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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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I Brushed My Hair Today

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The moment is finally here. I pick up my flat, dull pink brush off the cluttered counter and take a deep breath. I glance up and know I cannot put it off another day.

I try to separate my hair in half, then I gently start brushing. The tug and pull are almost enough to just make me give up and say “I’ll brush it tomorrow.” But I don’t, I keep going.

I eventually just go at it with the band-aid mentality, the quicker I brush the sooner it will be over. After a solid 10 minutes, I have made a significant dent in the knots.

I step into the warm water of the shower and try to wash away the shame. The shame of knowing I haven’t brushed my hair in two weeks or washed it in at least three days. I try to make a mental note to text my hair stylist, to see when she can get me in. Maybe if I cut a few inches off I’ll feel better.

It’s one of those “why do I do this to myself” moments, the moments where I try to remember that I am not alone. I say a few things that I am thankful for — like my boyfriend, who loves me even when I don’t brush my hair. Like my mother, who celebrates my small victories like brushing my hair or cleaning my house. There is so much to be thankful for, the good outweighs the shame today.

Thinkstock image via Transfuchsian.

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15 Things Only People With 'Smiling Depression' Understand

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When many people think of depression, they often think of sadness — and not much else. This generalization can be harmful to people who experience depression, but may not “look” depressed. For some, depression may look like sadness or exhaustion. For others, depression might look like a smiling face, or a person who “has it all together” — something we call “smiling depression.”

It’s important to remember every person’s experience of depression needs to be taken seriously, no matter what it looks like on the outside. We wanted to know things only people with “smiling depression” understand, so we asked members of our mental health community to weigh in.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “It’s easier to cheer people up but not myself. I can make them feel great when they’re going through the worst [times], but I cannot get myself happy, really happy. That happiness you see is just a way of not letting people [see] my problems.” — Sofia V.

2. “I am so tired. So, so tired, all of the time. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting and pouting or smiling and engaging. [It doesn’t matter if I’m] dancing, running, swimming, eating, brushing my teeth, by myself or in a room full of people or sleeping. I. Am. Exhausted.” — Rinna M.

3. “Other people don’t get it. What it’s like to feel so trapped and in darkness, because I appear ‘happy’ and strong — even though [it feels like] I’m slowly dying.” — Nicole G.

4. “[I] fake it because [I believe] no one wants to hear about [my] depression. [I] fake it because [I am] tired of hearing all the ‘expert’ advice insinuating that [I’m] just [not] trying hard enough.” — Lisa C.

5. “[I] don’t always wear the mask for other people. Sometimes [I] wear it because [I] don’t want to believe [I] feel as miserable as [I do]. [For me], it isn’t always about making other people with [me feel] OK. Sometimes it’s wearing the mask so [I] don’t lose [my] job or so [I] can just get takeout without being asked what’s wrong.” — Melinda A.

6. “I can still laugh and give a big belly laugh about things, but on the inside, I feel empty. It’s a weird feeling being happy as much as you can, but your mind won’t follow suit. [I] just feel empty and the happiness isn’t genuine. It’s fake but [I] can’t change that no matter how hard [I] try for it to be a real feeling. Depression drains everything out of me. It takes an enormous amount of strength to appear ‘normal,’ it exhausts me… [My] smile doesn’t reach [my] eyes.” — Rebecca R.

 

7. “The problem lies in the fact that no one truly and honestly knows me. I feel like I’m alone every day — even when I’m surrounded by people.” — Jen W.

8. “[I] constantly doubt whether [my] struggles are real. When [I] finally get the courage and strength to open up about [my] depression, [I] always hear, ‘But you don’t act like you have depression.’ It took me years to come to terms and believe my own struggles.” — Adrianna R.

9. “Most days, I feel like I’m just barely surviving. Once I’m alone at the end of the day, all I have the energy for is crying. Crying because I’m just so exhausted with life and I’ll convince myself I can’t handle tomorrow and I need to call in sick. But when the next day actually comes, I’m too afraid to not show up. Eventually, after debating with myself for far longer than I should, I drag myself out of bed. The cycle [feels] never-ending. It’s like, if I choose one day to just stay in bed instead of getting up, it would be the most horrible thing in the world, so I eventually always get up, no matter how exhausted I am. It’s inevitable.” — Keira H.

10. “I try to keep up appearances to protect my family because my depression upsets them. I’m not very outwardly emotional, so everything gets to me more than I show it. I can’t open up to them, because I just get told, ‘Change your thoughts,’ ‘You seem fine, why do you want to go to a therapist?’ It makes those times when I can’t control my emotions even worse. I feel alone, tired and lost.” — Jessica C.

11. “Sometimes I really, like really want to show people how I’m really feeling, but I just physically cannot take the mask off. It’s like the walls just grow stronger the more I try to tear them down.” — Kira H.

12. “[I thought] if I faked being happy enough, then maybe I could get a glimpse of what it’s like to be ‘normal.’ I always feel like such a burden on the people [who] love me. [I feel] I have no choice but to pretend.” — Bree N.

13. “The time I’m most encouraging to myself is when I’m telling myself, I can make them laugh so they never suspect anything! I’m funny, right?” — Shelby S.

14. “The physical pain as well as the emotional pain. It hurts to walk, get up, move, force [myself] to smile, try to look ‘normal,’ happy.” — Keara M.

15. “[ I believe] we are the best actors in the world. Because if I have to explain depression one more time… it’s just easier to fake it until I get home.” — Lisa K.

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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15 Things Only People With 'Smiling Depression' Understand
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A Good Day Vs. a Bad Day With Depression

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What it’s like to have both good and bad days living with depression.

Read the full transcript:

A Good Day Vs. a Bad Day With Depression

On a good day, when I stay in bed, it’s because I want to lay there for a few extra minutes, just to stretch my legs and look at my phone…

On a bad day, I wake up with a brick on my chest, pinning me down, making getting up seem impossible.

When I’m feeling OK, I’m late to work because I got distracted, took a wrong turn and it’s just been “one of those mornings…”

When depression takes over, I’m running to late to work because I spent an hour debating whether or not it was worth going at all — or if it would be better to stay home, and climb back into bed.

Depression is distraction, not because I’m thinking about my weekend plans,

but because I can’t focus over the constant stream of negative thoughts running through my head.

It’s the difference between taking a nap because you’re tired,

and taking a nap because you want to escape, because there’s nothing worth doing when you’re awake.

It’s not doing chores, not because you’re busy

but because you can’t find the energy or motivation to get up.

What you see might be laziness. Procrastination. Forgetfulness. When I’m having a bad with with depression, it’s so much more than that. Don’t assume you know what’s going through my head.

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When a Low Mood Makes You Frightened Depression Is Returning

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I am well into recovery from a severe episode of depression. I’m thankful I’m able to write that. I’m doing well in terms of medication, getting more exercise and looking after myself better. However, there’s always the fear every time a mental slump occurs that depression is rearing its ugly head once more.

There are days, even weeks, of feeling mentally stable, and I almost convince myself I’m in a great place and will remain there for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, my mind likes to mess around with me every now and again and drag me down into the pit.

This is a place that scares and confuses me. I know even the most mentally robust of people have a bad day and just aren’t feeling it. I want to be one of those people who says “bad days happen” and gets over it.

The problem is that when you’ve been so low that you’ve tried to die by suicide, sometimes even the slightest twinge of melancholy can be frightening.

I am writing this on a day when low mood came crashing in from the moment I opened my eyes. Rather than normal waking, it was more like a heavy shutter crashed down on me, with a sign upon it stating, “closed for business.”

These days are thankfully few and far between now, but they still make me question where I am with my mental health. The problem is that a low mood day is similar to depression. I don’t want to talk to anyone, I feel angry with the world, I’m irritable, sad, out of sorts and generally just long to stay in bed all day.

The only hope I hold on these low mood days is that maybe tomorrow I will wake up and it will have passed. This is where my mind can be cruel. I’ve had low mood days plural, even as long as a week. I panic and grow concerned that I’m relapsing. I try to keep going and do all the good things that help me both mentally and physically. I battle with whether it’s worth it if I’m just going to go hurtling back down the rabbit hole of depression. I monitor myself so hard that it makes my head hurt.

This is the curse of being someone prone to depression and who has had episodes of varying severity over the past 20 years. I can never rest easy. I know that sounds pessimistic. Don’t get me wrong — I do not live life waiting to slip into depression.

Once I’m in recovery, I try my best to not only pick up the pieces but seize the new days to come. It’s just that when you’ve spent a large part of your life having at least two severe episodes a year, you cannot help but brace yourself for it to hit when you’re having a low mood day or week.

Low mood days are hurtful reminders of an illness that takes over my life. Low mood days are unwelcome signifiers of how it was and how I never, ever want it to be again.

When a low mood day comes, all I can do is hold on tight, use all the coping strategies I know and dip out of life for a while. I know self-care. I’m getting better at it.

If the housework doesn’t get done because my brain is whirring negative thoughts at the speed of light, so what? The world will not end.

If I cannot work on my novel today due to the inability to stay awake and focused, I will try to be kind to myself and not buy into the feelings of failure. I’ve come too far to quit.

Today is a low mood day.

Today I am giving myself a break and care for me. After all, I am the most important person right now. That’s not selfish. That’s survival.

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.

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

Thinkstock photo via spukkato

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11 Real-Life Ways ‘High-Functioning’ Depression Can Manifest

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A psychotherapist describes the signs of high-functioning depression, otherwise known as dysthymia.

Read the full version of What Are the Signs of ‘High-Functioning’ Depression and Could You Have It?8.

Read the full transcript: 

11 Real-Life Ways ‘High-Functioning’ Depression Can Manifest

  1. Difficulty experiencing joy.
  2. Relentless criticality — of self and others.
  3. Constant self-doubt.
  4. Diminished energy.
  5. Irritability or excessive anger.
  6. Small things feel like huge things.
  7. Feelings of guilt and worry over the past and the future.
  8. Relying on your coping strategies more and more.
  9. Generalized sadness.
  10. Seeking perfection.
  11. Inability to rest and slow down.

If you see yourself in this, remember you’re allowed to ask for help, even when you don’t feel “sick enough,” even when you’re still managing to get by.

Everyone deserves the help they need.

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