It's fitting that I would write this on the last possible day of Mental Health Awareness month. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, probably even before I became aware of it.
When I first started experiencing those "elephant on the chest" symptoms, shortness of breath, chest pains, all-over-the-body-pains, felt like I was gonna die at any given moment, wanted to die at any given moment, I was in 9th grade. I explained my symptoms to a doctor, who prescribed me with painkillers. The question of depression or anxiety didn't even come up (I didn't know to ask about it, either). I became hooked on them. This mis-diagnosis plagued me for years and sent me on a downward spiral of drug use, failing classes, and giving up on myself. I locked myself up, and lived inside of that dark cave for a very, very long time. I still visit it occasionally. It wasn't until college that a therapist suggested to me that I most likely suffered from depression and anxiety. The word Depression hit me so hard. Much like its symptoms that have haunted me every single day, it seemed so heavy. Like I'd never be able to come out on the other side.
You don't need the entire backstory, but there is an "other side". Sometimes. Sometimes I see it, and sometimes I'm right back where I started. There are days I physically can't get out of bed and days I spring out at 7 a.m. excited for whatever the world has in store for me. There are days that I can't breathe at my desk, can't pay attention, and I break down, and then there are stretches of days where I feel like I can tackle anything. But I've learned to keep pushing through. Because what makes me really happy, is doing what I love (this lil' business), and what makes me truly fulfilled is finding new passions, cultivating new relationships, and not letting the stigma of a disease keep me from accomplishing my goals.
Of course, it's never that easy is it? Everything takes enough work as it is, but it seems like when you have a mental illness, everything takes three times the work. I certainly can't be the spokeswoman for patience, but sometimes you have to slow down. Breathe in. Breathe out. We got this. It's okay to admit and ask for help. I guarantee that you know someone else who's going through something similar (and you can always reach out to me!).
Years and years of psychotherapy, a change in diet (vegan y'all), and building a strong foundation of friends, good friends, friends who don't tear you down with their constant drama and who encourage you to rise above the self you were yesterday, made a world of difference to me. Creating art helps. Even if it's terrible and you never show anyone. Creating anything at all, any form of expression, helps. It doesn't have to be art. Driving with the windows down. Screaming Distillers lyrics into your pillow. Petting dogs. Seeing the work you do make a difference in someone's life. Volunteering. Writing. Cooking. Petting more dogs. All these seemingly small things, help. I still struggle with having the energy to exercise and meditate daily. I still have anger rooted deep inside of me. I still have a hard time connecting with people and wanting to leave my house. I still have fear. But, I'm still doing my best.
I'm not here to tell you how to overcome your fears or feelings, I am still figuring that out too. Everyone's different. What has worked for me, may not work for you. The point is just to let you know that I struggle too. And while the world is working on breaking the stigma, there's a lot of work left to do. But none of us are alone in doing it.