For the last six months, I’ve been obsessed with making my life as happy and full as possible. I joined not one, but TWO run clubs, cut back on drinking and other toxic behaviors and started attending therapy on a bi-weekly basis. I even mended family relationships.
I did all this because I thought it would help prevent the return of my depression.
Six months ago, I was at the lowest point I’ve ever been at. I was incredibly depressed and overwhelmed by anxious, self-injurious thoughts. I felt psychologically unhinged and fractured by the sexual assault I had experienced. I had regular panic attacks, cried more than I’d care to admit, and wanted nothing more than to stop existing.
I started going to therapy because I was scared by how depressed and overwhelmed I felt. Therapy helped me to take back control, and once things started to get manageable, I created a list of things I thought would improve my quality of life and prevent the return of my depression. I focused on my health, both physical and mental, and willed myself to keep moving forward.
I thought if I went to therapy weekly, if I avoided alcohol, and practiced deep breathing, that I’d be able to prevent the return of my depression and anxiety. I thought if I talked about my sexual assault enough that I’d be able to move on from it. My belief was that if I learned how to be better that I could beat my depression and anxiety. Instead of viewing my depression and anxiety as things to manage, I began to see them as things I could overcome and fully eradicate.
Recently, I’ve learned that there’s no way to truly rid yourself of depression and anxiety. And that’s been a scary realization. Despite all my hard work, I feel like I’m slipping. I no longer derive the same level of joy from running, and the honeymoon phase of therapy has ended.
I’ve allowed myself to drink a little more frequently, and have noticed my old drinker’s itch has returned. And I’ve become more anxious around other gay men, especially in sexually-charged environments. The negative thoughts haven’t started to creep their way back in, but I’ve felt more emotionally fragile and more anti-social than normal. The things I thought could fully fix me are no longer working.
I’ve focused all my energy on keeping my anxiety and depression at bay because I’ve been terrified of experiencing it again. I don’t want to go back to that dark place. But I know despite my best efforts, my depression and anxiety are back.And I’m trying to navigate that scary return. I’m trying not to deny it or block it, but brace for it, and remind myself that depression is not a constant nor is it a one-time thing. It’s something that ebbs and flows.
I decided to write this article because I want to be able to coach myself through my impending anxiety and depression. Instead of freaking out, I want to focus on the coping mechanisms I’ve developed in order to get through it.
Here are some tips I’ve learned for dealing with an impending episode of depression.
- Book an appointment with a therapist or let your therapist know what you’re experiencing
Last week I told my therapist about my increasing anxiety and fears regarding my depression. As a result, we’ve decided to transition from bi-weekly sessions to weekly ones to make sure I’m managing everything okay.
2. Leave the house or create reasons to stay out
When you’re depressed, it’s tempting to stay home and focus on your misery. Instead of doing that, I’m focusing my energy on work and fitness. I’m also doing my best to keep up with social activities even when I don’t want to.
3. Tell the people close to you
That’s what this article is for. I want people to know something’s up so they can check in on me without me having to deal with any discomfort bringing it up myself. I’m also making face-time a priority, so I don’t feel alone or isolated.
4. Try to identify your triggers
I’ve noticed that certain social situations are exacerbating my anxiety and depression, so I’m trying to do my best to avoid them. I’m also actively ignoring the urge to drink in social situations where I think I need alcohol to feel comfortable.
5. Ignore negative, unrealistic ways of thinking
I’m trying to avoid the following types of thoughts:
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Diminishing the positive
I’m also making sure to challenge any negative thoughts I have, and working to breathe and center myself whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed.
I’m scared of the return of my depression. I don’t want to feel as shitty as I did a few months back, and I don’t want to undo all the progress I’ve made. Part of me is afraid I won’t be able to handle it. Another part is secretly disappointed that I couldn’t become “strong enough” to beat it.
But I know that my depression and anxiety are things I can never truly eliminate or overcome. They are a part of me I’ll always have. But with the right support and toolset, I can live a happy life in spite of them.