Depression, when you become aware of it, feels like you’ve been swept out to sea. I recall slowly coming to the realization that I had been slowly pulled out further from stability long after the first of many depressive episodes. I can’t quite remember when I became aware of the fact that I’d been pulled so far out by its strong current - all I know for certain is that I didn’t simply come out the other side where everything was good again. I don’t think it’s possible for depression to work that way - for things to be fine when you finally stir and awaken from the numbness of an episode. You just realize how far away from yourself you’ve gotten, how far away from the shore you’ve drifted. Depression is devious and so easy to fall back into. Whenever you come to, you’re faced with a choice - swim back to shore, or drift further still. Guess which one is easier? In fact, when you’ve just come back to reality to find your life and yourself nothing at all how you remember, it hardly seems possible that you’ll ever get back - so you drift, you let yourself go further. It hurts to admit that you’ve failed yourself, it hurts to not recognize the person that you see in the mirror… it hurts to swim back to shore.
This time around it’s been particularly difficult for me despite experiencing my fair share of highs and lows. This isn’t my first reawakening to consciousness, but perhaps it is the first time I’ve yearned for the shore so resolutely. I think I’ve spent all of my life (at least all of my adult life) in the water. Despite this deep desire to be on land, I don’t know how possible it would be to be completely free from the salty illusion of reprieve.
I’ve had a certain person on my mind quite a lot recently, and it seems that they show up in my head in varying ways, in vastly different ways than they used to. Time is both a curious and cruel mistress - its only guaranteed outcome being change. I have found myself triggered and faced with my past traumas more frequently over the past few months than ever before in my adult life. I suppose I’ve been overdue for a karmic awakening. I’ve been pushing off breaking toxic cycles and patterns out of fear and self-doubt, but the universe has its own timeline. I found myself in a deep bout of depression for the last few months of 2019. I’ve spent every day of the new year recovering from that episode, and it has dawned on me (my present self in April 2020; edit: June 2020; edit: late July 2020) just how real and difficult my depression is and how I’ve come to underestimate it.
I worked with a life/career coach from June to the end of September. I gained so much from the experience, but most importantly I learned to prioritize myself and my personal pursuits outside of my current full-time job. I was in a very productive space and actively focusing on more consistent content creation and my writing. I was in an excellent mental space, I was so much more physically healthy. My relationship with myself and with my body was probably in the best place it’s been. Everything was on the up and up. Until it wasn’t.
I met someone who appeared to check all of the boxes of what I looked for in a partner. I wasn’t looking for a relationship at the time nor was I interested in dating in the slightest because I had far too much on my plate career-wise, and since arriving in Taiwan I had actively chosen against making that a priority or even an option a lot of the time. Yet here I was, riding the high vibration, and I caught a glimpse of my future. For the first time in a heinously long time, I allowed myself to think about building a future with someone or at least, being with someone and allowing them in. I realized that with all of the work I had been doing on myself, that I was finally ready to address my fear of relationships and my fear of my own feelings. I had worked so hard for years to release the pain and trauma of the past, and I finally felt ready and safe enough to lean in. Long story short, it didn’t work out. Throughout my experience with this person, I had to come to terms with the fact that although I was ready to be with someone, I had much too easily fallen for the idea of him - attractive, ambitious, artistic, adventurous, etc. There were so many wonderful things in theory, and the fantasy I built around him was even more wonderful still. It is perhaps having had a taste of an ideal, passionate and healthy partnership that hurt the most when things didn’t go as I originally hoped they would. The universe being the universe though, I now know why and how that person wasn’t for me and I have been lucky enough to find the people who are for me since then and to be in a healthy relationship that is not based on hopes and fantasy, but on action and reality… and so much real love that I almost can’t believe it’s real.
Despite what I know now, I was devastated at the time. Not just by this “heartbreak” (for lack of a more fitting term), but by all that I experienced around the same time. Like I mentioned before, I was working really hard on myself and working really hard to be productive in terms of my art and writing. I spent all of September working on my first ever art show that I wanted to coincide with my 25th birthday weekend. I put together a show of 18 pieces in total - five series paintings with their own accompanying poetry. At the same time I was juggling my full-time job, taking care of my dog and following a fairly strict eating and exercise plan as well as consistently creating other content for my blog or working on larger writing projects. I was working feverishly all the way up to the weekend of the art show, and the more excited (and nervous) I got about the art show and about my productivity, the more doubtful I became about the person I had gotten attached to. There were multiple instances where I could’ve woken up to the fact that he wasn’t it, but our lives and spaces were so heavily intertwined at the time that I found it difficult to get away (there was a period of time where I thought that meant there was a reason to stay).
I completely crashed come mid-October. I had stopped working with my life/career coach as she and I both thought I had built up sufficient skills and established a routine that I didn’t need constant monitoring or hand-holding anymore. Little did I know I would be plunged into the deep, dark, icy waters of a particularly intense depressive episode shortly after. It was an episode greatly spurred on and aggravated by burnout. I stopped painting, and for the most part I stopped posting my written work, too. Along with my productivity went my drive and confidence. I stopped exercising, I went back to old, bad habits to cope with stress and guilt and numbness. As my mental health rapidly declined, so did my desire to take care of myself. In one fell swoop, I had been swept out to sea - cleanly knocked from the wave I had been riding months, even mere weeks or days prior.
My situation with the aforementioned person meant that I was experiencing some of the worst anxiety of my life, and panic attacks like never before where just hearing his name or the suggestion of seeing him or the space and people he was associated with would be enough to send me spiraling. There were parallels between my depression and his treatment of me which made it difficult to not just immediately and reflexively conflate them. It was so sudden how he changed his mind, not just about anything romantic or physical, but about being my friend and about being a constructive part of my life. That’s what ultimately hurt the most - knowing that I was effectively nothing to him. He didn’t care, and for a while I kept going back despite how much it devastated me and hurt me to do so because I kept on thinking it was a mistake, that I had just misinterpreted what he had said or done, that it’d be better or at least bearable the next time. I had convinced myself that I ought to be patient with him until I realized that he was in no way intending to make up the distance he had created. It felt as though I had been treading water for months, and at this point I could barely keep my head above the waves that coaxed me further away from sanity. He wasn’t coming back, he had swum so far out of sight so long ago that he could have gone right over the edge of the earth for all I knew.
The best decision I ever made was letting go. Despite it being what was best for me, that certainly doesn’t mean it was at all an easy decision to make. I felt guilty, I felt like I was giving up. I didn’t have the strength to confront the people who had hurt me, and the last thing I wanted was for them to think that their behavior was by any means acceptable… but my priority was me. I gazed upon the shore and wanted to return to it and that desire and goal had nothing to do with the people who had placed themselves so firmly in my past. Once you commit to your recovery, it arguably becomes even harder. The amount of work it requires can look so overwhelming and insurmountable that the benefits hardly seem worth it at times. That being said, the fear of regret snaps me out of those moments of self-doubt. There is already so much frustration and anger I feel at myself for the time I feel I’ve wasted being depressed - a reaction I am desperately trying to reprogram as it only contributes to the certainty and severity of my relapses. The sentiment of not wanting to waste anymore time is important to hold onto though. I don’t want to wake up one day and regret having missed out on my life because it was easier to be numb than to actively seek to manage my mental health. While it is frustrating that it seemingly requires so much for me to be functional and healthy and productive and happy, it would be more frustrating to have not gotten any closer to my goals or to not have learned anything from my mistakes. I have a better idea of what I want and of who I want to have in my life… and for the sake of those things and those people, the version of me that gives up on herself needs to be left in the past.
As hard as it is certainly going to be, at least for a while longer, I have to actively and continuously choose to fight the rip current that is depression and swim for my damn life.