Let’s take a step back from external, physical wellness and take a detour internally and mentally.
Let’s get way too personal.
“Man, I’m so depressed about xyz, I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.” This is something we frequently hear people say about relatively small things, like the grocery store being out of your favorite chocolate, being ghosted by some dude you went out with once, getting to the front of the line as soon as they run out of cronuts, finding a hole in your favorite sock, realizing you left your N64 at your ex’s place and you’ll never get it back… all of these are obviously extreme exaggerations that do not really qualify as an event that would elicit depression. A lot of people think that they know what it’s like to be depressed and use the term interchangeably with sadness or being upset. These terms are NOT synonymous.
This particular topic has been something I’ve been trying to conjure the courage to talk about because it is something that many people go through to varying degrees when major life events happen, especially when things don’t go the way you have planned. When everything was going down during my major academic/life changing period* of time I noticed that I was sleeping less, eating less, socializing less, just really walking around like a zombie. The sleep that I was able to get would be in 30-45 minute bursts, I’d wake up suddenly, I never completed any full REM cycles. Things I used to do for pleasure meant nothing to me, running gave me no sense of accomplishment, I feigned happiness through my barre classes, I lost all interest in food… it got to the point that my roommate started to eat at the same time that I was “eating” and would watch me eat until I finished everything on my plate because she knew I wouldn’t eat it otherwise. It took about 2 weeks of this behavior and a drop of 15 pounds to make me realize this was not okay.
I ended up going to a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) to talk about everything going on in my life and I have honestly never been so happy to follow through with something. It’s terrifying to get the courage to go to a therapist and to air all your dirty laundry. Near the end of my first session I was asked to take an assessment which ultimately stated that I was mildly depressed and bordering something that could lead me down a much more problematic path. My counselor asked me to go get medication while I was continuing to receive therapy; I decided against the medication but continued with therapy. Why did I decline medication? We live in a world that is so set on a quick fix, I get that I would have been put on a low dose and it would just help regulate my hormones so that I could get myself to be more motivated to be productive with my day and eat regularly but instead I wanted to do this on my own without the medication. A huge aspect of me deciding against medication was due to the fact that I was living in a different state and I had let my health insurance lapse and another was due to the fact that despite only having to be on it “temporarily” I knew that it would mean I would be a slave to this medication for a solid 2 years because I would have to taper myself off and then detoxify my system, sounds delightful, right? No.
So what did I do? Instead of medication I forced myself into a highly regimented schedule and created daily obligations for myself. There were plenty of days that my alarm would go off and I would just lay there, staring at my ceiling fan for a solid hour and realize that I had completely fucked up for that day’s schedule and just do absolutely nothing for another maybe 2 hours and then eventually get myself out of my apartment and drive myself to sit on the beach (yes, fortunate to have lived in a beach town) and stare at the water for hours. For the most part I would try to stick to my daily routine, I’d say I eventually got myself up to 75% of the time before leaving that town and moving back to New York. Once I got here and no longer had my counselor readily available I definitely took a few steps back in my progress. I had nothing, I was doing nothing here to keep myself to a schedule, I was finding difficulty in trying to find any kind of job or even really wanting to send out my resume. I sat around a lot… a lot. I lost a lot of muscle mass again (mainly because I had stopped doing any physical activity). I eventually ended up signing up to run a marathon and signed up for a gym membership that was more expensive than I should have signed up for to force myself to justify spending money I didn’t have. And then my grandfather passed away. Oh, that’s not what you were expecting, right? You thought this was about to hit an upward swing. NOPE, sorry.
I ended up putting a pause on everything else to figure out how to deal with that situation and get myself to California to be with my family. This didn’t help with anything going on in my life. Do you know who my number 1 supporter in my life was? Definitely NOT my grandfather. His passing made me reflect on literally every aspect of my life that I am “inadequate” in – stemming primarily from the fact that I was born a female. So on top of me already being clinically depressed, I had this huge reminder of why and how I am a major waste of life dumped on the front doorstep of my mind. But hey, we don’t get more than we can handle… right? Anyway, I dealt with that for a while and returned to my drone-like mentality and nearly undid all of the progress I had done from the beginning. This is the point at which I should mention that I had been doing a “happy days project” for the entire calendar year so by the time November was rolling around I had gotten pretty far into this mental state in which I had been conditioning myself to find the positives in everything (while still fully experiencing the downs and negatives of any situation). I truly don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have that project to constantly pull me back out of the black hole of darkness. The fact that I had managed to post daily and had gotten beyond the 275th day of the year when most of this was going down was really something that majorly kept me floating above water. So yes, I was able to “bounce back” relatively smoothly and quickly. I spun my grandfather’s belief in me being an ultimate failure and used it to drive heavily into proving him wrong in the afterlife. I restarted my training, reinvigorated my dedication at the gym, figured out what I wanted to do with myself for work, found myself a few places to work with, and started socializing more with friends (and even decided that maybe I would consider dating again, but we can talk about that at another time because that’s not really relevant at this juncture).
Fast forward about 4 months and now we’re here. How am I feeling? Mainly fine, occasionally I do feel like I am overwhelmed with feeling as if I’m still at a stand still. However, a major aspect of that was continuously receiving rejection after rejection from schools that I was vetting and hoping would give me a shot… but 13 rejections later I am pretty set in my realization that I will never game the higher academic system of algorithms and have settled into this alternative life of achieving my overall goals in another way (side note: 38 rejections over the course of 3 applications cycles is extremely taxing…and expensive). Of course I am devastated that it won’t be the way that I had planned on but I will not stop at obtaining my endgame plan. So, at least I don’t have these weekly reminders of how much of a loser I am and can focus a bit more on getting back on track with naturally overcoming this mental state. These occasional resurgences of winter aren’t helping out so much but the few days of sunshine have been really life altering (in the best way possible) and I am greatly looking forward to my journey of continuing to climb out of this dark cave into the light.
*Note: Although I make it seem like I am totally fine with the situation at hand and my leaving my doctoral program it was not a decision I made on my own. I may be okay with it now (like 75% of the time) but when it was going down I most certainly was not okay and those feelings won’t just magically go away overnight.
PS. If you’re reading this (you know who you are), give me my N64 stuff back.