INSIDE THE BOX - How I Work Up My Way From Depressed To Fine

Most of the time mental illness is a life sentence. When you have anxiety or depression it creeps up on you over and over, and if you have a personality disorder it becomes your way of perception. You will always be wary of certain things that trigger you, you will always see them standing out in capital letters. Sometimes the only way to deal with it is medication and therapy for the rest of your life, so it’s important to learn how to stand up when life seems to push you to the ground. You need to regain control of your mind.
I’ve been there, and get back there again and again, so in order to feel like I have a reason to keep getting up every morning, I tried to work out a few techniques that keep me going. I thought about sharing the lessons I’ve learnt in the past two years, and hope you can find something here that can help you, too.
Please be aware that this post will get into details about my condition, and at times can get a bit graphic.

When all else fails, don’t be afraid to turn to medication
I was in the search of a therapist for a bit more than half a year after dropping out of school due to my bad insomnia and anxiety, and most of the people I’ve met either didn’t know what to do with me, or they had no free time in their schedule, so I just kept skipping form one armchair to the other. After a bunch of useless interviews I could finally settle with a psychiatrist for about 8 months and even started taking an SSRI. After a few months into taking the pill, I went on telling him that I didn’t feel it working, but he just kept shrugging his shoulder over and over. So I finally found myself in a hospital instead of school in the first week of September. The three months after that were the worst thing that ever happened to me. I’ve seen myself dead in every possible situation. In the bath, getting hit by car, or drinking bleach.
Fast forward to March 2017, I’m fine. I’m not ecstatic, I still don’t have my life sorted out, but I’m alive. I’m taking a different kind of antidepressant with a mix of Xanax and sleeping pills. My liver won’t thank me, but from this point I can build up.
You can’t build up your life on shaky ground. You can find a lot of beautifully sorted horror stories about any kind of medication out there, be it ibuprofen or throat drops, and they may come with the weirdest side effects (gaining weight and getting pimples is pretty much mandatory), but sometimes you have no choice. Don’t think about it as weakness: you probably have some nasty chemical imbalance happening in your brain, and for some conditions medication is the only thing that can keep that under control. Other times your symptoms can have way worse effects, than a pill could possibly have. In my case, severe insomnia can heighten the risk for a good bunch of illnesses, like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

But try therapy
For some people it won’t work, for some it’s not even an option (time and money, people, a whole lot of money), but I find it important to at least try, if nothing else, do it for the sake of trying.
The whole journey of trying to find a therapist, and experimenting with group therapy taught me a lot about myself. I gained a deeper understanding of my condition, met my boundaries, and it made me see the issue in a whole new light. Therapy itself didn’t help. I haven’t found out why exactly I developed this illness, nor did I learn a specific way to deal with it, but it helped me figure out how I wanted to proceed, it kept me going, and when I didn’t knew what’s the next step, I at least new what definitely wasn’t.

Find your support
People won’t understand you. No matter how much you explain your illness to them, they may accept it, but they won’t truly feel it, and no matter how good their intentions are, everyone will bombard you with useless advice. Because people just feel the need to say something, and that’s alright. One thing I definitely learnt in the past two years, is how to nod and shut people’s voice out. Just smile, and imagine you’re at home, with your cat in your lap, and just the TV buzzing in the background.
Find people who accept you, but also find those who understand you. If nobody around you deals with a similar condition, try searching online. If you feel anxious, you don’t need to join in the conversation, just simply read and feel that you’re not alone and your feelings are valid.

Identify your happiness triggers
You probably have your own set of things that make you feel sad, anxious and hopeless. You know which situations you’re better off avoiding. But also try to pay attention to the things that make you instantly comforted. For me it’s tea, reading Harry Potter when I had to stay in hospital, and having a hat or a cosy sweater on. I also feel relieved by taking a bath or getting a massage, and I really love everything about rain, but that’s not something in my control obviously. For you it might be a smell, the taste of your childhood, music or your pet.
Try to write an actual a list of things that make you happy. They won’t necessarily bring a smile to your face, but they are something you can look forward to. Make sure to include things you can do yourself in any situation, like getting coffee, or thinking about a poem you like a lot. The point is not to force happiness on yourself, but to help you feel more at ease when things get uncomfortable. Know what makes you feel calmer, so you can default to them when you get buried in a pile of shit.

Spend time alone with your thoughts
I know this might seem terrifying. Spending time alone, without distractions may take you to a spiral down anxiety triggering thoughts and memories, and you may avoid it as a way of preserving your sanity. But hear me. Learning to be alone and not feeling lonely, accepting your negative thoughts, and understanding where they come from is the only way to conquer them. You can’t stay in an endless cycle of running from your own mind. To stop fearing your thoughts the best way is to become acquainted with them.
To completely clear my mind I love meditation before bedtime. If that sounds frightening to you at first, you can simply practise spending time alone by going on a walk without your phone (you shouldn’t feel like the whole world is up your ass all the time), or just eat your meals without any kind of distractions (this includes internet, TV and even books).

Make a checklist of mundane tasks
When depression gets over your brain, it’s so easy to practically forget how to human. Even the most basic tasks, like brushing your teeth, can be hard, and you might feel so unmotivated to even get off of the couch. Or you don’t even make it to the couch.
I started my bullet journal in the beginning of February, and keep a habit tracker for functioning like a human being since then. I tick off everything, from washing my hair to watering my plants, and write down all the little victories in life, or just general stuff that fill me with satisfaction, like finishing House MD. (I was indeed stuck in 2008).
I like to work on one habit and a few smaller goals throughout the month, and slowly build up my routines. I can fall out of habit really easily, and when I’m busy I tend to forget to eat and just generally keep myself alive, so I really do need to keep writing everything down.
It’s important to remind yourself of every small thing you achieved. With mental illness even the smallest task can be challenging, so make sure to appreciate yourself, and don’t feel like a failure at life. If, for some reason, you have to start again from scratch (like me after touching bottom in autumn), just try again, build up and up, and keep celebrating every step you take.

I’d love to hear from your own experiences too, and your tips on getting back on track and finding some balance (or even a smile) when times get hard. I hope I could help you out in some way, or at least kept you feeling less alone. Please make sure to leave a comment if you’d like me to write more about this topic!

- Anna

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