I wanted to make this a generic post about high functioning depression. Because I'm a therapist and I can play it off like it's about my clients (which it easily could be, I see many people who struggle with this as well). But honestly, this is about me. When I experience depression (usually when my self care isn't fully on point), it doesn't look like the stereotype of Major Depressive Disorder you may have in your mind: I'm not stuck in bed for days, I'm not crying all the time. I'm still going to work, hanging out with friends, taking on new projects, sometimes making myself too busy to avoid how I feel. High functioning depression can creep in under the surface, and if it's not acknowledged or treated, can grow to be a larger problem.
Here are 6 things that my experience with depression has taught me, and that I continue to re-learn:
1. Just because someone can eloquently express how they feel, does not mean they are okay. Just because they can smile, respond appropriately in social settings, and look like they have it all together, does not mean they have access to their inner joy. There are so many people who suffer silently because they feel the weight of having it all together all the time. To those people I hope you know: it's okay to not be okay. We all are a mess sometimes. I'm still learning to take off the socially acceptable outer mask when I'm having a moment (with people I trust), and that It's okay to be vulnerable.
2. Some days I can be in touch with how beautiful the world is; I can look up at the sky and feel like I am so lucky to be able to breathe in that very moment. When depression creeps in, I can't access that part of myself. I can't think my way to it, I can't positive affirmation my way to it, I can't breathe my way to it. I can't "cope" my way out of it (I have tried like a hamster running on a coping skills wheel and just ended up frustrated with myself and like I am fighting my own feelings).
2. Over time I have learned to ride my waves. I know that when it comes, it will also leave. I am lucky enough that the depressive moments I've gone through are few and far between, because I know other people where it is a daily/hourly/minute by minute struggle. When those waves come, they feel like they are going to swallow me whole and I will never remember what it's like to be afloat. I have to consciously remind myself of my strength and that it will pass, because it does. And I eventually find my way back to myself. Every time I do this, it's a little easier to remind myself the next time that it will pass and that those thoughts and that feeling is not who I am, it's just a part of my experience in that moment.
3. Self care is imperative for my survival. My yoga practice isn't a fad, it isn't some cute thing I do to get abs. I don't eat healthy because I want to watch my figure. I don't make sure I get adequate sleep because I am secretly a little old lady. I have learned over time that physical movement to release, doing things that help me access my spirit and highest self, putting good food into my body, and giving my body the rest it needs are the only chance I have at accessing joy and being able to feel and heal my way through my dark moments. I see my therapist regularly even when I'm doing really well, because if I take a preventative stance for my physical health why not do it for my mental health? Mental health issues are a very real thing in my family and I can't play with how I take care of myself, I don't have that luxury.
4. I need people around me that won't flinch when I'm in my darker spaces. I need people to not be afraid when I tell them I feel like I'm sinking. I need those friends that will hold my hand, look me in my eye, and just tell me they're in there with me until I come out of it. That in itself makes the load feel a little lighter.
5. I am learning how to communicate what I need. To let go of the shame in admitting that sometimes I'm a hot mess. That it's okay to feel down even when from the outside everything is going right. I'm learning that I can be both healthy, happy with so many things in my life, and also have shadowy dark moments.
6. I am grateful for my shadows and my darkness. I don't see them as debilitating. They are heavy af sometimes, but I see myself as someone who feels deeply. Everything. All the time. Anyone who knows me well knows I appreciate things out loud, OFTEN. I will annoyingly commentate on everything I enjoy. I soak in the good qualities of people and the world around me. But I'll also feel pain really deeply, and I don't think I could have one side without the other, and it is a reminder of how full and intricate this life is. It also has taught me how to hold space for others that are in deep emotional/psychic pain. I'm grateful to be so in tune with all of it, and for the way it's forced me to learn and know myself, and to heal myself.
I know I am far from alone and there are many people who experience this too, but are afraid of or ashamed to show/acknowledge their darker sides. Who isolate and don't talk about what's really going on for fear of judgment. That is such a painful way to live, denying a whole part of your lived experience. So I'm opening up about my experience in hopes that maybe someone can recognize themselves in this and that may bring some kind of comfort.
And also because, can we remove the stigma already? Experiencing depression, anxiety, or any other experience on the mental health spectrum doesn't make you any less human. It is a part of your human experience and there are ways to work through it, but it can't be worked through if we don't acknowledge it! Sometimes slowing down, acknowledging our WHOLE experience of how we feel, and getting support can save our lives. Healing is messy work, but being able to be fully in touch with life is SO worth it. We don't have to figure it out all by ourselves. If you need help or can relate to this at all, don't be ashamed to reach out to a therapist or even a friend to have an honest conversation about how you're feeling and what you need.
Sending you love, light, and even shadowy dark healing vibes,