How I Came to Accept I Couldn't Force My Recovery From Depression
I’m not used to being unable to do things. I’m a physically fit person — always have been — and a rather intelligent person, so there have been few things in my life I simply haven’t been able to do. At least, there have been few instances in my life where I’ve really wanted something, truly deeply wanted something with all my heart, and been incapable of attaining it. So coming to terms with the fact my mental illness (which I denied having for so, so long) is holding me back has been a frustrating process.
I love to perform. Acting has been the one true love of my life. Some people talk about the magic of their first kiss, or bad dates they’ve been on, or waking up in the morning next to their significant other and feeling home. I talk about theatre. The magic of stage lights hitting you for the first time during a rehearsal, the bad auditions I’ve been on, and the feeling of home that comes just from sitting inside a theatre. There are few trades I’ve ever wanted to try my hand at in life outside of acting and writing. I got degrees in both, but then my depression hit.
I stopped dancing; depression made me too tired and my anxiety kept me from trying out new dance studios. I stopped singing; depression stole my voice and self-doubt made it too emotionally taxing to try new songs. I stopped auditioning; there were too many emotions involved in that process. Imagine the anxiety of a first date, the pressure of walking down the aisle at your wedding, the stress of public speaking and singing in any occasion, and the heartbreak of the possibility of a breakup, all occurring within an hour of each other. I’ve never loved auditioning, but I’ve always loved callbacks so I figured it would balance out.
Either way, the emotional journey required for auditioning wasn’t one I was able to take for over two years. It was too much, there were too many memories — good and bad — tied into auditioning that I couldn’t let myself relive yet. When I finally got back into it, I booked a supporting role in a musical I’d always loved at my first audition. I ended up having to leave the show because of scheduling conflicts, something that broke my heart, but attending rehearsals had turned into an event for me. There’s nothing worse than knowing something you used to love — do love, if you could just get there — is now terrifying and stressful and exhausting and emotionally tiring and just too much. Even if the dates of the show hadn’t been changed, I’m not sure I would have been emotionally strong enough to make it through the entire rehearsal process. It was a new theatre company, they were making changes every single rehearsal and my anxiety was not allowing me to handle that as well as I could have been able to handle it two years ago.
I beat myself up for this, and have been doing so for two years. Every morning I would wake up and think: if only I could get back to an audition, then everything would be OK again. When I finally booked a show (which I loved, playing a character I adored, around people who were kind and lovely) and found myself feeling like I was drowning, I was devastated. I had waited two years to audition and I still wasn’t better. What the heck?! I had made a deal with myself — auditioning was supposed to be the scary part, and I had conquered that! It had been a cakewalk actually, I’d nailed it! It was time for me to admit my depression, which I knew was a serious condition, was even more debilitating than I had realized.
It wasn’t until I was watching the Tony Awards and began crying during a performance of a show I had once been in, uncontrollably sobbing really (heaving lungs, streaming tears, running nose, crinkly eyes, the works), that I realized why I was so frustrated with myself. It wasn’t that I was still depressed; no, I’ve always known my depression is something I will continue to live with and learn to balance as I grow. I was frustrated with myself because I wasn’t ready. Subconsciously, I had ordered myself to be healed enough to jump back into rehearsals and acting with the same capabilities I’d had over two years ago.
I’d failed myself not in my slow progression towards being more stable, but in putting the pressure of a time limit on my mental health. Depression is not something you can order around or send away on vacation. With this epiphany came a sense of peace — I truly hadn’t been self-pitying. Mental illness is tricky in the ways it completely incapacitates you, then tells you you’re making up your own symptoms. For two years I struggled to wear anything but sweatpants and do anything but watch movies, and yet as soon as I was starting to feel even the smallest bit better, I began to question why I was such a lazy person. I only learned I wasn’t lazy when I was put back onstage and still struggled to manage my emotions; my mental illness had hoodwinked me. I was depressed, not slovenly.
Some days, having outings scheduled after work is fun and exciting; some days, this fills me with dread and exhaustion — there’s no planning or accounting for that. Some days, I wake up with enough energy to learn new songs and rehearse unfamiliar harmonies; some days, I will be too tired to do anything but lie in bed and scroll through Twitter — there’s no planning or accounting for that either. Some days, I wake up ready to do what I love most, and some days, even doing what I love most is a horrible thought because I am too numb to feel the happiness living under the surface. And that’s OK, too.
Although I knew all of these things about my depression and had grown familiar with the exhaustion, laziness, weepiness and numbness, I had not allowed myself to accept that even when doing what I love, depression would still be non-negotiable.
There is no quick fix to depression, and while I thought “finally getting back out there” would somehow be an instant fix to mental illness (as many people hinted it would be), I learned I was wrong. Even while doing what I loved most, my depression was always just around the corner, threatening to pull me down. Luckily, there is no time limit for following your dreams. When I began to analyze and accept my frustrations as stemming from depression’s stubbornness rather than my lack of progress, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It’s OK to still be growing; this epiphany has forced me to reflect on my progress with pride and look forward to the future with my head held high. I’m not ready yet, but I’m getting there, and when I can make it happen again it will be satisfying to know I’ve earned it.
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Thinkstock photo via aerogondo