My boyfriend of a few months had just broken up with me. I put on my Timmy T tape and paced around my bedroom, bawling my eyes out. I was thirteen.
Every teen experiences angst, mood swings and has their share of dramatic moments, but looking back now I see it all differently. And there’s lots of these little- and not so little- memories that, upon reflection, reveal more.
I was nineteen in my dorm room and, while others were outside in the beautiful spring air, frolicking on the green, I was inside, inexplicably upset, writing in my journal while Dar Williams played in the background.
I’ve known my whole life that I’m a sensitive person. I feel more than my peers. My empathy knows no bounds. And there have been considerable periods in my life where I’ve been down and retreated into myself, canceling plans and avoiding social situations. I self-criticize, over-analyze and fixate on things. And I’ve spent far too long under the proverbial (and literal) covers.
But, I’m also one of the more positive people you will meet, joyful, fun, a lover of life and others, which is perhaps why I wrote it off for so long. I can’t be this and also that. Can I? I love and can bond with my baby so I’m not part of the statistics. I just need to get through this or it’s because of that. I’ll be better once I just get through this. I’m happy now so it can’t be true. Excuses, shame, denial… I ran from my depression for over twenty years.
Today, I stop running. I stand still, speak out and say what I’ve been struggling with for quite some time. I live with depression.
Mine is cyclical, which is why I’m able to be the life of the party, at points, and in a complete spiral during others. I have hypomania, which means I experience periods of natural highs. During one of these episodes (which can last days or weeks), I feel like I’m firing on all cylinders, can run circles around most, have unlimited amounts of energy, need less sleep, am super creative, confident and slay the day. But, inevitably, what goes up, must come down.
After a high, I experience pretty intense lows. I suddenly become extremely self-critical, pessimistic (about my own life, I’m still supportive of others) and depressed. I want to sleep longer and more, don’t want to see anyone or do anything and my overall outlook is bleak.
This dizzying, dramatic cycle has gone on for far too long and I’m tired. Tired from the emotions, the internal struggle and, mostly, from pretending it doesn’t exist. Twenty plus years later, it’s time for me to finally surrender and get some help.
I’d convinced myself that I could heal myself, that I just needed to slow down, be kinder to myself, not take on so much, leave this job or that relationship, get more sleep, drink less alcohol, consume healthier foods, exercise more often… And while all of those things help, it’s not enough. And, according to my psychiatrist, it never will be.
What’s going on with me is chemical. It’s how I was born. It’s in my genes. There’s no amount of sleep or exercise in the world that will make it go away. In actuality, it was getting worse and my doctor said it would continue to the older I got. She said it’s likely why stars like Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain tragically took their own lives later in age. If ignored, it only gets worse. Without knowing them (although I worked on Tony’s book at HarperCollins and was acquainted with him for a short time), at the risk of speculation and with total respect, I’d be willing to bet that they, too, were tired. Tired from the fight. Ready to rest.
I now also try to strike the balance between not taking on too much, as it’s overwhelming for me, but not remaining housebound either as that can exacerbate my condition. My profession and current situation has been both a blessing and a hinderance. On one hand, I don’t have to report to an office at a certain time, commit to and endure a commute with lots of people packed in to a train or experience the demands that a more structured, corporate job presents, which was a challenge earlier in my career. Instead, I can be at home, by myself and make my own decisions about how I go about my day. I can work like crazy (no pun intended) for hours or days and then let myself rest when I want or need. But, I’m also allowing myself to sit and suffer in silence; I’m perpetuating the period of downtime.
I’m an introvert, by nature, which also took me quite some time to grasp. (I’ve never claimed to be a quick study. I think this post proves that.) I started out a really shy kid, painfully, not-leave-my-mother’s-side till 5 shy. But, by middle school, I was extremely social, a trait that’s transcended to today. And, hello, I’m a blogger, have been on national television, spoken on stages and at conferences and put myself out there on the daily both on this site and, more frequently, on Instagram so I can, understandably, hear a bunch of you calling BS. But, much like assuming depression and happiness are mutually exclusive, many also believe you’re either an introvert or not.
I’ve come to discover that I am an extroverted introvert, which means I force myself to do things that don’t come naturally or comfortably, and, later, pay the price. I have to power down after a particularly social experience. I’m super passionate, all or nothing and emotional. So, whether it’s a holiday, vacation, work obligation or even something as simple as a party or photoshoot, I put my whole heart and all of my energy into everything I do and I’m on empty when it’s over. (This party was actually a pivotal point for me in realizing I had a problem.) Zach and I can go to the same social outing and he leaves unfazed; I need days to recover. Or, as is often the case in life, when there are many back-to-back events and days in a row of activities and engagements, I keep on the train, chugging along, and then, once they’re over and I’m out of steam, I experience an even longer down time, often becoming ill.
I also believe I’m an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) because why not add on one more thing?! HSP’s are more aware of subtleties, sense what’s going on, are more sympathetic to others and are easily overstimulated.
The funny thing is, I have pretty thick skin. I’m not easily offended, have a healthy sense of humor, can be the butt of a joke and take it just as much as I dish it out, so I’ve never thought of myself as sensitive, in those parameters, which is another misconception. HSP’s, as I understand it, are more sensitive toward others and the world around them, not necessarily with themselves.
Many of you may have noticed over the past year or so, on Stories, in particular, that something was going on. There was a lot of self-help books, much more talk of mental health, even mentions of ruts, stress or tough times. I’m pretty candid about what’s going on in my life and share much of it with you, but this is one of the more personal things I’ve ever gone through. Therefore, I needed to come to terms with it on my own and wait until, not only I was ready, but, more importantly, when I had more knowledge and clarity about the situation. By sharing my struggles, I want to help others and I didn’t feel prepared to do that until now. Sadly, there is an unwarranted amount of embarrassment and shame surrounding mental health “disorders” that I fell victim to.
While I absolutely do not believe the following to be true of others, when it came to myself, I was afraid admitting that I live with depression would make me seem flawed, fucked up or weak. But, the truth is, I am flawed (who isn’t?) and also a little effed up (again: life), but I’m far from weak and I know that. As my dad, tearfully, said to me when he pulled me in for a big bear hug, after I revealed my diagnosis to my parents, “What you’re doing takes strength. You are so strong and I’m so proud of you.” (Coming from a family that doesn’t necessarily believe in therapy, medication or speaking about our struggles, that moment meant even more.)
I’m proud of myself too. For finally facing the facts, for accepting help, sharing it with others and, ultimately, releasing myself from the shame and stigma surrounding depression. This is just the beginning…