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What to Do If Your Depression and Anxiety Are Worse at Night

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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 741741.

Can’t sleep? Join the Up All Night group on The Mighty to meet people who can relate.

Mental illness is an incredibly elusive, flexible and unpredictable monster. Every time you think you’d pinned it down, somehow it manages to slip away and the wrestle starts all over again. When you feel you’ve balanced the scale, it pushes its heavy finger down on one side and suddenly, everything is sideways. The popular expression of “cut one head off and two more appear” is close to the truth with mental illness. I think a more relatable expression is “cut off one head and you can’t even count the number of heads that take its place.” This isn’t meant to be discouraging, but a reminder that mental illness is never a one-round fight. It’s something that requires patience, grit and stamina to fight every day.

These cycles of success and setbacks is something everyone goes through in their life, even without mental illnesses. But these monsters can make the successes feel less valuable and the setbacks feel like complete failures. This is part of its arsenal of lies, and we cannot give into it. But with these cycles, we always have to be prepared for the next part, whether that’s looking forward to the sun rising or preparing for the sun to set. For me, this isn’t just a metaphor; it is quite literally what I have to do.

Most people experience what I call “seasons” of good times and bad times, just as the winter is a season of cold and snow and the summer is a season of sunshine and warmth. They last several months, and we enjoy the good parts of them, survive through the not-so-pleasant parts, and look forward to the next season. For me, however, I compare my experiences to a “day” cycle, and this is why I’m scared of the nighttime.

Throughout my day, I feel either content or happy with the state of my mood and the peace of my mind. The sun shines through my windows, I go about my daily routine, and the day time is generally positive. But as it starts getting later in the day, when the sky starts to change colors, signaling the departure of the sun and the arrival of the moon, my smile melts away. It seems that every night, as soon as I need to turn on my lights because the windows don’t provide enough, my anxiety and depression skyrocket.

I find it similar to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but every day. I can’t explain it, but it’s been like this for years. No matter how good or bad I’ve felt throughout the day, the night manages to drag me down further. It feels very, very similar to a punch to the gut.

It discourages me. I feel like I’ve made so much progress to put the beast in its cage and keep it there, but somehow it manages to escape every night. But thinking about it generally, it’s just frustrating. It’s frustrating to feel that my days will always be happy and my nights will always be sad.

A very real and relatable metaphor for this may be an itch or bug bite that you can’t quite reach. For me, that “itch” is stability. I just want my days and nights to be leveled off, consistent contentment, and I can feel it during the day, but at night to slips just beyond my reach.

All that to say, I enjoy my days, but during the night, I feel my past struggles creep to the surface again. My anxiety about my future kicks in, making me question everything I’ve done or am doing and makes me doubt my abilities. My depression makes me feel worthless — like I shouldn’t even be trying anymore and that maybe the world would be better if I weren’t a part of it anymore. All of these things are pure torture; people with anxiety and/or depression might know what I’m talking about.

But no matter how much the nighttime scares me, no matter how much it drags me down, no matter how much my past invades my present state of mind, there is one thing that helps me survive the nights, and it may sound a little weird: looking to the future when I can live in the present. I look forward to the sun rising, my day starting, and telling myself: “Live for right now. Enjoy these moments and savor them as best you can. Learn how to hold onto these feelings, and prepare to use those lessons when struggles come.” My nights are not fun, but my days aren’t just more enjoyable; I learn from them to help me survive until the next sunrise. Because you know what? The sun will always rise. It’s one of the few things we can count on to be consistent. So, even if you feel like life is consistently inconsistent, just remember: you can count on the sun rising.

Photo by Kyle Wong on Unsplash

Originally published: June 3, 2020
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