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August 11, 2017

The Surprising Lesson I Learned from My Depression

benefits of depressionI originally set out to write this blog about binge eating, as someone who had a variety of eating disorder behaviors for seven years. And then, over a recent weekend, I was hit hard by a bout of depression. When that happened, I knew that depression needed to be the topic for this post.
 
For me, this recent worsening of depression came out of left field, and it knocked me on my ass. I was crying inconsolably and having mood changes that I hadn’t experienced since before entering treatment in the summer of 2015.
 
I thought I had these things under control. What was going on?
 
“You’re not good enough”
 
Depression and mental illness have a way of going unnoticed until it gets really bad. They cloud our awareness of what’s happening in the body and mind. My thoughts were telling me things like, “you’re not good enough,” “do better” and “try harder.” My mind was telling me everything was my fault. I lacked the perspective to see it could be something else.
 
I talked to a close friend and my boyfriend when I was feeling my worst on Sunday, but I needed some space to calm down. After I calmed down, I decided to take it easy on Monday to give myself grace to figure out what was going on. In this short period of time, the situation I was in became clearer. Taking time to rest and think about things, this is what I realized:
 
  • I recently moved to a new city (moving is one of the biggest stressors people face)
  • This is the first summer as an adult where I have been out of work (unemployment is another one of the biggest stressors we face)
  • I was running out of antidepressant medication, causing me to go into withdrawal (I experienced mood changes, intense sadness, irritability, and tingling sensations throughout my body)
 
While some of these changes are positive (Hello: a relaxing summer break!), they can be overwhelming to a person with mental illness. Many people would not feel their best and brightest with all of this change. It was a lot to handle.
 
I came to realize this: my coping mechanism for getting through this discomfort was to punish myself with horribly mean and uncomforting thoughts. I was telling myself things I would never say to a dear friend. How could I have thought they were OK to say to myself?
 
Depression: a learning experience
 
This experience was painful to go through and, even more so, to allow my partner to see. It scared me to feel out of control in my own body and mind. However, I feel grateful for it already because it taught me so much. I learned that I can begin to take better care of myself during this period of change.
 
There are a few things I learned during this time and want to share:
 
  1. Recovery is unpredictable.
  2. Being a perfectionist, a common trait for those of us with eating disorders, means that I want things to move along nice and neat. I decided to see these changes as opportunities for growth.
  3. Through all of this, I’ve learned more about my depression. Truth is, transitions are, and always have been, really difficult for me. When I move to a new city again in the future, I can be kinder to myself.
  4. I will always be sure to stick to my medication routine. I don’t like the idea of taking medication daily, but it works. It’s as simple as that!
  5. During a transition, I can be clearer with my expectations versus reality. See this cartoon below? I saw it while I was in treatment and still relate to it every time.
what recovery is really like

I have always had expectations similar to the straight line on the left. However, in recovery, I am learning to allow my life to be messier, like the line on the right. Guess what? I can tell you the line on the left is less exciting and enjoyable. Reality, like depression, is a pain in the ass. However, it’s also where my joy lies. It’s where I feel like I’m living life instead of trying to get through another day.
 
Casey is grateful to be in recovery after participating in treatment at ERC, Cincinnati. She's a social worker, traveler, and aspiring writer who hopes to share her journey with anyone who will listen.
 
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