Confessions of a 20 Something: On Depression, Anxiety, and How I Learned to Be Okay With Not Being Okay

When I was thinking about writing this blog, I kept asking myself when did this all start? When did I become this person so riddled with depression and anxiety? Did it have something to do with my biological father leaving at a young age? Did it have to do with finding out that my favorite person in the world valued my safety so little that they subjected me to a child abuser? Did it have to do with my rocky relationship with my mother? Did it start when I was bullied as a kid for being tall and overweight? Did it start later in my life when I struggled with self-image and making friends? I just kept thinking to myself – Why am I like this? Why am I like this? Why am I like this?

While I was metaphorically hitting my head against the wall, this memory kept popping into my head. It was this moment when I was younger. I was about 9 years old and it was the earliest experience with this I can remember. I was laying in my bed. It was around 5:30 PM in the heart of winter so the sun was starting to set and all of sudden I sat up straight in bed gasping for air. I felt this rush of fear and paranoia take over my body and it seemed like I couldn’t take in enough air to keep me breathing. I got up to try and make sense of and alleviate whatever this feeling was and for some reason, my instincts drove me to look out the window. I remember wanting my neighbor across the street to be playing basketball as he usually was at this hour. I thought it would bring me some sense of normalcy to this moment of unfamiliarity, but he wasn’t and that drove me further into panic. Why wasn’t he out there playing basketball? Why was I feeling like this? Why was I scared? Why did it feel like my heart was about to explode out of my chest? And then I did the only thing my 9-year-old-self knew to do at that moment and I threw myself on the floor of my darkening room and started bawling. Minutes later, my 2-year-old sister stumbled into my room and blurted out some non-sensical version of “why are you crying?” and I remember looking up at her feeling lost and unsure what the words for this were.

I watched a movie recently that seemed to sum up everything I was trying to say in that moment and would continue to try and say for the rest of my life.

“You know, ever since we were little, I would get this feeling like… Like I’m floating outside of my body, looking down at myself… And I hate what I see… How I’m acting, the way I sound. And I don’t know how to change it. And I’m so scared… That the feeling is never gonna go away.” – Edge of Seventeen

By the end of the movie, I was in tears. Not out of sadness but because it was the most deeply connected I ever felt with anything. You know, it’s such a strange feeling when something comes into your life like a movie or an artist or a band and it just feels like it’s made from the same stuff you are – Like you immediately feel it fill a hole inside you that you didn’t know you had. This film was the first time I saw something I’ve felt on the inside for so long be displayed on the big screen. It was the first time I felt like everything I was trying to say was finally being put into words that people could understand.

I’m a writer at heart and I’ve always turned to writing to express myself in times of conflict and passion. Written words have always been cathartic for me, but when it comes to things like depression and anxiety, I’ve always struggled with finding the words that do the feeling justice.

As I started this blog, I kept getting caught up on pin-pointing the root cause of these feelings hoping it would somehow inspire a natural storyline for me to write. But then I realized this isn’t a storyline. I can’t build a timeline for my mental health because my experience has not been linear.  All of these experiences are just random data points and like most cases, the “line of best fit” doesn’t tell the whole story. So I decided to use this blog not to outline what made me this way, but to put into words what “this way” means to me.

So here it goes…

I often get the feeling that when I tell people I’m depressed they think “oh, you’re really really sad.” Yes, some days I do get really really sad. I think everyone does, but when I say I’m depressed what I’m really saying is:

  • Some days I don’t want to exist.
  • Some days I feel like there’s nothing on this earth that keeps me here.
  • Some days I don’t feel anything at all.

I often get the feeling that when I say I can’t get out of bed people think I’m saying “I don’t want to get out of bed”, but what I’m really saying is:

  • Some days I don’t have the physical or mental energy to move.
  • Some days I get so paralyzed from the emptiness inside that I feel like I can’t do something as simple as opening my mouth.

I often get the feeling that when I say I have anxiety people think I’m saying “I feel kind of nervous and worried”, but what I’m really saying is:

  • Some days I get hit with a kind of fear and paranoia that’s equivocal to finding out everyone you’ve ever known is dead.
  • Some days I feel so unsettled that it feels like my mind has left my body and I don’t have any connection to reality.
  • Some days I feel like my heart is trying to expand out of my chest and crushing my bones in its path.
  • Some days I get so afraid that all of this will never go away – that maybe this is the time my mind goes over the edge and never comes back.

I’ve spent a lot of time blaming myself for me being the way I am, hating myself for being so messed up in the head, and wishing I could be normal. I still remember the sting in my gut, that honestly still hasn’t fully gone away, when I was compared to a crazy person. I still remember the guilt and self-loathing I felt when I opened up about my feelings and was told that “it’s all in my head.” It made me feel like some sort of freak, embarrassed by what I felt because I had no real explanation for it. By most people’s definition, I don’t have a lot to feel down about. I have friends and family who love me. I have a house over my head. I’m physically healthy for the most part. I have a stable income. Overall, I have a blessed life and so much to be grateful for, but there’s just one thing – somewhere in the process of me becoming me the chemicals in my brain decided to create a production method of their own, and that is something I have no control over.

It took a long time for me to get where I am today. To finally stop blaming myself. To be in a place of acceptance – embracing my feelings and experiences as a part of my life and who I am. I had to meet a lot of different people with a lot of different perspectives and learn about myself and the mind, but I finally began telling myself that perhaps these experiences allow me to feel deeper than others. Perhaps, they allow my to connect deeply with myself in ways others can’t. This is not to say that it makes me inferior or superior to others, but simply that I am different. That my depression and anxiety isn’t an illness, it’s a character trait- a gift of some sort.

Though my journey with mental health, I’ve learned that people will always think what they want about me, but I have the power to not let that play a role in how I define myself. I know that I’m not crazy. I know that it’s not all in my head. I know that it’s not all my fault. Although acceptance doesn’t take the place of therapy and medication, (which I am a big advocate of.. there are chemical imbalances that need to be adjusted) acceptance helps alleviate the severity of these experiences. Acceptance is reminding yourself that IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional. My advice comes from personal research and experience. If you are looking to make any major changes or need medical advice, please consult your doctor.

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