I grew up thinking that “being social” was just the thing you had to do. If you wanted to spend time alone, or didn’t want to go out with your friends to that party, that it was wrong and you should feel bad. A lot of people would very much (and still may) describe me as an extrovert my entire life. I was mostly boisterous and energetic, seeking to be the center of attention at every possible moment. To be clear, when the mental meltdown happened to me, I was 27 years old. I was overloading my schedule with social activities and exercise to insane levels. I’m not even sure how much information I should be putting here, but my daily schedule was something like: Gym @ 6 am, work 830-6 (or 7), then either rugby or rock climbing after that. Fill in the gaps with hanging out with friends, it was just a band-aid solution to the real problem: I was fucking miserable. I was filling up my schedule to keep myself so busy that I couldn’t think about how much I hated myself.
I’ve been diagnosed with having a “mild to medium” case of depression, and I can’t remember the actual medical term for it. My depression manifests itself mostly in crippling self-criticism that would turn even simple, run-of-the-mill mistakes into catastrophic week-long episodes of laying in bed with the lights off. I would still drag myself to work, but any other time I was hiding. This was a normal pattern for probably 7 years of my life, mostly from ages 20 to 27. I would be “okay” for about a month, something would set me off, and I’d crawl into a hole for a week. Only once, shortly before graduating high school, did I come close to committing suicide. It was never truly a solid thought for me, it was mostly wishing for it through events out of my control. Like, wishing to be hit by a car driving home from work. I felt like I wasn’t worth the oxygen I was taking away from more worthwhile people who “had it all together”. Whenever I went out in public, I felt like everyone was staring at me. I have severe commitment issues that make relationships (both romantic and non-romantic) an absolute nightmare. I spent the majority of my life thinking that that was the way I was, and there wasn’t really any way to fix it.
Then the meltdown happened. I won’t go into all of the details, but it felt like all of a sudden I just couldn’t do anything. I was crying for hours at work for no reason. I couldn’t do my job, I couldn’t eat, and when I got home I was laying under my bed covers waiting for myself to either die or get over it. So work told me to stop coming in.
I wish I could explain how earth shattering this was for me, because I put a lot of my emotions into my work. This wasn’t fair to myself, I’ve discovered later, but at the time I was putting everything I had into my job hoping for some form of approval that I never got otherwise in life. It felt like your parents telling you that they didn’t want you to be their kid anymore. It was my world. Looking back, thank whatever deity was looking over me that day, because they were right. They wanted me to fix things, and I obviously wasn’t in the condition to do it while working full-time. My job has always looked after me, and I’m really lucky to have that option. A lot of people don’t. I’ve really pulled a giant horseshoe directly out of my ass with some of the help I’ve got along the way, and I know it’s not like that for everyone. I’ve also put in a lot of hard work. I think that’s just life in general, though.
So, I got put into therapy. This is not something I ever envisioned myself doing, and anyone who’s done it can attest to how hard it is. So, I started working. Every week for over 4 years I was there. For the first few sessions, I really only said a few sentences. I didn’t like my therapist, I didn’t like how I felt she talked down to me. How she kept asking “why?” when I gave her a million good reasons why I was such a giant piece of shit that didn’t need to be here. She wasn’t asking “why?” to make me angry, but she was asking to make me really take a look at what I was saying about myself. This kind of self-reflection took a very, very long time to put into practice in my daily life. The first two years of therapy was just talking about stuff that was happening throughout the week, but not being able to turn around and use the stuff we talked about in that room. This, apparently, is normal. Self criticism is my big problem, so you can imagine how it went. Then it started getting easier. Now I’m doing it on an almost daily basis. This is after five years of almost weekly therapy. It might be shorter for some people, and way longer for others. That’s the fucked up thing about mental illnesses. There’s no gauge. There’s no test that you can take that says “Yep, this is the one you have,” and they scribble down a prescription and pat you on the head. So I kept working. I’m down to monthly sessions now, and you know what we talk about? Books. My wrestling podcast (the most shameless plug). Game of Thrones.
I used a large and varying array of prescription medicine during my therapy, and it took a LONG time to find one that worked for me. Like I said, mental illness is a nightmare that isn’t the same for everyone. If you’re committed enough to making yourself better, you have to be willing to try things that you’re not comfortable with. (To an extent, obviously. Butt stuff might not help. Might not.) I think I went through at least a half dozen different medications until I found one that worked for me. Some of the reactions I had were bad, but I was always assured by my therapist that if I ever felt uncomfortable at any point, to communicate about what I didn’t like and we’d try something else. Talking with your doctor and/or therapist during this phase is super important and you need to be clear if you’re feeling anything that you don’t want to feel. How do you know it works? Again, I’m sure it’s different for everyone but for me, I was emotionally numb. I guess not as bad as I made it sound just then, but it took just enough of the edge of daily living that I wasn’t freaking out over every thing that happened to me. I would still feel things, but it wasn’t this intense nuclear heat of emotion. More of just… a hand over a toaster.
A combination of therapy, medication, and steady exercise has gotten me to the point where I’m living a life that I can cope with. I feel very strongly that you can’t just do one and see results. It’s a weaving of things that you need to do, and it’s going to take years of work to sort it all out. You have to be in it for the long haul. I’ve learned that you’re allowed to have any feelings you want, but it’s what you do with those feelings that counts. That it’s okay to cry and scream and be frustrated. Like I’ve said, the problem with mental illness is that the solutions are subjective and what works for me will not work for a hundred other people. I guess what I’m trying to get across is that it takes years of hard work, and even at this point I know that I’m going to be living with some of these issues until I die. That’s ok though. That’s just part of being a human being.
I was always really happy with this picture because I felt as happy mentally as I look on the outside.
Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle.