). Instead, my depression looked like neglecting self-care (“I’m just too busy to shower!”), isolating myself (“I’m too tired to go out with friends!”) and a sense of deep purposelessness I was always trying to fill with busyness and work. But it was still depression, and I couldn’t fully focus on my mental health until I addressed that sad, numb part of me, too.

Depression and anxiety affect people in different ways. They also commonly come together — about half of those with anxiety also experience symptoms of depression. We wanted to know how people with anxiety and depression realized they had not just one mental health condition but two, so we asked our mental health community to share with us how they knew they had both anxiety and depression.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “Having an anxiety attack and then self-harming to feel better.” — Shaley R.

2. “Mostly the fatigue and emotional bleakness when my body has run low on adrenaline. The tiredness and body pain… I was relieved actually to find out what it was.” — Aaron H.

3. “I can go from caring about everything to caring about nothing.” — Jessica B.

4. “Being both tired and full of adrenaline at the same time.” — Sharni R.

5. “Growing up as a happy and optimistic kid, I knew something wasn’t right the moment I felt I couldn’t be fully happy. With all the blessings and contentment, there’s always something that will remind me I don’t deserve it and that everything’s temporary.” — John B.

6. “No motivation to do anything, but not doing anything makes me anxious.” — Kayla C.

7. “Wanting to do nothing but sleep, but being unable to because my brain won’t shut up.” — Amorith E.

8. “When one part of mind is going a million miles a minute screaming at me to do something, while another part screams back, ‘Why bother?'” — Rachel C.

9.Depression tells me I don’t care. Anxiety says I care too much. Having both is war in my head. Sometimes depression wins, sometimes anxiety wins. A huge red flag for me was when I was cooking and my mom and sister stopped and looked at me and my sister ‘whispered,’ ‘She’s singing and cooking again she even left her room.’ She asked my mom if I was me again or the stranger that was still in my body. She will never know what she woke me up to: my reality of not being OK and thinking it was normal.” — Rebecca B.

10. “Wanting so badly to die, but being so terrified of not having a future.” — Alyssa J.

11. “When I’m too depressed to do housework, but have panic attacks about people seeing how dirty my house is.” — Elisabeth R.

12. “Overanalyzing everything, while not having the energy to do anything about it. Freaking out about work or friendships, but not being able to get out of bed.” — Chealsey G.

13. “Losing interest in and refusing to do the things I know would normally help with anxiety.” — Lauren G.

14. “Staying up very late because I couldn’t handle the thought of living another day, and then staying in bed late [in the] morning because I was anxious about the day.” — Annabelle W.

15. “When I would get really under the weather, I would fight with myself to go into a class I was one hour late to. Then, I would stand outside without ever having the courage to go in. I would end up breaking down back in my dorm, wondering why it had to be this way.” — Frida P.

16. “I cycle. I go from thinking I can do something, getting overwhelmed, then I feel like I’m not good enough, then I get depressed. This happens constantly with every single decision I have to make and every good thing that happens in my life.” — Skye J.

17. “When I get invited to things but my anxiety won’t let me for fear of standing out like a sore thumb, and depression makes me feel like I let my friends down because I said maybe and didn’t show.” — Megan N.

18. “I began sleeping more than I was awake. I could sleep 10 hours a night and still take a five-hour nap in the afternoon. Then I would get anxious that my family and friends were mad at me for sleeping so much. Repeat cycle.” — Ashley U.

19. “The constant binaries at work in my own mind. Depression says, ‘Don’t get out of bed.’ Anxiety says, ‘So many things to do.’ Depression says, ‘There’s no point. Anxiety says, ‘Too many people will notice.’ Depression says, ‘No one loves me.’ Anxiety says, ‘Everyone hates me.’ Depression says I shouldn’t be alive, and anxiety says I’m never good enough.” — Rosie B.

20. “[I went to] see a psychiatrist for what I suspected was postpartum depression. ‘Are you here with concerns primarily regarding depression or anxiety?’ My thoughts were, ‘Anxiety? What is he talking about? I don’t have anxiety!’ I had no idea that my 24/7 worrying was a concern!” — Carrie M.

21. “I always knew I had anxiety, but for a long time I didn’t think I had depression because I wasn’t suicidal. I was eventually diagnosed, but I realized when good things would happen and it didn’t necessarily make me any happier, something was wrong. It wasn’t fear; it was fears being alleviated and still not feeling any better.” — Marie L.

22. “The red flag is I want to be with people, but on the same hand I can’t be around people. My depression doesn’t want me to be lonely, but my anxiety makes me a lonely person.” — Sky J.

23. “The constant back and forth in my head. The need to be doing something all the time to quiet my anxiety, but not being able to get up and do anything thanks to my depression.” — Sharon E.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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What ‘Treat Yourself’ Means to Me as Someone With Depression

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I’ve found myself saying these words more often lately, usually encouraging someone to take care of themselves, even if it’s just in seemingly small ways. I’ve used these words when a work colleague has asked if she should buy a doughnut today or when a friend has asked if they should buy a new dress for the weekend. These are pretty “normal” instances when one would treat oneself — but what does “treat yourself” mean to me?

1. Being sociable.

Something I’ve always been conflicted about when I was depressed was how much I knew I used to love meeting new people. When I was buried under layers of self-loathing and rock bottom confidence, I had no energy to start a conversation, let alone start a friendship. Living with depression can make me want to isolate myself from the world, but at the same time, all I want to do is go out with friends and be surrounded by people. A phone call with a friend can make my twisted and chaotic thoughts mold into rational thoughts that don’t make me feel completely overwhelmed by my mind. I know I am doing well in my recovery when I want to meet new people and put myself out there. Having that same confidence I once used to have has always been the end goal for me.

2. Buying a coffee in the morning.

People often wonder why I am always late, and I have nothing to say to them because it’s just what I’ve done for so long. I can remember being so sad the moment I woke up that I was often late to school because I could not even bring myself to dress myself for school. I would spend at least an hour getting up enough courage to face the day that I would almost always be late. On the rare occasion that I’m not late due to not being motivated enough to get out of bed or dress myself, I treat myself with getting a coffee. For me, it’s a little reward for deciding the day was worth getting up for and a reminder that small things can make a big difference in the day of someone with depression.

3. Listening to music.

I used to love music. I loved singing and teaching myself new songs on the piano. In the darkest days of my depression, I couldn’t listen to the bands and songs I used to love because any emotional songs would make me feel 10 times worse than I already did. This really affected me because I was at war in my head. I thought to myself, Why can’t I love something anymore that I know is a big part of who I am? Do I not know who I am anymore?

On days when I feel stable and calm, I like to go in search of new music and look up the lyrics to understand the full power and emotions the song evokes. Music is so powerful and can make us feel so many wonderfully diverse human emotions. This is why I cherish listening to music as I know I am strong enough to relate the lyrics to my reality without caving into my depression.

4. Going outside.

When I was in the most desperately low point of my life, the only way I could see was down. It could have been the sunniest day, but I could not acknowledge the brightness and happiness the sun evoked nor feel the warmth on my skin.

Something so simple as being able to recognize when the sun is dancing in the sky is a feeling I will hold onto for as long as I can. I try to treat myself every day the sun is out by sitting outside for a while, just taking it all in. I was so far deep into my own depression that I couldn’t recognize or appreciate anything happening around me, and the sun reminds me everyday how I missed something so simple and how I missed so many other things around me when I was in my extreme depression. Something that still gets to me is how I missed out on this glorious act of nature and I never want to miss out on the amazing things in life because of my mental illness again.

5. Putting effort into my appearance.

This has been something I always cherish as a deep central notion of what it means to practice self-care. To some this may seem vapid, but to me, this is a reward for making it out of bed and out of the self-loathing thoughts in my head. In my first year of college, I read an article about ways to make yourself feel better on your most tumultuous of days. One thing really stood out to me was taking a shower. It seemed so simple, yet was so hard for me.

I strive to take a shower as though I have something purposeful to do that day. Then, if I’m not feeling up to doing anything, I just get back into bed, knowing I accomplished one thing that day.

This helped me on so many days when all I wanted was the world to go away and bury myself under blankets and pillows where no one could hear me cry for hours on end. The feeling of accomplishment just from taking a shower made it possible for me to feel glad I had made it through another day, and gave me hope for the next day. Now I am in recovery, I find taking pride in my appearance is a small thing most people do but one that gives me a positive outlook for the day. Something as simple as taking the time to brush and style my hair gives me hope for the stability of my mind that day.

All these things seem like such simple daily tasks that many people do without even thinking. To me, these activities show me how far I’ve come in my recovery and give me hope for the future.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Frankie.

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Cat Account 'Edited' an Offensive Meme to Make an Important Point About Depression

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You’ve probably already seen, and maybe have even read critiques about, a popular meme that has been popping up in various iterations on Facebook — the split-screen image shows both a picture of a forest and a picture of pills. Over the forest the text reads: “This is an antidepressant.” Over the pills, it reads, “This is shit,” or even, “This is a lifetime addiction.” The meme unfairly assumes that everyone who takes antidepressants just needs to spend more time in nature (because curing depression is that easy!), or will be addicted to the pills for life.

Well Cat, a Facebook page that posts mostly about science (and cats), wouldn’t have it and did us all a favor by “fixing” the offensive meme. After crossing out the original version’s text and replacing it with what the photos actually are (“a photo of a forest” and “a photo of some pills”), they added a photo of a “very displeased cat” who explains why the meme is so wrong.

Cat posted with the new meme:

Apparently this mental illness medication shaming meme is doing the rounds again. So it’s time for displeased Cat to remind everyone that these medications save lives just like insulin or adrenaline. Don’t share memes like the original and show people with mental illness you are there for them in a less shame-y way.

Thanks for fixing it, Cat! We’ll be sure to share this meme instead.

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When You Keep Busy to Avoid Feeling Depression and Anxiety

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As I scroll through Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr, I always see the same advice directed (primarily) at millennial women: Learn how to be alone. Don’t be dependent on the company of others to feel happy or fulfilled.

To which I, an introvert with social anxiety, respond, “Ha! Already nailed it. I love being alone.”

And it’s true — socializing drains me. I’m awkward and uncomfortable around anyone who’s not in my “inner circle” (parents, sister, boyfriend, one or two close friends). Nothing thrills me more than curling up in bed at night with Pizza Hut and Netflix, and I am more than happy to go sit in a coffee shop for several hours by myself to hang out – I get to be around people without the terrifying pressure of making conversation.

Being alone is my natural and preferred state. So obviously I’ve got it all figured out, right? Knowing how to “be alone”? At just 21 years old, I have mastered the skill it takes some a lifetime to learn.

Not quite. I’m beginning to realize there’s a significant difference between being alone and being alone with yourself.

When I’m alone, I busy myself with distractions. I watch TV shows I’m not emotionally invested in. I work. I cook. I clean. I drive around. I find things to do. I start feeling anxious when I have a block of time ahead of me and no plans for how to fill it. I desperately search for a chore or an activity to pass the time and keep my hands busy. I need to go, go, go because I’m afraid if I stop, I’ll sink.

At first I thought this desire to constantly be productive and active was a positive thing. No one could ever accuse me of being lazy! I’d smugly think to myself. It felt good to accomplish things. To “have my life together.”

But then my life changed, as life has a tendency to do. I graduated from college and started working full-time. While I was in school, it always felt like I had something hanging over my head – some essay I needed to write or test I needed to study for. There was always something I could be doing school-wise, day or night. Now… I go to work, and I come home to a whole evening or weekend ahead of me with nothing I need to be doing. I thought this would be great when I was up at 2 a.m. studying for a test, but the reality is I’m faced with a whole lot of emptiness. And that emptiness terrifies me.

I used to dwell in the darkness of depression and dissociation, comfortably distanced from reality. But throughout college, I worked on pulling myself out of it. I found a job I love, I started dating a guy who makes me incredibly happy… and for a while it was easy to focus on the light. It was good. Only now my worst fear is falling back into the darkness. Falling into a mindset that’s not quite my own – one that is dangerous and not based in reality. Who knows how long it could take me to crawl out of there again? And for me, depression is addictive – so who knows if I will even want to?

I worry if I stop, breathe and turn my attention inwards, I’ll be forced to confront that darkness which follows me everywhere I go. My constant companion. My safety net, for when life gets to be too much to bear.

I know I eventually need to confront him because he will never leave me alone if I don’t. But even though he has cloaked my soul in emptiness and a lack of feeling, I am still overcome with fear at the thought of speaking with him face-to-face and telling my lifelong friend goodbye.

So for now, I’m running. I may look like a model college grad on the surface – working full-time, paying my bills, meal-prepping every Sunday – but all these things are simply means of procrastination for dealing with the dark, confusing mess inside me.

But because life has that annoying habit of changing and tripping us up, I know, sooner or later, I will trip and fall face first into dealing with this. And somehow, I find it comforting that life doesn’t care about my fears. It will force me to grow, one way or another.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

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To My Parents: I Am Lying When I Tell You I Am Fine

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I’m not fine.

I am not fine, but even with tears running down my cheeks I will look you in the face and still insist I am. Why? Because I hate to admit that I need help, even when it’s blatantly obvious that I do.

Let’s debunk some things here. It is never just one thing, one person, or just one “bad day” that causes a spiral into sadness or an anxiety attack. It is layers upon layers of self-doubt, self-loathing, stress, overthinking. Sometimes certain things trigger a breakdown, but it is never just one thing that causes me to lay in bed for hours, staring at the ceiling. In these dark hours, I am going over every awful thing I have ever done. I am thinking of things I could have done better. I am thinking of the future, terrified I will never amount to anything. I am thinking of the present, the million better ways I could be spending my time to improve myself and my future, but have instead wasted staring mindlessly at a screen or in bed crying because I just can’t muster enough motivation to brush my hair, let alone “take on the world.” And I hate it.

I hate myself for being this way, and I know I shouldn’t because mental illness is not something you can control; it wasn’t my choice to be an emotional wreck. But that’s the thing — anxiety has a way of making everything seem like it is your fault. Things beyond my control become my fault. I think of all the ways I could have done better because I never feel like I have done good enough. I think about every last one of my faults, listing every reason I am a disappointment, a bad daughter, an awful sister and a dysfunctional human being in general.

My mood shifts often. What you need to know is that depression doesn’t just “go away.” It is not just here one day and gone the next. Depression is a dark cloud that is always looming over. Somedays the sun breaks through, and on those days, I smile, I laugh, I am OK. Other days, rain pours from this cloud and pounds against the ground, drowning out everyone and everything surrounding. On these days, I just can’t fake a smile; I can’t pretend I am OK. Most days, this cloud just keep the sky overcast — not a bad day, but not exactly a good one either. It’s just a day.

One very important thing you should know: It is not your fault. I know it is hard not to take it personally when there is nothing you can do to make me feel better, when I isolate myself, when I won’t speak for days. Know that you are doing everything right. It may not seem like it when you leave my bedside and I haven’t said more than two words to you, but your constant reassurance and letting me know you are there has helped me more than you will ever know. I know it is hard for you to understand my mental illnesses when I won’t tell you what’s wrong. I want to, believe me; I want to be able to tell you everything, but it is so hard to put it into words when I am in the middle of a breakdown. Not to mention, I feel like a burden on you already as it is, that I feel like you shouldn’t have to be burdened with my emotional turmoil. But that is not your fault either.

Depression takes all of my motivation, my joy, my positivity. It literally drains the life out of me. Anxiety makes me afraid of everything. My mind never slows down. The fact that I am too afraid to find a job weighs heavily on my brain. I am very aware that I am an adult and I need to start taking care of myself, but I am not functioning. I hate, hate, hate that I have to rely on you. That’s why I refuse to ask you for money, because I feel I don’t deserve it and you need it for the house and the kids and yourselves. I should not be a financial burden on you at 19 years old. I should be helping out, bringing some money in, paying for my own things. But instead, I sit in the same spot on my bed day after day doing nothing but being a burden on everyone. The slight indentation in the top left corner of my mattress is a depressing reminder that I am not functioning.

I am sorry. I am so sorry that I can’t just function like a “normal” human being — that you are forced to be more attentive toward me. But I hope you know I am so appreciative. I love you more than anything in this world, I just struggle to show it sometimes.

Thank you for not giving up on me, even when I want to give up on myself. Thank you for trying to be there and trying to understand. Know that I am trying to be better. I want to get better. I want to be functioning. It is because of you I am still fighting every day. Without you, I would have given up a long time ago. I am lucky to have such amazing parents that refuse to give up on me, that don’t scrutinize me for having these struggles and acknowledging that anxiety and depression are real and that they are very hindering and debilitating. Even I still struggle to acknowledge my mental illnesses as “illnesses.” I could never thank you enough.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Sjale

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