After putting off going back to counseling for months (really, honestly, years), I finally went to see someone to talk about the depression I am living with and the extra anxiety I was feeling about some rather large life decisions that felt fraught with Impending Doom no matter what choice was made. I am excellent at putting off my feelings so that I can make it through the day (week, month…) of urgent tasks and then I can feel all of the feelings. This is a terrible idea, by the way. I may accomplish a few things on my list, but I am cranky and angry and want to eat every ounce of chocolate and cheese within a mile radius. This only serves to heighten the emotions of guilt and sadness and anger, which in turn only serves to squash any motivation I had left for the rest of my list, thus rendering it as useful as toilet paper and adding everything left on it to the dogpile of anxiety and guilt and sadness I was already trying to avoid.
This is a horrible way to live, yet it’s been my life at least several weeks each month. Then I’ll have a good week or two where I stay on my diet plan (not so much diet as just not eating metric tons of crap), keep the house from looking like a complete disaster, keep up at work, maintain patience with the toddler, and actually exercise. I feel like Superwoman. I forget how awful I felt the week before because I am coping so well with life. I even managed to keep the kitchen clean and clear the sink for a whole week and a half once. Until something happens – I miss a step in the schedule and start to feel overwhelmed; the tiny human is hangry and/or sleepy, and I am all done with patience for the day; someone I love announces a pregnancy or birth or Mother’s Day happens, and I am overwhelmed with all of the things that depression holds for me all over again. I am by default a “bootstrapper,” as in I largely believe I can fix myself by just working harder at it. For the most part, this has worked in spurts for me. I mostly function, but not always well and almost never the way I would like to.
The truth is, bootstrapping may be a good coping mechanism for mild and intermittent depression, but the cycle I am in is neither one of those things at the moment because it is interfering with my life. I finally felt enough out of control of my emotions that I knew I had to do something else if for no other reason than that my daughter deserves a mommy who won’t correct every move she makes or yell over stupid things, so I finally called to schedule a counseling appointment.
Having a professional help review those Impending Doom decisions was huge; it was the main reason I quit stalling, but it gave me a diagnosis for my endless cycle of angry/sad, eat, guilt, repeat. It means that what I’m feeling is bigger than what my bootstrapping can fix, which lets me acknowledge that it’s not just me being cranky or occasionally feeling blue; I have an actual illness that needs to be addressed and treated. My irritability level is a symptom of depression, which doesn’t let me off the hook for being a jerk, but does help me give myself some grace. It also lets me feel less guilty about putting exercise on my schedule and pushing other things out of the way to make it happen – it’s not just me being vain and wanting to lose weight, it’s a necessity for my mental health. I can feel a little less guilty that my lack of motivation isn’t just lack of discipline, and maybe it will get better.
If you are struggling with depression, please seek help – professional help if you can afford it. Any physician can prescribe an antidepressant, but you should tackle the root and not just the symptoms. If you are afraid to go see a therapist because you fear the unknown, here’s a rough idea of what to expect from talk therapy. You will likely have an hour appointment, and the first meeting will involve introductions and lots of questions about your background and your immediate concerns. Of course it is cliché, but you should expect to explore “How does that make you feel?” More than that, however, a good counselor will explore beyond that to help you manage your feelings and learn new behaviors to cope with the issues at hand. Be honest. You are dealing with a professional who has probably seen a lot of messes, and they are bound by client-patient confidentiality unless you pose an imminent threat of harm to yourself or another person. My counselor gave me “homework” topics to think about and answer at the next session. We also began with a plan for forty-five minutes of exercise at least four times a week to help mitigate my depression symptoms. Within a few weeks, it was obvious that I was more overwhelmed than exercise could handle, so we added an antidepressant medication. Most medications take several weeks to really show any measurable effect, so stick with it if this is your plan.
I finally feel more like myself. My first reaction to everything isn’t anger, and I feel a little more motivated to live my life instead of just survive it. For the first time in months, maybe even years, I don’t feel like all of my energy is being sucked into just getting through the day without kicking someone, and I’m not dragging myself through the week. I have energy left over to actually enjoy playing with Engelberta and working out and knocking things off my to-do list. Now that I’m not always in desperation mode, I’m going to have to relearn how things look from a much healthier perspective. It’s a good place to finally be.