I’ve had anxiety and depression for years, long before I started therapy and began taking medication under the advisement of a psychiatrist. I look back at my teenage and college years and see glaring signs that I was unhappy but didn’t know how to put it into words that anyone, including myself, could understand. Mental illness runs in my family, the most notable example being my dad, who died nearly two years ago from drug addiction, something that developed as a “coping” mechanism for his untreated mental health issues, if you ask me. I’ve taken my mental health very seriously as a result, as I’ve seen far too tragically what can happen if you don’t. I’ve been seeing the same bad ass therapist for eight years now and my prescription for Lexapro, an anxiety-focused anti-depressant, has helped clear the fog so that I can delve deep into the exacerbating issues. I think I’ve made an extraordinary amount of progress in that regard, though I’ve come to accept that a dull, ever-present level of sadness might always reside within me. In some ways, I’ve been oddly okay with that. As an extremely sensitive person, I don’t know that it would be physically/mentally possible for me to exist in this world, with all its terribleness, and feel completely happy. To me, the pursuit of total happiness is a blind one — to actually achieve it, you’d have to be just that. Blind.
With that said, I know enough about my brain chemistry to be aware of when I’m feeling an unhappiness that is outside the realm of what I consider normal. And for the last, oh, eight months to a year, it has become increasingly abnormal.
At first, I dismissed the multiplying amount of “bad days” — days where the smallest incident sends me into a fit of hysterical crying or angry rage — as circumstantial, the aftermath of a very difficult period. After all, my dad passed away, I spent months dealing with the extremely stressful responsibility of settling his estate rather than, you know, grieving, plus, other areas of my personal and professional life were full of stress and/or disappointment at the same time. I mean, who wouldn’t be crying if squatters were destroying your dead father’s house, while anticipating company-wide layoffs and dealing with yet another romantic disappointment? “It will get better, it will get better, just persevere, just persevere,” I kept telling myself.
And it did get better. I decided to chuck my dad’s house in Hawaii because it was worthless, a disappointment no doubt, but hell, the stress was at least over. Things mellowed at work. My romantic life still kind of blew, but I stopped taking it so personally and tried to develop a more positive outlook. I stopped drinking as much, resolved to become a more openly loving person, and began to plan for a future that didn’t depend on meeting the man of my dreams. But while externally things were getting better, and I was truly doing the work to improve things internally as well, I was only, for the most part, feeling worse.
Every other day, it seems, I am weepy and anxiety-filled. On the days that I’m not, I still feel vulnerable and fragile. In some ways, I actually think this is a reflection of all the growing I’ve been doing these last few years. I told my therapist that I feel a bit like a chameleon shedding its skin, on the brink of something new and wonderful but also incredibly raw and sensitive. It’s very hard to explain, but I like myself better now than I did two years ago, yet I, in many ways, fe
el worse. Perhaps this is normal. But it still hurts.
There’s one other thing too. Every month for the last six or so, just after my period ends, I feel an almost unbearable level of depression, the kind of depression that feels heavy, where every step takes effort you just don’t have. When I get like this, I don’t want to be around anyone. I feel utterly out of sorts, like I don’t have a place in the world and the universe. It’s not suicidal ever, because the second my insides start wailing, “Whyyyyyyy do I even botherrrrrr?” I think of my mom and my brother and my beloved dog and I remember why. But still, on those days, all I can do is sleep. In the last six months, I’ve spent as many weekends in bed, curtains drawn, sleeping whole days away, rising only to walk Lucca and, maybe, get some food. I dream a lot and they’re usually incredibly lucid. I enjoy the dreams more than reality, by a lot, on those days. A few days later, I’m back to almost normal, and it’s like I can’t quite remember what made me feel quite so hopeless in the first place. It’s extremely confusing, being that sad, and then days later, not remembering why you felt so horribly in the first place, just knowing you did and being scared it’ll happen again.
For months now, I’ve been planning on moving back to California, craving the sunshine and slower pace of my home state. I sort of romanticized going back too. I left California after college because I wanted to get as far away from the situation with my dad as possible. Though he eventually moved to Hawaii, it wasn’t until he died that I felt California calling me home. All of the things that reminded me of him felt beautiful again. I think the writer in me, the writer I am because of him, thought going back to California would be both an epilogue and a new beginning. I started to associate a lot of my sadness and anxiety with New York, declaring it more and more inhospitable, looking for something to blame for why I kept feeling so sad. I’ve been stuck, and that’s why I feel so shitty, and by unsticking myself and moving back to California, I’d be leaving the sadness behind.
This past weekend, while I was in Los Angeles for work, I had another depressive episode. If I had paid attention to the calendar, I might have anticipated it, as my period had just ended. Sitting out in white hot California sunshine, I felt empty, alone, lonely, rudderless, pointless. I cried, for seemingly no reason, off and on for hours, eventually slipping between the sheets of my hotel bed (a comfy one at least) and sleeping for a solid 15 hours. With it, a realization — “I don’t think I want to/can/should move!” — which only made me feel worse because it meant that I was once again without an answer or cure, not to mention without a plan for the future. This depression is not something I can move away from. It will stick with me wherever I go, unless I do something about it. Some of the extremities of my emotions of late do feel like a normal part of coming out of a particularly difficult time, but a lot of it just simply feels crazy. After doing some research, I’m going to make appointments with my doctor to test my thyroid and with my psychiatrist to see about whether I need to adjust my meds. I’m putting my plans to move on hold for the time being, trying to remind myself in those moments where I feel embarrassed for having talked it up so much, that it’s just temporary, that I can move forward with whatever plans I want when I feel better and ready.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to be mindful of how lucky I am to have options, to have health care, to have the freedom to delay plans or to have plans at all, to have friends and family and coworkers who are supportive and patient and encouraging. And most of all, to still feel sure that I’m on the brink of something new and wonderful, just slightly out of reach.
Original by Amelia McDonell-Parry