Trying to explain my past year in mental health |
“In this survey study that included 1441 respondents from during the COVID-19 pandemic and 5065 respondents from before the pandemic, depression symptom prevalence was more than 3-fold higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than before. Lower income, having less than $5000 in savings, and having exposure to more stressors were associated with greater risk of depression symptoms during COVID-19.” —Prevalence of Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic
It’s funny, i wrote “My Mental Health Struggles in 2020 (so far)” last year, and since then things got far, far worse. So in this post I’ll try and explain what’s been going on with me. I won’t get into how it’s gotten to be this way, since I barely know that. Obviously a huge amount of people have had it far worse in the past year than me, but it’s not like mentall illness makes sense.
First, this post will probably seem like a it’s just a pained call for help, so let me outline why I am doing this:
- Mostly just to let my friends and family know how i’m doing. This is just the way that makes the most sense to do this.
- Also be open about and communicate the nature of depression in the past, both to put out something others can relate to and something others can learn from.
- And yeah ok, partially it is a call for help. But only in the sense that i’ve not shared this with many, and doing so seems like a good idea. If you are reading this and wanna help, no need to do much; encouraging me to be more social would be nice, as would letting me know you care with a message or that Facebook emoji.
- I guess it feels cathartic to write this, as a sort of self therapy.
On to what has been up with me. Take a look at this:
I’ve been oscillating between ‘Struggling’ and ‘In Crisis’ for months, and only recently managed to upgrade to ‘Surviving.’
So, not great. At the root of all of this is mainly one thing: I just don’t want to do anything. Not work, not excercise, not socializing, not checking emails, not even mundane things like showering or shaving, and so of course not things like meetings, brainstorming, programming. And so on. In fact, I actively want to not do those things. All I want to do is lie in bed and do nothing. Or do unhealthy things, such as drinking or smoking, or other varieties of self harm. Of course, I find the strength to force myself to do some things, and not do the harmful things. Sometimes this makes me feel better for a while; more often it just makes me tired.
“Exercise/physical activity, eating healthy, spending time in nature, finding a hobby are all things that are supposed to “be good for your mental health”… but by definition, depression is a problem precisely because it inhibits your inability to function, much less do things that are good for you. Finding a therapist, trialling multiple therapists to see which one suits me best, or even starting on antidepressants and having to check in with a doctor/psychiatrist every few weeks, or having to change medications because one might fuck up my head even more, or not even work… all takes so much fucking effort that I can’t bother to do any of it.
I went to a counsellor at my university earlier this year, and they suggested things like group therapy for my anxiety and volunteering for causes because that can give people a sense of purpose in day to day life… and I just didn’t know how to tell them, that is exactly the problem, I have utterly no will to do any of that and that’s why I’m sitting in your office right now and I don’t know what anyone can possibly do about me being this way.” —Reddit
The cumulative effect of all of this is a feeling of being exhausted by the mere act of living. You constantly need to drag yourself forward, when you need to find the strength to heal and persevere. It all feels like a never ending barrage from which you just want to run away. But running away via reading or video games or anything else just makes it worse too, because soon enough you need to get back to living life again, and running away makes you ability to do that atrophy. And at some point you feel fed up with all this shit, and you just want it to stop. But you’ve got to keep going.
And because of this there is also a pervasive sense of despair, and dread. Despair at the feeling that I am no longer myself, at not knowing when this will end, at thinking that I am just… broken. And dread at the idea of having to live like this, at having to face today and tomorrow and so many days like this.
And then there are the thoughts. Quite rote things, “I hate myself”, “I am not a pleasant person to interact with”, “I am worthless”, etc. And the annoying thing is that these are not beliefs really, I know intellectually these things are not true. I know I am not worthless, I don’t hate myself, plenty of people care about me and like me, etc. And yet the thoughts come, and having to constantly tell yourself to stop thinking nonsense is tiring in itself. Beliefs do not dictate feelings, sadly. It’s all quite irrational, and I know it’s irrational, but it is still what it is.
“Depression is a bitch. I don’t want attention, I just feel worthless. Being my only company feels toxic because I hate myself. It’s so conflicting because I want to be alone. I don’t have the energy anymore to put on a fake smile like I used to. I distance myself from my friends and they don’t notice. Yet I don’t want to be alone because I’m drowning in a pool of self hatred and depression. I try to reach out and force myself to meet with people but plans always fall through. I just want to be reminded every now and then that people care for me because I feel fucking worthless. It doesn’t help when that validation never comes.” —Reddit
Of course, on top of the more universal traits of depression there are lots of more personal quirks. The worst for me is constantly feeling incapable of productivity and creativity. When I scroll Twitter and see cool research papers, or scroll Instagram and see cool art, or watch movies, or read books, or listen to music or podcasts, or even just watch YouTube videos, there is a little part of my mind that says ‘that’s not just because of talent – this is the result of years of honing their skill, determined work, perseverance, drive’. And then, ‘you are not capable of those things.’ And then, feelings of hopelessness, self-pity, self-dislike. Even seeing and interactive with people at coffee or grocery stores makes me feel bad, because at least they are putting in the work to do something useful. This especially sucks with friends, because of course I just want to be happy for them. And thus the desire for self isolation increases.
I could go on and on, but the above captures the essence of what I have been going through. Part of why I am writing this now is that I am starting to be better, making it possible to write this without it being a complete downer. So, a bit on that. With medication and therapy and socializing and so on not having been sufficient, bigger life changes made sense. So, I have spent months taking on the minimum amount of work possible, tried to avoid unhealthy behavior as much as I could, moved back home with my parents, and most recently started a proper vacation with more or less zero work. With weeks off, I have had time to reflect, take baby steps towards building a consistent healthy routine, rebuild my sense of hope for the future.
So, things are getting better. The sense of dread and despair is still there, but at least it’s lessening. So there’s that.