Disclaimer – we are not and do not claim to be mental health professionals. The content in this personal essay is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on BYT. If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area.
All words by Nick Goebel
Depression is often compared to drowning. I remember reading a story (I can’t remember the source, so please remind me if you know) by someone who likened their depression to an ocean; sometimes they bobbed on the surface, and sometimes they were dragged deep down.
Each time, the life preservers that brought them back up to the surface came in the form of people and passions. They would use these rafts to find their way to safety, no matter how large or small. Sometimes it was a show or book they needed to finish that kept them afloat, sometimes it was thinking about all the people’s lives they might destroy if they continued to sink.
Last year, my therapist asked me why I connected with this author’s words so much. I had no answer at the time, but in the midst of the current situation, I think I’m beginning to better understand.
To preface, I was inspired by fellow BYT staff member Marissa Rubenstein’s article, Coping with Eating Disorder Recovery in Quarantine. It is a beautifully written piece about how she has been coping with new triggers in quarantine; many who’ve struggled (and/or still do struggle) with mental health issues have likely had to come face to face with a demon or two during the past few months.
I will go into my own quarantine coping mechanisms as they relate to my depression and anxiety, but you should also know my whole story to get the picture.
In August, I was in my last semester of college. In addition to taking classes and doing really well, I was the president of a national organization overseeing 10,000 students. (Not to mention I was perfecting my work on pole dancing in heels. Take that straight boys.) It was the dream senior semester.
My depression and anxiety arrived like a light snowflake drifting down; I could feel the storm approaching, as these are things I have dealt with all my life, but it still seemed far enough away on the horizon that I didn’t immediately worry. I started my usual coping mechanisms – exercising, reading and opening my memory box (a safety net of good times). But the snowflakes started to snowball, gaining size and momentum as time passed.
Towards the end of the semester, I couldn’t move from my room. I would stare at the ceiling with thoughts spiraling down. The snowball had become an avalanche. Every time I found myself at the computer, all I could do was cry. I was completely paralyzed by depression, fear and failure.
I got through the semester, but I came out of it bruised and broken, not unlike an overripe fruit. (Excuse the pun, couldn’t resist a bit of comic relief.)
It took a while, but my parents finally stepped in. Noticing my behavior was the worst it had ever been, they forced me into therapy. I spent the next several months trying to work through my emotions and get to the root of my issues. Finally, I was prescribed anti-depression medication.
Now, the happy part.
I always thought that taking medication would be numbing, that I would wake up feeling “normal” but not myself. Maybe I would lose my art. “Don’t all artists need to suffer?” I bought into the played out narrative, but fuck that, because it’s absolutely not true. Instead, I woke up feeling healthy, maybe even a little okay. It was my first kick to the surface.
The next life preserver was someone stepping in. I couldn’t tell my family everything, so I began to confide in someone who cares for me very deeply. I was honest with her, and while she empathized, she wouldn’t let me wallow in the self pity. I believe her exact words were, “I have been there. I know how you feel. But you need to look past this bullshit and see what you will do next.”
I got upset. I wanted to close her off because of the frankness of her words, but holy shit, I needed that kick in the ass. It worked. I could see the surface. People who care are more valuable than the last slice of pizza. (I repeat: in August I was in my last semester of college. I still hold pizza next to gold in currency.)
When the pandemic turned everyone’s world upside down, I (like many) was forced to look at my mental health issues in some new and unfamiliar ways. But I feel fortunate that I was able to say, “Fuck you, depression.” I made a point to get up early and fill my day. I couldn’t leave the house due to new stay-at-home orders, but I set a schedule and routine anyway:
8:00 – Pills.
8:30 – Get moving. You can walk or do Yoga, but you have to move.
9:30 – Read whatever you want. Articles or books. (I chose the Eragon series.)
10:30 – Job hunting. Mama has to make a paycheck somehow.
12:30 – Break.
1:30 – Freelance work. Again, Mama has to make a paycheck somehow.
3:30 – Networking.
5:00 – Cook a fabulous dinner.
7:00 – Call friends.
A schedule is how I escaped my drowning; each part of it was specially crafted to serve my specific needs. I knew I needed to be productive, so things like cooking and hunting for jobs made me feel better and purposeful. But I also gave myself a reprieve with things like reading and yoga.
The point? Depression is deeply personal, and everyone experiences it differently. Each solution must be tailored to exactly what you need. Mine? Schedule, reading, activity and productivity. It works for me, but I get that it won’t work for everyone.
What I know doesn’t work pretty much across the board? Sleeping all day, spiraling thoughts, isolation and self-medication. These things can be deceiving, offering a brief respite, but ultimately they only pull you deeper under the surface.
So, where am I now? Medicated, employed, strong and nervous. I know that I am floating, I am always floating. But I am more prepared than ever. I have a life raft now, not just a small vest. I’ve learned now that being vulnerable is more powerful than trying to fake it.
Mental health struggles affect millions of people, but there are also millions of survivors. I’m not saying it’s easy. (Fuck no, it’s not easy.) But there are many different, valid avenues for coping and recovery. People believed in me, and I believe in you.
Find your life rafts. Seek professional help. Don’t be afraid to consider medication if your doctor agrees it would help you to safely move forward. Call your loved ones and be authentic.
It doesn’t always feel like it will all be okay, but I promise it does always get better. Life goes on, and so will you.
Here are some additional Covid-19 specific resources compiled by the SPRC. Again, if you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area.
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