Under the best of circumstances, society’s push toward happiness feels overwhelming enough, right?
Okay, now, layer in any degree of grief, loneliness, anxiety, physical discomfort, or stress… and you’ll find yourself fighting the undertow of depression as it attempts to lull you into submission.
Try not to fall for any of it, My Dear.
And I’m calling you “My Dear” because you are one to me. You’re hurting and I know it.
I’ve been there, and you are not alone.
Take it from someone who knows firsthand that this time of year can feel…
You must remember: Anxiety and depression are master storytellers. They lull you into evidence-seeking behavior that will prove or justify your inner feelings of worthlessness.
Anxiety and depression whisper in your ear that you’ll be alone and/or in this pain forever, and that there’s really no way out this time.
They convince you you’re not good enough…not worthy… and just a fraud.
They encourage you to focus on the negative, the struggles, the past slights and mistakes and imperfections.
But guess what? There’s a world of GOOD out there, too, and it only comes back into focus once you recognize how to peek out from underneath those blankets of burden, anxiety and depression.
And right now, it makes no difference as to how smart you are or how much money you make. Regardless of your legion of friends or how much success you have — or have not — achieved, anxiety and depression leave you feeling leveled, cornered, despondent, and exhausted.
Just Keep Going. It Will Be Worth It.
Believe me, I’m the last one who wants to be a poster child for gloom and doom, but I feel it’s time we stop whispering about what these issues can do — to us, to our families, and to our wider communities.
For the past three years, I worked hard to recognize signs and symptoms of my own anxiety and depression, acquiring new skills to put those nasty storytellers in their place. And it’s worked. I’ve shared my successes since then in this post.
To be honest, though, I hardly want to write about any of this treatment stuff.
I don’t want to focus on “sad” stuff.
I don’t want to find myself in the grocery store checkout line next week, behind some neighbor who recognizes me as the “one who writes about depression,” then looks away awkwardly, unsure of what to say.
But it is BECAUSE I have struggled in the past, and BECAUSE these issues are so rarely written about with candor, and BECAUSE I know others struggle every day — in grocery store checkout lines and on baseball fields, in cramped apartments and opulent mansions, in boardrooms and classrooms around the world — that I feel compelled to write about these topics, not just during the holidays when they peak, but on regular days like this when the struggle feels particularly cruel and unreasonable.
You must also remember: thoughts are not facts.
Your life may feel like shit right now, but this doesn’t mean your life IS shit, or that you ARE shit, or that it will ALWAYS feel like shit. These are the things we can’t see when we’re in the undertow, and that’s why I’m writing about this … to remind you to keep going.
When I’ve been at my lowest, I would have appreciated reading an honest perspective about dealing with these complicated feelings. I’d have given anything to read a piece like this and share it with my loved ones as a way to explain some of the emotions I was dealing with — the confusing mix of sadness and overwhelm that has, at times, left me feeling confused, silenced and suffocated.
I just really hope this piece will help you in some way.
You Are Not Alone
While I’ve managed anxiety and some periods of depression for some years, it was in 2015 that I faced some of the the lowest feelings of my life.
The absolute worst part was facing these feelings as a mom, unable to let go of my sadness. I felt so guilty feeling so consumed by my emotions. When a friend insisted I secure my own “oxygen mask” before I worried any more about others, the notion seemed selfish and against everything I believed. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t “snap myself out” of my low spot. I felt like a failure as a mom. I felt completely alone.
And yet, my friend’s advice to seek treatment for my sadness was one of the best gifts I have ever received.
I’d already been seeing a therapist on a semi-regular basis, so when I told her I thought I should seek something more intensive, I couldn’t believe the words were coming from my mouth. After all, I didn’t even know what my options were.
I quickly learned there are programs focused entirely on anxiety and depression, but which one might be right for me? I didn’t feel comfortable posting queries on Facebook — the way I’d asked friends about favorite pediatricians or dentists — like, “Hey guys. Looking for favorite intensive programs for depression. Go! And thanks!”
And I confess that my biggest concern was the stigma of a “treatment program,” something I’d previously assumed was only for:
1) people struggling with substance abuse (which I did not) or
2) celebrities who just needed a “rest” (I’m not kidding).
I ended up finding and attending an intensive program to address my depression, and I realize others may not be willing — or able — to do this. Therefore, I’m sharing part of my experience here.
Maybe you’ll decide a program will help you, too. Maybe you’ll share this post with someone who’s struggling. Maybe you’ll try out some of the skills I’ve learned.
If nothing else, I hope you’ll feel less alone.
What Treatment Looked Like
When I found a program 30 minutes from my house that focused exclusively on anxiety and depression and actually took my health insurance, I began to breathe a bit easier. Best of all, it wasn’t something I’d have to “check in to” or be required to leave my family for any period of time.
The program met during school hours and was held in a commercial office building, not a hospital. I could arrive after school drop-off and be home before the kids got home from school. There were white boards and a Keurig coffee machine and people just like me going through their own painful stuff.
The space itself looked like a corporate classroom. There were windows with sunshine streaming through, and chairs set up facing floor-to-ceiling whiteboards as if we’d be learning about the latest coding tricks for our websites.
The people who attended with me ranged from widows and widowers to other moms and dads to much younger professionals and much older retirees. There were women who’d lost children and fathers who’d been unemployed for months. There was a 20-something who’d suffered a traumatic car accident, and a 40-something who just couldn’t get himself out of bed. There were also individual therapists, group therapists, family therapists, art therapists, and psychiatrists.
I know I was lucky to have found this place. I know I was fortunate to have been able to attend. I know there are so many who’d give anything for an experience like this. And that’s why I want you to read this…because I got to see it from the inside and I walked away with coping skills I just didn’t have when I first got there.
Since I attended, I’ve faced even more struggles and hardships than I thought possible, and I KNOW I’ve gotten through them because of the skills I acquired during treatment.
Some of the most important things I learned in treatment were to be kind to myself, to be gentle and stop ripping myself to shreds. I learned to forgive myself for not being perfect, for not being able to do everything I wanted to achieve, and for admitting I needed to ask for help.
How Long Was The Program?
The length of time people spent in the program was tailored to each individual’s circumstances. While I was there, I attended “full days” (school hours) for several weeks, then “partial days” for several more. Because it was my choice to participate, it was me who determined the length of my program.
Still, when I started, I didn’t want to be there.
I felt weak. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Broken.
I really didn’t want anyone to know I was in “treatment”. I figured I’d be judged by others, and that they’d think about “treatment” the same misguided way I previously had.
At the beginning, I’d look around, wondering how I ended up in this sunny conference room, seated in a semi-circle with 15 other sad, depressed individuals…or how this participation would actually “help” me.
My God. Wouldn’t this just make me more depressed? Early on, I contemplated if I’d made a huge mistake.
But quite rapidly, it became clear that I was doing the right thing.
First of all, I was afforded the time and space — and validation — to appreciate how deeply I was hurting. Some days I’d barely talk to anyone, holding my sorrow deep inside, trying to be strong. As a witness to others’ sadness, I quickly realized how few of us escape sorrowful periods in life, sometimes losing loved ones, jobs, hopes, and dreams. Some days I’d take detailed notes, organizing them so I might review them in the future. Still other days, after I’d been there for a few weeks, I’d open my heart and cry …and those were the days I needed the most.
Second, I could see that I’d been holding in so many feelings that I’d really never dealt with…stuff from my childhood and younger years I’d pushed down so deep that I could no longer even feel. And yet, it was all there, just below the surface. Our days were spent meeting as a group, but we’d also step out at various times to meet one-on-one with a therapist. There were also meetings to which family members were invited, intended to help educate loved ones about anxiety and depression and how to support someone who was struggling.
Finally, I could see there was no way back to the “normal” life I desperately wanted. I had to let go of any pictures I’d painted of my future — and this meant I had to go through some grief.
I didn’t want to grieve, though.
Grief is messy and painful and unpredictable and hard.
Grief is sad and consuming and — on top of all the sadness I already felt — the very last thing I wanted to endure.
Yet, as more than one therapist reminded the group, “There’s no going around anything. You have to go through it.”
So I did.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Here’s what you can do when a loved one is severely depressed.