In honor of #BellLetsTalk and my last blog post, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with being diagnosed with PSD (or dysthymia), and how I’ve been trying to cope with it. It’s a work in progress, but it has certainly taught me that there’s virtue to rejecting complacency. A tl;dr of the post would be that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, as does the treatment and ability to cope with it.
High-functioning depression is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, I felt like it was impressive for me to be able to continue to go to class as an honours student, actively participate in multiple clubs/organizations, work part-time, and attempt to maintain an active and social lifestyle. On the other, I often felt like I was letting a lot of people down, especially myself, when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed to go to a meeting, or left a paper until the very last minute because I had no motivation. Sometimes it feels like a never ending cycle of my mental illness getting in the way of something I knew I wanted/needed to do, me getting angry at myself for not having more strength, and the bottomless pit of self-loathing begins. While I was trying to enjoy the pleasures of life by immersing myself in it, I was only half-engaging myself in things. As a result, I was half-enjoying things too.
No one needs to attempt to “validate” their mental illness.
This is especially prevalent when I first came to terms with my diagnosis and decided to tell my close friends and family about it. It seemed unfathomable to my friends, many of whom I’ve known since I was in grade school. Finding out that someone close to you has been struggling to be happy for so long is hard to swallow. I’m sure that many of my friends wondered what they could have done to help, how they couldn’t see how I was depressed, and how they should start treating me now. My parents, still with a very traditional East-Asian culture outlook on mental health, couldn’t even begin to comprehend the concept. They told me to exercise, to not think about things that make me sad, and that I didn’t need to medicate myself in order to be happy. At first, I was impatient and frustrated with having to explain my symptoms to everyone, but then I realized that they’d either understand more as time went on, or continue to remain ignorant about it. These are difficult narratives to tell and basically uncharted waters in terms of research and public awareness. I barely even understand my own illness, how could I be frustrated explaining it to people who would understand it even less than me?
There’s no “one size fits all” treatment, and that’s alright.
Some people respond well to antidepressants, some don’t. Some people find certain kinds of therapy to be useful while others find it counter-productive. I honestly found solace in knowing that this was going to be a way for me to figure out what will help me cope. It kind of seemed like a new challenge for me to take on– what foods make me groggy on my meds? How much sleep is too much sleep? How often should I talk to a counsellor without feeling like I was investing too much time? Comparing myself to other people who I knew were going through a tough time or also struggled with mental illness usually made me feel worse about my lack of progress, especially if I was having a bad day. After I accepted that I need to do things at my own pace, I realized the truly psychologically daunting task of coping with depression is measured on my own timeline, and not someone else’s.
It’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes.
When I was at my worst mental state in December, one of my best friends drove from Toronto as soon as she finished work on Friday to Waterloo, and then spent the whole weekend with me until another of my friends picked me up to take me back to Windsor. I knew that it was a busy time for everyone, and while I felt terrible about it, they all assured me that they wanted me to bother them and for them to be there for me. I wasn’t a hassle at all, even though it felt like it. This also applies to being kind of a, for lack of a better word, flakey person sometimes. There will be days when I finish my day and I’m completely drained, and I have to cancel on my friends because I just can’t find the gas in myself to be around them. I do feel bad, but I know that having people be a little cheesed at me is better than me forcing myself to be somewhere and be grumpy the whole time, possibly resulting in me being irritable and mean to my friends.
With that being said, I want to give every one of you who are reading this permission to be selfish with regards to me. Please, please reach out to me if you need someone to talk to. If we’ve made plans, please don’t feel obligated to show up if you’re having a bad day. I want to talk to you guys if you need it, and give you space when you need it too.