How I'm Surviving In Survival Mode During A Severe Depression Relapse
Over the past several months, it had been easy justifying why I had been tired, a bit anti-social and melancholy. A hectic work schedule, feeling run down, and family obligations were my staple cop-outs to give to myself or anyone else who questioned my actions. The truth was that my insecurities were creeping back into my daily life again, this time with a vengeance through changes in my personal and professional life.
I started a new job after an unpleasant exit from my former place of employment. I was immediately thrown into the busy season in a matter of weeks. Doubts about my career choices stemming from the previous employment mishap were still raw as I grappled with learning the ropes of a fast-paced workplace in a new industry. As much as my new colleagues were assuring me that I was a fantastic addition to the team, my perfectionist personality constantly critiqued my learning curve.
At the same time, online dating had become a disaster in my love life. Despite rewriting my profile, changing my greeting message, and editing my photos, my inbox remained empty. This was even more painful than in-person rejection because I was being dismissed by multiple guys. I knew they learned about my life and ultimately made the decision to ignore me. Repeat that process twice a week, and after two months I had been rejected by countless numbers of men. Even writing that sentence stung.
Trying to advance my career while trying hard to work on my life outside of work was taking a toll, leading me to retreat from the world. At first I began needing quiet time after a long day at the office, which turned into solitude every single day--even when I did not have work. Going to bed at 9pm on a Monday after a stressful day morphed into going to bed at 7pm, staring at the wall.
Gradually, I began to dodge mirrors. Forcing myself to get ready for work or on the rare occasion I was talked into socializing became a burden. These efforts would usually end with multiple outfits crumpled in a corner of the bedroom, and me walking out the door in a pair of yoga pants, with my hair in a ponytail.
Blowing off my friends was becoming a daily occurrence. Excuses ranged from saving money, to even fictitious plans. Soon it became easier to ignore the phone since took effort to create a rebuttal to their plans. It got to a point where I let my iPhone die on a Friday night, and didn’t recharge it until Sunday night before work. It allowed me a whole weekend of solace from the pressure of socializing.
Eventually, the situation seemed eerily familiar. Having been down the road of depression before, I recognized that all the signs were staring me in the face. When I was in the grasp of a deep depression during my junior of college, the same avoiding behaviors and self-deprecating feelings were present.
Only months before my junior year of college, I experienced my first broken heart, a best friend that suffered a mental breakdown, and was dealing with the pressure of trying to secure an internship in a dying magazine industry in New York City. Every time I mentioned that my career goals of working in print after college, I was faced with reminders of how insanely difficult it was to get a handhold in that job market.
The previous summer, I had gone three months without therapy, and only relied on my parents’ advice which was to ''shake it off”' and “get a hold of yourself'.” That was their way of surviving difficult times, and how I was taught to cope growing up. Throughout my childhood, my mom suffered an array of health issues that forced me to mature sooner than my peers. With the fear of putting added stress on my parents, I learned to internalize my problems and activate survival mode. While my mom was recuperating from open heart surgery, and my dad adjusting to a new role of caregiver, I felt selfish for making a big deal out of my feelings. Survival mode for me was to ignore them and occupying every minute of my time with diversions.
Taking full course loads of academics, working multiple part-time jobs, and scheduling an overabundance of extracurricular activities were tricks I learned to exhaust me to a point of not being able to process that I wasn't shaking off the pain. The pain was shaking my sanity.
It hasn't been much of a challenge to keep my depression to myself. In fact, I'm sure people who know me personally will be taken aback by this article. Even though internally I am a hot mess, on the outside my appearance is the same. Each day I go to work, crack jokes with my colleagues, and meet my deadlines. When absolutely necessary, I show up to birthday parties and family dinners with a smile on my face. My professional life has never been derailed which is a blessing.
On the flip side, the fact that I can go months without showing outward signs that my depression has festered into a bubbling cauldron of horribleness is a curse. Because once it oozes out, it takes people, including myself, by surprise.
Looking back, the cause of that depression was my inability to let myself take time to process major life events. Coming back from that dark place required months of work in therapy, adjusting my medications and learning how to be more honest about my feelings. As uncomfortable and tedious as the process felt, the insight I gained about myself was life changing. It is that same instinct that has come forward almost five years later. The little voice in my heart telling me that history was repeating itself.
On Christmas Day 2013, the metaphorical cauldron exploded. The sadness had become debilitating, making it impossible for me to attend Christmas dinner. The idea of getting dressed, applying makeup and putting on a pretend act for an entire afternoon paralyzed me.
After making up an excuse, I spent the afternoon crying in a dark apartment. Shuffling to the bathroom at one point, I caught a glimpse of myself and it was startling. Despite my mind being clouded, I knew this was not normal. Perhaps the greatest gift I received on that Christmas Day was the realization that something was wrong.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve. A week had gone by but I hadn't admitted my feeling to anyone. On the last morning of 2013, I was in tears and at a loss for a solution. Instead of calling my therapist and explaining what was transpiring, I took the easy way out as a last ditch effort to push the feelings away.
Knowing that I would be told everything would be alright, I drove to my mother's house. Of course she assured me that I just needed to get the tears out of my system. That this 'incident' was because of my antidepressant medication apparently not working. Reluctantly, I made an appointment with my primary doctor and within hours I was put on an additional medication.
Returning to my apartment the next day, the crying had ceased but my gut was telling me I hadn't gone about things properly. The additional pill would not be the magic cure, and that some serious life changes have to be made. The first change needed to be honesty. I had to ask for help from people, and be brutally candid. It was going to be unpleasant and awkward, but my last bout of depression taught me that recovery is messy. Learning alternate ways of dealing with my shit and changing learned behaviors sucks. A lot.
Walking through my therapist’s door after six weeks of cancelled sessions was a start. I was honest about how difficult daily life had become. Admitting that I had regressed and had taken the quick fix to numb my feelings was a bitch to acknowledge. She agreed that the lack of medication was not the reason for this depression onset, and that we would have to backtrack the last few months to figure out how exactly I arrived at this point.
Concerned, she asked why I didn't call her when I was at my breaking point on New Year’s Eve. I told her that her holiday shouldn't have been ruined by my drama. That statement alone speaks wonders about what I need to work on in the weeks ahead—I have a hard time reaching out to others and putting myself first.
As much as I am trying to still grow into the role of a responsible adult, I need to learn something that I had never learned growing up. Asking for help when things get to become problematic and communicating feelings is a life skill I never mastered, and I also need to figure out to help myself. I guess that part of being an adult is gaining the ability to acknowledge my struggles before it pulls me down to the point I am at now.
I made the commitment to attend therapy sessions religiously, and to make an appointment to see a psychiatrist to get my antidepressant medication re-examined. Over the next few weeks my goal is to gain a better understanding of what brought me to this point, and how I can learn to better deal with situations that prey on my insecurities. This won't be the first time I learned these lessons, and God knows it won't be the last.