For me the gradual build up of anxiety and depression was so subtle I hardly noticed it. I often chocked it up to getting older and being a bit of a curmudgeon. These days I realize that one of the things I always felt was odd were social norms and a great deal of expectation. There’s an almost Pavlovian response that we expect when we say things like “Hope your day goes well” or “How’s things?” It’s a conditioned response to say just positives so when someone actually says how they feel it can be a case of mental discord.
These days I don’t really smile. I’m used to it, going about my day with minimal contact and little to no expectation. When I do interact it’s a weird blend of automatic responses and trying to be honest. I don’t tell people I’m fine anymore. That word has been out of my emotional vocabulary for a while. When you stop caring about the mask and just say what’s actually going on it’s off putting to most. Those who can still tolerate me in this state, with the overhang of depression are the friends I still try to keep close.
I’ve had to make a lot of difficult choices about my social circle post-divorce, some of them likely interpreted as me abandoning former friends. In my eyes however it’s been as sink/swim choice. Keeping friends who’s presence reminded me of my ex was too much of a trigger. Trying to feign happiness or normality among them was draining and I felt like I was just constantly lying. I don’t lie anymore as I have no need and I don’t expect anything of the circles I have retained (even if their closeness is no longer what it once was). The paradoxical part of depression is that as much as you long for contact, it also makes you push away people. For me I know it’s been a self-awareness of that push/pull. I can see myself doing so, I understand it, there’s a rationale behind it but sometimes it does feel surreal. I’ve built up a tolerance for the pain of self-imposed isolation, of the emotional toll depression takes on a daily basis. I find ways to reach out to the resources I need to (therapist, friends, coworkers) as needed but sometimes it feels like it’s all I can do to maintain balance and prevent myself from sinking into a major depressive episode.
I’ll never sugar coat the difficulties of living with depression. It’s a daily juggling act between meeting social expectations while doing what you can to not send yourself over the edge. Every little bit helps in the fight and knowing when to pull the ripcord and reach out to friends is critical. If you find yourself having a rough time don’t be afraid to let folks know you’re in a bad place. Not everyone will understand that if you suffer from clinical depression that place isn’t something you just “get out of in a day or so” but the ones that do will be an anchor point.
I’ll admit, while I may not suffer from seasonal affective disorder, with my dysthymia and anxiety I feel like I’m almost the inverse of the norm on SAD. I actually dread summer more than winter or fall.
This summer in particular has been a little rough. Legal and financial matters to tie up relating to the divorce have weighed on me, the weather here is humid and muggy making my usual days just that much more uncomfortable. I’ve tried to focus on short-goal projects as of late. A new VMware lab to tinker with, study material, the occasional game now and then.
When most folks are enjoying the outdoors and celebrating, I recoil and look inward. Maybe it’s because my birthday falls in the middle of summer and this year in particular I have no desire to celebrating getting older. Slowly managing to drag myself outside more as needed, but rarely for ‘pleasure’. I take no joy in going out to see what’s out there. As a close friend described it, life is grey. Sometimes I feel like summer turns me into more of a vampire as I’d rather venture out at night or in the early hours of the morning both to avoid the summer crowds and to avoid the heat. I can barely look back upon my memories and imagine that I ever looked forward to the summers off.
One of the challenges I’ve had on a near daily basis is juggling my general desire to still enjoy TV shows, movies and books without it adversely triggering a depressive episode or ramping my anxiety.
It’s a very fine line I have to juggle yet some times, some themes and depictions pique my interest. Released in Japan in 2016, the anime feature film Koe No Katachi deals with some very mature subject matter. The themes include deafness/disability, bullying, anxiety, depression even suicide is discussed. Unfortunately while the film had a limited theater release overseas, it has yet to have a US release date. I’m contemplating reading the manga but run the risk at utterly spoiling the movie. The few clips that I have seen and the trailer and reviews from other fans point to a very powerful story and an interesting depiction of some of the lows that are experienced by people who have suffered bullying or a sense of being ostracized.
Other recent shows have also touched upon similar themes. Manchester by the Sea, Thirteen Reasons Why come to mind. Knowing a bit of my sensitivity to these types of shows makes navigating popular and award winning shows a delicate balance. While I was able to finish Manchester by the Sea, it was a difficult viewing. Thirteen Reasons I had to stop by the second episode as the focus on suicide was becoming too much for me to comfortably sit through. While some folks are intrigued at the exploration of the types of sadness and depression shown in such works, I understand that for folks like myself who are living with it day by day it’s a very fine line between respectful artistic discussion and glamorizing it.
As you pick and choose the shows you view always try to keep a sense of perspective and know when to step away. There are still a number of shows from my past that I can’t watch due to various memories and triggers and shows that I actively avoid going forward due to how they impact me. It’s an extra layer of thinking that goes into things but with practice navigating them becomes easier.
I will preface this post by saying if you are sensitive to humor that is self deprecating at times or that tries to make light of mental health then these may not be good sites for you to click on. I know that mental health issues are very serious and using humor to defuse some of the pain isn’t for everyone, so please consider your stance before you read further.
Humor was often my defense mechanism when depression or social anxiety would rear its ugly head. After my divorce and formal diagnosis I tried to really understand my actions and my responses to things on a more conscious level. Web comics, especially those that deal with mental health topics, were a way to sort of relate to the pain and challenges in a more light hearted way.
James F Regan pulls no punches when he tries to bring to light the difficulty in battling depression, adulthood and disappointment. His brutal honesty and character style immediately struck a chord with me. His web comic is still relatively new but I find it very topical and relatable.
Sarah Andersen’s web comic has been going on for several years and her approachable art style and depictions are a great way to connect to topics relating to anxiety.
These are just two of the web comics I’ve started to follow but if you’re the type who finds humor very cathartic, even in the face of adverse circumstances, consider adding these two authors to your list.
One of the weirdest things for me is that my anxiety rose along side my depression. It happened very gradually to the point that I really didn’t notice it. Early on I just assumed it was because I never really liked crowds and was always more of a lone wolf. Over the last year or so I’ve tried to reflect and assess my sense of anxiety in more detail.
For some, the physical manifestations are more severe than what I experience. I’ve generally had tension, slight heart rate increase, the occasional knots in my stomach. I can generally tolerate heading out somewhere and being around people but sometimes it just takes one or two trigger stimuli to make me really uncomfortable. Public displays of affection usually have me turning the other way. Really cheerful faces started to make me feel sort of alien. That sense of “why can’t I just be like everybody else around me”. I think for a lot of folks battling anxiety there’s a pervasive fear that everyone around us sees the fear, the sense of not belonging and is judging.
It’s always a bit weird talking about clinical anxiety with someone who hasn’t gone through it. Most folks associate anxiety with nervousness but there’s that subtle difference of severity which makes anxiety so debilitating for some folks.
I happened upon this interesting photo series while looking for inspiration.
The creator did an excellent job in creating some very powerful metaphors about the struggle of those suffering from severe anxiety. The door full of deliveries eerily strikes a chord with me, as did the sink and the floss picks. The smallest social norms become seemingly colossal hurdles. I think to many, they’ll look at that statement and think “It’s all in your head”. The thing is, what isn’t in your head? Your perception of your reality is by definition there in your mind. Some of us are just perceiving things in ways that are harder to address than others.