woman stretching in morning light while sitting up in bed

I woke up happy today.

And to you that may seem strange. You woke up happy? Why wouldn’t you wake up happy? Sure, everyone has their complaints in the morning – “it’s raining, again?” – the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, you’re still trying to wipe the fog from your brain in the shower. Sure, not everyone wakes up happy as soon as they pop their eyelids open, but why wouldn’t you be happy?

Because the truth of the matter is I don’t wake up happy every day.

It’s not because I haven’t accepted the normality of my life and I sometimes take for granted how precious each and every day is. It’s not because I sometimes just don’t see the beauty in the small things – a sunny day, a good morning kiss from my fiancé, a nightmare-free sleep, because I do appreciate all of those things. It’s just that sometimes, despite the weather, despite how long it takes my morning latte to kick in, despite the affection I get from my fur babies as I untangle myself from my bed sheets – sometimes I just don’t wake up happy.

Because sometimes my mental illness doesn’t let me wake up happy.

I live a fairly simple life. My days aren’t filled with great wonder, or awe-inspiring moments, or spectacular opportunities. I live as most people do, uncomplicated for the most part – and a bit mundane for the most part. Sure, I get to spend my days creating vivid universes and inspiring characters to share with the world (hopefully some day soon), but for the most part, I live just like everybody else. I have set routines in place. I follow schedules. I spend time with my pets. I cuddle with my fiancé in the evening. Yes, these things are precious to me, but they’re nothing that would make your jaw drop. I live a fairly simple life and I’m OK with that.

But sometimes my mental illness doesn’t let me appreciate this. Sometimes my mental illness takes away those precious moments. Sometimes my illness doesn’t let me value life’s greatest gift – simply just being alive.

Not every day, because I have come a long way, but sometimes my illness likes to slap me across the face, reminding me I’m not always in control. My illness likes to creep in the shadows while plotting against me, and every now and then — just when I think I feel secure — my illness likes to strike back.

Today I woke up happy, but yesterday I didn’t.

The looming dark cloud draped over me as soon as I opened my eyelids. That bottomless sense of doom made me feel so empty my chest ached. Regardless of the weather peeping through the blinds, I didn’t wake up happy – and it wasn’t because I didn’t have my morning dose of caffeine. I retreated into myself and pulled the comforter over my head, blocking out everything around me. I didn’t wake up happy.

But today I did.

And waking up happy doesn’t mean I have some great “Ah ha!” moment. Waking up happy doesn’t mean I have these wondrous epiphanies that give me some meta-philosophical perspective that makes me value the world around me. Do I get excited when I wake up and have a killer idea for my novel or a mind-blowing plot twist? Hell yes, but for me, I don’t want these grand moments.

I just want to be able to wake up and simply say, “I’m happy.”

Because to wake up and be able to pull myself out of bed – that’s an accomplishment. To be able to shower and take pride in my appearance – that’s a total win. To go about my day and not have that lurking sense of doom, that one fleeting moment of anxiety – that’s the ultimate prize! And yes, most days my illness does linger in the back of my mind. My illness is always there whether I’m consciously aware of it or not, but most days are better than others. Most days I can tell my illness to piss off, but other days it’s persistent – like a devil whispering in my ear, filling my head with terrible thoughts.

And most days, sometimes the best thing I can do is hold the line. Sometimes I reach a stalemate with my illness, so unsure whether I’m losing the battle or winning the war. Some days I’m unclear as to what I am feeling, but I do my best to trudge forward. It’s like holding a dam together with chewing gum. If I have to stick my fingers in the holes to prevent the water from escaping, then I’ll do whatever it takes to keep the flood gates from bursting open. Every day doesn’t have to be a win. Do I get a smug sense of pride being able to whisper a quiet “F**k you!” to my illness? Of course I do, but there are days my stalemates are small victories too.

So it’s not about the weather, or the amount of caffeine I consume before noon, or foregoing showering to spend the day in my sweats. It’s not a question of whether I went for a morning run or if I write ten pages – or just one. It’s not a matter of taming the dark thoughts or ignoring the devil on my shoulder by drowning him out with the music score from the new Power Rangers movie. While all of those things play important roles in setting the pace for my day, sometimes the best I can do is just take it one moment at a time, hour by hour, minute by minute.

Because I woke up happy today.

And that’s all that matters.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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Most of the time, the goal with an illness is to either get better or learn to manage it in the best way. This makes sense – after all, why would anyone want to stay ill or constantly let it get the best of them?

Yet sometimes, as I lie on my bed doing nothing and wishing I didn’t exist, I also hope this cloud of misery surrounds me forever.

For many people, there’s a lot of comfort in routine. As miserable as that routine might be, it’s often nice to not have to guess at what’s coming next. I’ve never really liked surprises during my day all that much – a lot of people don’t – and knowing what’s coming next makes me far less anxious. It’s the familiarity that often makes a by-the-numbers day so bearable. After all, change is honestly scary and most of us go to great lengths to avoid it when we can.

That’s exactly why a part of me hopes I stay depressed.

I’ve had depression for more than half of my life. It’s honestly hard to imagine a time I wasn’t depressed, or at least had thoughts leaning in that direction. My childhood feels like a big blur that happened to someone else. Sometimes I feel like my mental state defines me more than anything else in my life.

If I was somehow magically cured – or even learned the absolute perfect way to deal with it in a way that I never had another episode – I’m not sure what I’d do. I don’t look forward to depressive episodes at all, but whenever they do happen, it’s like an old friend (or perhaps enemy) has come by. It’s familiar. It’s comforting in the strangest way because, for so many years, I’ve never known another way to feel. I still don’t.

But they are my feelings, and they wrap around me like a cocoon, taking me back to a place I never asked to visit and yet don’t want to leave. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to or if I even want to. If I ever manage to get out, I feel like it would be similar to being dumped off to a completely unfamiliar country without any instruction or explanation.

Like I said, I’ve never really cared for surprises. I’ll stay in the comfort of my own thoughts, no matter how bad they might be.

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I write this from the depths of fathomless depression. I’ve never written from this place before – I usually feel as though I can’t move my limbs, my brain is a fog, insidious, aching. When I am here, down the dark well, I truly don’t believe I can ever climb back out. It feels too hard, too far down, too dark. I can’t speak. The words form in my mind and flit by faster than my mouth can articulate them. So I remain silent. I can’t look around me. I can’t contemplate attempting anything. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

I want to believe this won’t last long but I am never sure. When I feel no hope, I have no hope I can ever recover. When I open my eyes in the morning, I wish I never had. I wish I could close my eyes forever and never have to wake up with the realization that this is my life. I wish I never was me. Childish, I know. But it’s how I feel – it’s what my mental illness tells me. When night comes, I panic with the thought of sleep because I know tomorrow will come and tomorrow will be another day of darkness. Another day of wandering around my house, lost. Another day of aching in the shower. Another day of contemplating food but never mustering the energy to make any. I try and step out into the sunshine, but it just hurts my eyes. I can’t talk to anyone. I feel as though they can all see me. I feel as though I am the only one who feels like this.

Depression is a lonely existence. Depression can tell you that you are worthless, take your hope, take your dreams, your motivations, your sense of self. It can take all you once thought you were and leave you an empty shell. You can’t even cry because it has sometimes even taken that from you – your ability to feel anything. Some days I don’t think I can continue. Some days I don’t think it’s worth continuing. I don’t know how to continue. I don’t know how to be me. I don’t know how to remember the light, how to close my eyes and just imagine laughter. What does that feel like? I can’t remember. I can’t remember the taste of food. I can’t remember the feeling of love. I can’t remember peace. I can’t remember contentment. I can’t remember hope.

It all feels gone. And I’m alone, in the well, down in the darkness, my fingers raw and bleeding from trying to climb out. I give up. I can’t anymore. I feel I can’t. I think I can’t. But somewhere, far away, in a room with no doors, is a girl waiting to come out — waiting to be freed. She’s in there and she holds your laughter, she holds your dreams, she holds your hope and love and life. She can breathe peace into your life. She can show you the daylight. She has held onto the goodness in your life. She has kept it safe for you until you can find her again.

She’s waiting.

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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1. Fatigue

I’ve always had difficulty getting to sleep because of anxiety, and I’ve taken something for it most of my life. But when my depression is under control, I naturally wake up at a decent hour. When I started sleeping until noon or later every day, I should have realized that was a huge “red flag.” Fatigue is one of the hallmark signs of depression for me, and even though I knew something was wrong, I kept telling myself it was just my anxiety making me tired, that it was a “phase,” and it would get better.

2. Hunger

Fluctuating appetite from ravenous hunger to nausea, was probably one of the first signs something wasn’t right. Usually, my appetite is fairly predictable. I’m not a morning eater, but I snack late at night. Not the healthiest thing I’m sure, but it’s just me. When I started waking up at 5 a.m. and eating, then going back to sleep, it should have been a sign something was off. It’s unusual behavior for me, and there was no cause or explanation.

3. Difficulty concentrating

Despite my attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), my ability to concentrate is also closely tied to my depression. ADHD can make it hard to stay focused. But depression can make it impossible to even try. The thought of reading (which I love to do) becomes overwhelming before I finish one page, so I give up. Often I end up re-reading the same few pages several times over the course of a week and making no progress. At that point, it is clearly a product of depression, but oftentimes it’s easier to simply blame my ADHD and just ignore it.

4. Losing track of time

It’s easy to get lost in a project and lose track of time. It is different when you are sitting in front of a clock doing nothing and suddenly it has gone from daylight to darkness. I couldn’t even remember what I had been doing (if anything), but hours would pass seemingly in an instant. The flip side is also true. Minutes became agonizingly long. Seconds ticked by and it seemed like time was frozen. Time in general starts to take on a different meaning when I’m depressed. It never seems to move at the right speed.

5. Not keeping up with my medicine regimen.

Medication compliance (taking what I’m supposed to, how and when I’m supposed to) becomes exponentially more difficult when the medication isn’t working. Being on medication for depression, I am usually quite dutiful about taking it at exactly the same time every day. But if it stops working as well, I am likely to be less diligent about taking it as prescribed. Sometimes it’s just because I am tired or forget, and sometimes it is intentional. Either way, compliance (or lack of) is a good indicator of how well my depression is being controlled.

6. Intrusive thoughts

Anxiety drives a lot of my intrusive thoughts, but there is a subset which occurs almost exclusively with depression. Anxiety tends to be future-oriented thoughts, and sometimes rumination about the past. Depression, for me, tends to be intrusive thoughts bordering on “flashbacks” about things in the past that may seem completely inconsequential. A night out drinking ten years ago. A sociology class my freshmen year of college. A walk in the park. Anything. But they have a sense of despair, as if anything good that may have happened in the past will never happen again. They drain me of any positivity in the present, and they come out of nowhere.

7. Alternating apathy and perfectionism

Anxiety makes me a perfectionist, and being a perfectionist makes me anxious. The two feed off each other. But when suddenly I became alternately apathetic about things, it was an indicator depression was starting to take hold. Going from a perfectly clean closet to clothes everywhere is a dramatic shift. Eventually, I got it cleaned up again, but it took weeks. That kind of strong shift is almost always a sign my depression is trying to take over again.

8. Canceling appointments

Maybe the most obvious sign to other people, namely my healthcare providers, is when I cancel appointments. Some of them know from experience that anxiety can lead me to cancel. But when depression takes over, I stop caring about myself and I definitely don’t want to see anyone – including doctors who might be able to help. If I manage to get the strength to actually cancel the appointment, that alone is a huge sign of a problem. But often I simply don’t show up because my anxiety stops me from actually canceling, and my depression stops me from going. At which point it is often too late for anyone to notice or say anything.

9. Becoming disturbingly reclusive

At the best of times, I am charmingly introverted. At the worst of times, I am painfully agoraphobic. The mistake I usually make is blaming an increase in my reclusive tendencies on anxiety, not depression. The underlying cause is usually anxiety, but when things get worse or I am less motivated to leave the house, it is often driven by an increase in depression. Anxiety makes going out a fearful process. Depression makes going out a fatiguing process.

10. Being overwhelmed by simple tasks

Doing the laundry, the dishes, the groceries, all of it – it’s usually overwhelming. But when just thinking about doing it is too overwhelming, I’m in trouble. It was probably tied with fatigue for the number one complaint I first saw a psychiatrist about: being overwhelmed by everything. I couldn’t do anything because it all overwhelmed me. It was always hard to differentiate between the anxiety and the depression – but being overwhelmed with anxiety is stress, impatience and chaos. Being overwhelmed with depression is fear, fatigue, and hopelessness.

It’s important for everyone to know their own personal signs when they might be slipping into a depressive episode, so they can get help before that depression becomes dangerous. Not sure if it’s depression? Play it safe and call your healthcare provider sooner rather than later. The quicker you get help, the better.

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 fizkes


10 Signs of a Depression Relapse I Mistook for Anxiety

When my depression, hits it doesn’t ask if I’m ready. It doesn’t care if I’ve got other things on my mind. It just walks right in, sits at the head of the table and starts the mental static that ruins each day.

I am often asked, “What’s making you so sad?”

If only depression was always the direct result of some outside stimulus. If only. But, in my case at least, that’s not how it is. My depression loves to hide around corners and sabotage me when I least expect it. And I never know if it’s just passing through, or moving in for an extended stay.

So when someone asks why I’m sad, I have no real answer. And saying I don’t know doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory answer for some. If I could pinpoint exactly what’s making me sad, you have no idea how much easier this beast could be to manage. If I could narrow it down to a reason or two, I could make some changes, eliminate the culprits and move on with a happy, depression-free life.

Instead, I now answer “Nothing and Everything.” Nothing and Everything are making me sad. Those two know how to bulldoze me like no others.
Nothing slips in unnoticed and just hangs around in the shadows, while Everything likes to be center stage and remind me that no matter what I do, Everything will still be there. Where Nothing is invisible, Everything is exposed.

Everything likes to tell me I am the center of the universe — that I am, in one way or another, the cause of all that is wrong around me. And as much as I know I’m not that important, Everything helps me find a way to connect everyone’s problems to myself.

Nothing drapes itself over my shoulders, a shroud of heaviness that slows me down, and makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. Nothing is the thing that steals my sense of self and blinds my eyes making it impossible to know who I really am.

They always travel together, Nothing and Everything. They drop in unannounced, take over my house and make a mess. Some days I wake up and they are gone, so I begin the arduous task of cleaning up after them, only to have them return full force the next day. They never alert me to their travel plans.

Because of the uncertainty that Nothing and Everything bring to my life, I remain a mystery to many. Those who try hard to understand the very thing I have spent nearly a quarter of my life living with, and I still can’t explain it.

I imagine I frustrate many people in my life. That’s why I write about depression. I hope my insights on the illness will help others understand that we (those of us who battle depression) are oftentimes just as lost as you.

Peace,
Ginger

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Just when we think life is going our own way — the sun is shining, the skies are blue and the birdsong reminds us it’s great to be alive — something happens and we are reminded that our happiness in life can be tenuous at best. Although it is arguable that happiness comes from the inside, the harsh reality for those of us living with depression is that we often look outside ourselves for joy. So, this means that when our routines are upset, whether by small triggers such as a bad day at work, an argument with a friend or a delay in traffic, or larger triggers like job loss, a breakup or a bereavement, depression is quick to descend and we can often get lost in its dark grip. However, all is not lost. We can and must grieve, adjust and accommodate to life’s often random changes, but we can take simple actions right now to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression in order to make our days just a little brighter and ourselves just that much stronger.

Here is a list of three things you can do to alleviate depression:

1. Get out of bed and follow a routine.

Getting out of bed when we are depressed can often feel impossible, but it is critical that we make sure to continue living our lives to the best of our abilities. Staying in bed for hours on end, though superficially healing, isolates us, weakens our bodies and leaves us alone with our thoughts. The longer we stay in bed, the longer it will take for us to feel better because we are allowing ourselves to stay isolated within our pain. Yes, it is difficult to get out of the comfort and safety of our bed when our minds feel heavy and our bodies are aching, but getting up and doing something is a critical start.

Which leads us to the importance of creating and maintaining a routine for ourselves. Following a routine of some sort will keep us from ruminating about the things that are causing our depression, and will help to give us direction and purpose. Start small. Resolve to get out of bed, make and eat a healthy breakfast, and do a small and manageable list of things that include a mixture of “must dos” and “want to dos.” This will allow you to create a structure for your day and give you the motivation to move forward. Remember, bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.

2. Exercise.

The benefits of exercise for our physical, mental and psychological health cannot be overstated. Not only does exercise flood our brains with “feel good” chemicals known as endorphins, the act of exercising gets us out of bed, and oftentimes into the outdoors or a gym where we can feel the sunshine on our faces (getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D in the process) and socialize with others. Moving our bodies will keep us healthier in the long run, and will make us stronger so we can tackle whatever life throws our way with a little more resolve and contentment. Remember, when we look and feel better, we cope better. Some examples of exercise that can help with depression are: walking (particularly in nature), yoga, pilates, aerobic exercise like Zumba, and swimming. However, choose an exercise you will enjoy!

3. Spend some time with your pets (or animals in general).

Those of us who are pet lovers know having a pet improves our lives. The companionship of an animal can improve our mood, enable us to feel loved and to be loving, and gives us a much-needed routine to get through the more difficult days. It is not necessary to walk a dog for miles on end (although this does help); simply sitting with or petting a companion animal can help alleviate stress, decrease sadness and depression, and provide us with a sense of responsibility that can remind us we are needed and are of value. Moreover, pets are great listeners and non-judgmental friends, with strong furry shoulders to absorb our tears, and they will never tell our secrets.

If you do not have a pet, you can always volunteer for local animal shelters and/or rescues. They are always looking for people to donate their time to walk dogs, cuddle cats or socialize animal residents until they are adopted. Who can resist smiling while watching a dog romp or listening to a kitten purr? If you have the room in your home but are not yet ready to adopt, you can even consider fostering a pet and help them find their forever home. Giving to animals in need will not only improve your life but will improve the lives of the animals and the shelter and rescue workers, as well.

Remember, when we are depressed, the temptation is to stay isolated in ourselves and catastrophize the future; however, this will only exacerbate our pain, increase our loneliness and delay our healing. Instead of sitting in depression, try one or all of the above and you may find respite, if only for a few moments. Depression does not need to take over your life, you are capable, strong and able to get back up, one action at a time.

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Thinkstock photo via fizkes


Three Everyday Actions You Can Take to Alleviate Depression

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