Have you taken the Depression Quiz yet?
One of the worst feelings to experience is being so close to being steadily okay, and then just having that feeling ripped away from you. It is infuriating. Devastating. To feel like okay-ness was in your grasp, then something out of your control happens. It could be something small, a series of events, or anything really. Just like that, all of that hard work, all of the fucking steps you took, feel like they are washed away. You blinked and it was gone. You just want to cry, knowing you were so close to being what you thought was okay. You just want to give up because you know things won’t snap back into place as quickly as they fell apart. They never do. It's so much quicker to take a sledgehammer to something than it is to try to build it.
So things fell apart and you are yelling at the gods (in your head, of course, maybe while simultaneously picturing yourself shaking your fists at the sky) about all of the hard work it took to get better and how you feel robbed because something could so easily undo it. It really fucking sucks. You might feel like you will never get back to that good place where everything is ok. After all, sometimes we get there just by a drunkard’s walk of experiments, not really knowing what finally made it click for us. You’re exhausted. Sometimes you don’t want to try again. You can only try and face what you assume is failure so many times before you want to give up for good. Accepting your fate and your misery as this inevitable factor that will always exist in your life.
Now, I could pump you full of cliches. You know the ones. “Diamonds are formed under pressure”, “God *insert own higher power here* only gives us what we can handle”, yada yada. Here’s the thing, if shit happens and it ends up throwing you off course, you’re likely not going to feel like you can handle this type of pressure and it’s not going to make you into something sparkly and beautiful, you’re just feel like you’re being crushed and all your guts might explode out here soon. You’ll say to yourself , “Yeah, that’s everyone else’s story, not mine.” Or maybe “Man, God doesn’t know me AT ALL.” Maybe you wallow, get angry at people that tell you this or to just “get back on the wagon.” But you’re defeated, scared. Maybe feeling helpless after trying so hard and still not being able to maintain the success that others seem to easily hold onto. How do others seem to do it? How can they just be okay all the time and not have things bother them near as much as you do?
Spoiler alert: They don’t. Nobody holds their shit together and is “okay” 100% of the time. Sometimes, the okayness that you are seeing from others, is just a well-constructed lie. Just like others probably can’t see it when you’re losing your shit. Here’s the thing, “okayness” isn’t a permanent state for anyone. It can be a rather consistent state of being for some, but it’s never permanent. The human body is incapable of storing emotion, therefore emotions wax and wane. Some people are really good at managing their lives and really only have big things throw them for a loop. That might not be your story yet, but that’s totally a story you can build.
One thing that sets us apart is our emotional vulnerability to things is our genetics. Meaning that some of the intensity of your emotional responses is caused by your genes. Thanks Mom & Dad. Now, you are probably saying you already knew mental illness had a genetic component. It’s bigger than that though. On the flip side, some of us are just born with the genetics that lend themselves to higher levels of emotional resilience. However, those lucky people need to have an environment that fosters that. This is called epigenetics. Which is a fancy way of saying your environment will influence the way your genes express themselves. Meaning that if you had a warm, fuzzy environment with loving parents and the genetic predisposition for higher levels of emotional resilience, congrats, you are less likely to be fucked by life. Others, however, not only got the genes for worsened emotional resilience, but might have also had an environment that wasn’t the greatest at teaching them how to regulate their emotions. Now, that summary makes all of this sound way too easy. Of course, the concepts are much more complex than I can outline in a blog post, and there’s so much more at play when we look at genetics and environmental influences. After all, Freud said we could blame our mothers for everything, right?
The main reason I point this out is for those who feel extremely defeated when they fail after trying so hard. It's not your fault that this is so heartbreaking for you. That being said, just because things falling apart isn’t your fault, it IS your responsibility to fix it. If you don’t, who will? No matter how miserable things are, you’re the only one who can fix the things. Yeah, if you’re reading this, you’ve previously fixed them and they’ve fallen apart, but what can you think about in this world that doesn’t break down eventually? Your car needs maintenance, so do you, hunny buns. Sometimes, we go through the emotional equivalent of a car crash (or you know, a global pandemic) and sit there and shame ourselves for not running right for the next couple days or weeks (maybe months). Drop the shame act. Trust me, it won’t get you anywhere. Have compassion for yourself and be as kind to you, as you would be to someone you cared about.
To me, working through things when I’m trying to be okay again is like Vegeta training in the Gravity Machine to become stronger in Dragon Ball Z. I think my brain only thinks about it like this because my depression makes gravity feel magnified. I’d have to say I’m a little less determined than Vegeta when it comes to willingly training in this state. But it’s something I do regardless because, just like Vegeta, I have to get stronger. I hate that I have to go through this grueling process of rebuilding something that feels so fragile. Because let’s be honest, whenever you rebuild your okayness and you’ve previously lost that okayness, it feels SO fragile. It feels like you are on super unsteady ground, and you don’t know how long you’re going to be there. Like, it can so easily break apart the second something in your life shakes you.
You try to hope. Or maybe just fake hope. Maybe you just know that sometimes you have to go through the motions before you start believing they’ll actually work or that you have a reason to hope. That’s okay. You don’t necessarily have to believe that the same steps will get you back on the wagon. They might not. Sometimes the skills that worked for us in the past, don’t work for us now. We are ever changing people so I think it's safe to say that what we need will change over time too. The skills that have worked in the past may be a good place to start rebuilding. Just don’t get discouraged if they don’t work the same way. Look at it like you’re getting to know the New You, and you have to find what New You needs to be ok again.
Actually, it’ll probably just be best if you drop all of your expectations of yourself or the timeline. Not in a down spiral-y way of thinking you can’t do it. Just in a way where you aren’t destroying yourself because you aren’t meeting the expectations you think you "should" meet. A couple things you would benefit from not having expectations on:
The Timeline: We all want to be better than we were yesterday. Hell, we all want to be better from the day we were born until the day we die. A timeline can sometimes be murderous to any momentum you are trying to build, though. There is no “it should happen in this time,” when we are getting better because it all depends on so many factors we can’t necessarily plan for. Just because you got better in X amount of weeks last time, doesn’t mean you’ll get better in X amount of weeks this time. You are a different person now compared to that person that got better the last time. Clients often ask me “How long until I feel better?” or “How long will they be this way?” Just like we can’t know how long this Covid-19 thing will last, we can’t know how long it will take to heal inside ourselves.
The Drunkard’s Walk: Don’t worry if you can’t replicate the magical combo that got you well in the first place. Sometimes we didn’t know what made something click and made all of the pieces just fall into place. It will be okay to button mash until you find that fatal combo that helps you get back to winning in life.
The Roller Coaster: We all want it to be a perfect input vs output scenario. Put one point of effort into mental health, and get the result of experiencing an improved mood. Except, it never really works like this. There are times when you will put the work in faithfully and wait weeks for an outcome that shows your work was worth it. Also, it's never just up, up, and away. There will inevitably be setbacks and down days on your road back to okayness. Just embrace them for what they are and don’t assume you’re doing something wrong. Sometimes you have to dance the dance of two steps forward, one step back. It’s normal and totally ok, at least you’re moving on the right path. Give yourself grace.
Alright, you’ve erased your expectations, right? Can’t really erase them that easily, but at least you’re heading in the right direction. So now what? We’ve set realistic expectations but still don’t know how to be okay again. Here are some steps that can hopefully be a starting block for you.
Start small. One of the hardest things is to not just dive back into it. After all, we used to be able to juggle so much and we had this pretty good balance with it. However, if you start like that, you’ll more than likely be dropping everything before you realize it. You say to yourself, “I should be able to do that.” Well, knock that saying right out of your pretty little head. Anything with a “should” instantly starts triggering shame and guilt. It’ll likely lead to you feeling defeated and ashamed that you can’t do the thing that you think you “should” be able to do. So pick a small thing that helped you get well the last time. Just focus on that thing until you start to feel some confidence in your ability to maintain it. If you find it’s not working anymore, just try another one.
Don’t reinvent the wheel at first. If you’ve already been okay or at least making good headway to being okay, you have a rough idea of what helped you get there. Whether it was meds, changing some lifestyle habits, or challenging dysfunctional thoughts or behaviors, you had started to change some things and had some success with it. So go back to the wheel that you already invented. With anything we attempt to do, we normally go back to some predesigned wheel before we try to create something new.
Once you’ve tested your old wheel, have some fucking fun. Okay, so whether or not you’ve experienced success with reintegrating old skills, you need some fun. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I’m imagining you don’t want to be a dull boy. That’ll make you not feel okay again and then we are right back where we started. It’ll make you feel like you’re grinding through these efforts without any enjoyment (sometimes). So even when you’re on your road to being okay again, find some ways to have fun and chill.
The Scientific Method. Yay!!! Nerding! Essentially, this part is the try, fail, try, fail, try fail, blow some shit up, try again. Okay, so the blow some shit up might not be realistic. This is the part in getting back to being okay where you may have to deal with even more failure trying to find new skills and new ways to address your mind as it tries its damnedest to stay crazy. It can be infuriating. Or, it can be invigorating. It all depends on how you frame it. I know it seems weird to frame a trial and error process as invigorating, but sometimes it can be fun to experiment with yourself. You get to know yourself differently, perhaps even better, in the process of trying new solutions. The experimenting can be especially fun when you try things you’ve always wanted to try, but been scared to (like roller derby) and now feel like you have nothing to lose. You may end up feeling more congruent with yourself than you did before the experimentation.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Go through this as much as you need to to get okay again. Recognize that it doesn’t necessarily have to happen in the linear process I put out, but it can increase your likelihood of success. If you start to feel overwhelmed at one step or start to feel yourself back sliding too much, go back to the previous step to make that step stronger. Once you feel stable in that step, move forward to the next one again. Whatever you do, just recognize that your process is your process and it may not work similarly to others. This isn’t like reading a book. You get to start in the beginning and finish at the end. Well, unless you’re reading the Alcoholics Anonymous book, then yes, it’s exactly like The Big Book. Just because you’ve done it before, doesn’t mean you never have to do it again. My partner opened up to me the other day about struggling with her depression because she felt like she had graduated those selfcare steps and didn’t want to revisit them, but was coming to realize that it’s more like a garden you have to water, than a house you’re building.
As hard as depression is to face, I am proud of you for the spot you’re in, if you made it all the way down here. Just remember, when you’re at rock bottom, the only way to go is up. Sometimes you need to be down to gain perspective. I know my depression has fueled this endeavor with VE. Everyone always says “Everything happens for a reason.” I can’t even write that without a mocking tone and a sneer on my face like I just smelt something foul. I hate that fucking saying. My partner is a firm believer, and I’ve only started to see how it might hold some weight. I have always wondered why I had to be chronically depressed. It was one of the reasons I became a counselor, I wanted to help people like me. I also wanted to figure out how to help me, haha. Villain Esteem has helped me not only see the Villain in myself, but also see how my Villain might be your hero. I can’t think of a higher honor. As always, If you’re reading this, I want to encourage you to seek professional help. As much as I want to believe I can help solve everyone’s problems with Villain Esteem, there is nothing like in person, whites of your eyes, one on one, contact with a trained counselor. For those of you unable to access mental health services, we are here for you. We will do our very best to do right by you and make mental health as accessible and as affordable as possible. Without knowing you, we have shaped our lives around helping you. Please let us know how to help you best, contact us to let us know what you would really like to see addressed across the VE platforms. We would be happy to touch base on whatever you’re struggling with, and though it might not be as good as in person counseling, maybe it will help you, or the people close to you.
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