Mental Health

It's been a... damn it's June already, isn't it?

It's been a year.

I have lots of things to update you guys with, but the blog topic I've had on my mind for the last few weeks is mental health. Clawing my way out of my latest depression slump happened to coincide with the tragic news regarding Kate Spade a few days ago and Anthony Bourdain today.

I'm not a professional in the field of mental health. I haven't even done a lot of research into it, either. I'm not here to stand on a pulpit and give my opinion on the state of suicide in the States, or the world. I'm not here to politicize this.

What I have felt I needed to talk about is my own depression, how it manifests, and what I try to do to help. I wanted to do this on my blog, because I have this tiny hope that it will humanize depression a little, that me talking about it openly will maybe de-stigmatize it a little, and, most importantly, that maybe someone going through something similar can relate and maybe start to pick themselves up or get help.

I was diagnosed with moderate to severe depression about six years ago, in my mid-20s. It wasn't news to me. It wasn't anything close to a surprise. I had been floating through life for years and years. I was given a subscription to Lexapro which I took for six months and then I switched to Wellbutrin XL. I stopped taking my anti-depressants about two and a half years ago, for better or worse.

There, that's my medical history.

So, how does it affect me? It makes me feel okay with not doing anything. Nothing matters, so why do it? It means both staying up late unable and unwilling to sleep, and being unable to get out of bed in the morning, even after sleeping late. It means making terrible dietary decisions to try and give myself some small amount of joy to keep going. It means doing the bare minimum in my life, in terms of responsibilities, and spending the rest of my time escaping my life through video games, or other ways.

There's a reason I've played World of Warcraft for most of the last 14 years. It is a huge escape for me. I can succeed at things in there, interact with others without social anxiety, be someone else... it is a complete and total escape. Sometimes I think I get depressed because I play World of Warcraft and other times I think the opposite. All I can tell you is that if I'm sinking most of the hours of my day into WoW, then I am most certainly in a slump.

This isn't always the case for me. There are entire weeks where I get my shit together and drag myself out of the pit. I can always tell when I'm finally on an upswing when I'm able to reach out to friends or admit that I've been depressed. Just being able to talk about it means I'm getting better.

But nine hells is it easy to slip back in.

The last two months have been particularly brutal. And, of course, I ended up playing a lot more World of Warcraft. Correlation, not causation. Hopefully. It got to the point where I put up with physical pain in the form of a bad sinus infection (that I've now let get so bad I needed an ass shot of antibiotics and an x-ray) to avoid leaving the house. My own well being didn't matter to me. I just believed that doing nothing, not rocking the boat, would be enough for the problem to work itself out. And if it didn't? That was fine, too.

That's what depression is to me. Isolationism, bad decisions, and not able to look at the big picture or work towards any kind of future. It doesn't matter what is actually going on around me, it's mental. It's brain chemistry.

So, what can I do now that I'm on an upswing? How do I avoid backsliding? Hopefully writing these things down here will help me. And hopefully they help someone out there, too.

Exercise - Good gods I hear this solution all the time and it just makes me want to rage. Except it's true. It is absolutely, unequivocally true. A 30 minute walk outside once a day would do so much to my mental and physical well-being, but I just do. not. do it. It's so much easier to come up with an excuse even on the best of days. This is something I need to work on.

Diet - Another "duh" solution, but, again, I'm putting these here so that I can stare at them as I type them and maybe they'll sink in better this time. Veggies. Protein. Sugars are bad, m'kay? Taco Bell at midnight is terrible.

Small Goals - Part of what makes World of Warcraft so stimulating when I'm depressed is the reward system. You do something for an hour or less and get a reward. Cause and effect on a super micro level. I don't get that in real life. Everything takes time and effort. You can't just grind something out over a couple of hours. You can't write a novel in a day. So, how do I get myself that same feeling of reward? Smaller goals. What is a novel, but many chapters? Breaking down my goals into quarterly lists hasn't been enough. I need daily and weekly goals. Just the act of checking something off a list is huge for me.

Socializing - I work from home, so I sometimes don't leave my apartment for days on end. Nine hells is that a terrible idea. Tied into that 30 minute walk every day is the idea that I need to get out of the house. I can't be left alone here with my thoughts. My perception of reality gets skewed by my own scumbag brain and I feed into it. I'm lucky enough to have friends that reach out to me and insist on me doing things with them. That social interaction, through my best friend and Formula 1, or my close friends through my writing group, is huge for me. I get out of my own head and experience something else. I get out of my own echo chamber of self loathing. It's exhausting, but it is well worth it.

That obviously isn't the be-all-end-all list of things that I'm going to focus on, but it is a start. It also isn't a list of magical things that will fix all my problems. Like I said earlier, my goal here is to just be open about my mental health. We talk to each other when we have a cold or when we get shin splints, we need to talk to each other about our other health problems, too. And not just when famous celebrities commit suicide. Always.

Dedicated to the memory of every person, famous or otherwise, who has ever taken their life, and to those considering it.

A.P. ThayerComment