What is the key to beating depression before it really takes root?

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I was able to successfully ward off depression my freshman year of college, but I wasn’t able to do so my senior year. What was so different and why didn’t I catch on in time to fix it?

It’s a question that crossed my mind today when I thought about how long it had been since I mindless danced like crazy around the room. I did it a ton my freshman year of college because I knew it made me happy and I needed it, along with a lot of other things, but since then? It’s been a hot minute since the last time I cranked music just to dance by myself. That led me to ponder on the fact that I didn’t do it my senior year of college, which was the year that my depression actually caught me. I work so hard to keep it away my freshman year, why didn’t I attempt to do the same three years later?

It’s a multi-layered question, but I think it can help me understand how to catch my depression in earlier stages in the future. Sometimes pulling out all your coping mechanisms is enough, sometimes you need medication, but the fact is it’s always easier to fix it when you catch it early.

My freshman year was hit with really bad break ups, both a romantic one and one with my best friend. I knew I had every reason to be sad. I acknowledged that sadness and I knew that it was logical. My senior year was different, it shouldn’t have been, but it was. My close college friends all graduated a class before me and I became isolated the same way I had my freshman year, but I still had friends in the area so I dismissed the sadness. It wasn’t valid and I was fine. I kept telling myself that, and it’s amazing what lying to yourself can do. You can convince yourself that crying every night is completely normal, and I did. Was it because my pain was more understandable my freshman year? Was it because I knew college sometimes started out rocky and that break ups were always messy? My senior year I thought I was supposed to be clinging onto my last years of college bliss, but instead I found myself angry I wasn’t done yet. Everyone around me was sad to be leaving, did that make me feel like my emotions were less valid?

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Stop Googling your new medications.

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I’ve heard a surprising number of people tell me they are really worried about their medications side effects, so they read them all before deciding whether or not to go on them. I get the idea, it’s important to be informed, but it can be a dangerous habit to get into. Let me explain:

I understand the dangers of bad side effects, one medication we tried for my bipolar disorder made me suicidal, another one that is perfectly safe for 99.99% of adults caused an abnormal cluster of cells in my brain after I had been on it for a number of years (they went away when I went off the medication). So, I get it, medications can do some terrible things to your body, but a lot of us need medicine, whether for our mental health or for our physical health. That medicine is essential to keeping you alive or living a life worth living. It’s scary to look at all the terrible things that could happen, but it’s also scary to think of all the things that would happen without it.

The thing is side effects aren’t always the norm. Everyone has medications effect them differently. I know people who are on the pill that made me suicidal and it was the one that cured their depression. It’s really a toss up whether or not you’ll have a good or bad reaction, but one thing is for sure, you’ll never know till you try.

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Your mental illness is not the most interesting thing about you.

20181018_110356.jpgYour mental illness is not the most interesting thing about you, and it shouldn’t be. If you find yourself reaching for your disorders name when trying to define yourself you might want to take a hard look at why you’re doing that. I’ve talked about labels before, and one of my bullet points was about mental illness, but I don’t think that covered the topic fully enough.

You are a complete person, full of dreams, hopes, fears, interests, and memories. A lot of them may be tied into your mental illness. That’s fair, especially if you’re currently fighting it with everything you have. Your mental illness is a part of you, and at times it may be a really big part of you, but it’s still not the most interesting thing about you.

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Mental illnesses and romantic relationships:

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You don’t need to love yourself before someone can love you, that is something that I hate hearing, mainly because it’s not true, but also because it doesn’t inspire one to love themselves, it just tells them that they are worthless now. The intent behind it is something to talk about though, and that is that you need to take care of yourself sometimes before you get in a romantic relationship. That is true, even if the saying people have made out of it is false and cruel.

You can have successful relationships when struggling with your mental health, there is no question in that, but there needs to be some serious reflection on how your mental health is affecting your actions and also affecting your thoughts.

Mental illness can make us more stand off-ish or more clingy. It can make you hide the truth or deliver it in hurtful ways. Mental illness effects us all over, which is one of the reasons society needs to take it more seriously, but it is also a reason why you need to evaluate yours before you dive into a romantic relationship. What behaviors are your mental illness affecting and how will they effect a loved one? Everyone has a few behaviors that aren’t ideal, everyone has things they need to work on, but if we currently have more than normal, we need to address them before we make a significant other address them.

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Why it’s important to go off of mental health medications the right way:

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There is a common theme I see among people who are on mental health medications, they’re all willing to go off of them when they are feeling better.

Mental health medications can be vital for people with mental health problems. They can make or break people’s lives. I, for one, would not be a functioning person without my bipolar medication. I learned young that I needed to be on them and luckily never questioned it afterwards, but because of the shame that can be associated with mental health prescriptions, a lot of people are eager to go off of them if they think they no longer need their help.

There are multiple problems with this, but the main one is that a lot of people think they no longer need the mental health help because their medication is still actively working. If you’ve been on an anti-anxiety medicine for years and haven’t had anxiety since that first year you were on it, it’s easy to say that maybe you’ve grown out of it, but it’s also a big possibility that you haven’t and that the medication is the reason you’ve been feeling so calm. Going off the medication often brings back all the anxiety that you had been treating.

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Don’t feed your mental illness: Depression thrives on isolation

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If there is one thing mental illness feeds on it’s the feeling of being completely alone in the world. It thrives when you think that no one could possibly understand, it’s festers when you think that nobody would even care if you were gone.

There’s a lot of ways to help relieve mental illnesses, I’ve talked about some of them before, taking medication, taking care of yourself in basic ways, but the most important thing is not to let yourself grow isolated. Don’t let yourself or your loved ones get cut off from the world. That’s when mental illness is its most dangerous.

I would know, I’ve been there. I was bullied, which forced me to cut ties, after a while I stopped reaching out to the people who still loved me. I let myself sink deep into a toxic kind isolation. I thought that the world would be better without me, because it felt like I was already starting to¬†disappear while I was still breathing. I thought it would be a good thing if I went a step further…

I was deeply wrong, and luckily one day I scared myself enough that I reached out. Telling someone I was suicidal saved my life. Not being alone in my depression was a game changer, and the thing is, it always changes the game.

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Mental health medications aren’t supposed to be a prescription for shame

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I want to talk about the shame that comes with being on medication for mental illness. It’s why so many people avoid talking to doctors and getting the help they need. It’s a common phenomenon, but that doesn’t make it less harmful and dangerous.

Before I start this post I need to say that I got diagnosed at six and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t taking pills. You might wonder if I’m really the right person to talk about this subject, but I think that it adds another layer of understanding. I know it added another layer of protection. I got to learn my valuable lessons in safety while I was still being actively cared for.

I remember in grade school telling my mom that I wanted to be normal and that I wasn’t going to take my pills anymore. Since she was with me 24/7 she decided not to fight it and let me stop them. It only took two weeks for me to come to her with the bin of pill bottles and ask what I was supposed to take. I needed those pills not to be miserable, I understood that then.

It wasn’t a particularly long lesson, but since I was pretty dang bipolar it didn’t need to be. It kept me from questioning the need for medication again and it was a blessing that it happened as a small child, not when I was suicidal in middle school or swinging in and out of depression my senior year of college. I had a safety net, which isn’t something most people have as they sit in the doctors office unwilling to share their needs because they’re depressed, ashamed, and scared. So they go home, untreated, and things don’t get better.

That’s when it gets dangerous. That’s when it gets harmful.

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