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.

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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.

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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.

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Thinkstock photo via Sjale

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How I Came to Admit I Had Depression

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Like many others, I am independent, stubborn and strong-willed. Despite being a very candid individual, I’m also fiercely private. Those things combined can make opening up and saying “I need help” very hard.

To contextualize that, 2.5 years ago — prior to my depression diagnosis — I ended up in hospital as I’d ignored a growing problem. The change had so been subtle over a prolonged period of time that I convinced myself it was OK. It wasn’t.

Similar story last year. I’d been having a tough time at work, a few personal challenges and I knew I wasn’t in great shape. However, I was working through it and trying to take care of myself — or so I thought.

The challenges stacked up, got bigger and then a real family crisis hit. I thought I had myself in check. I didn’t and instead, I capitulated further into despair.

It wasn’t until the third bout of vomiting, diarrhea and full body aching and a conversation with my wife that I admitted self-help wasn’t working.

That was a really hard conversation. Frankly, it sucked. I cried a lot and it hurt. It may sound cliché, but admitting I needed help lifted a weight. This kickstarted several months of assessments, doctors appointments and starting therapy.

Each of these conversations hurt. They filled me with dread, real physical and emotional pain. I’d feel terrible before and during, I’d be exhausted after, but each time a little more weight was jettisoned.

I cried a lot during this time. I almost felt like I was sinking further, but actually, all I was doing was admitting what I’d been denying for months. It sucked, but it was important. It put me on course to start addressing what I realized was a lifelong issue with anxiety and depression.

At this stage, I told a few friends, colleagues and family members and every time it was the same — it sucked. But it made a difference, it helped me make peace with myself and created a network of knowing and supportive people.

And the more I have done it, the easier it has become. Sure, it takes a lot of strength and bravery and it is emotionally draining, but it really helps and I know I’m not alone.

I hate that I’m reliant on doctors, medication and the support of some wonderful people, but I’m proud of myself for allowing it and grateful to all of them. I still have a lot more soul searching and growing to do, but I’ve come a long way and talking has been key to that.

So yes, talking about depression sucks, but it’s important — really important. So, stay safe and speak up.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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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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