My Mental Health Journey: Age 22 Vs 28
I’ve hit a low point again. I think my depression is coming back. After a series of personal and professional rejections in a span of just one week, I caught myself feeling depressed. Not just bummed, or sad, but a sadness, a heaviness, that was more oh-my-God-I-can’t-breathe-scared than anything else.
I’ve always had anxiety. Growing up, I unknowingly made up my own ways to cope with it, because anxiety wasn’t a “thing” in the 90s and 00s. I do remember going to my doctor, who had known me since I was probably 10, when I was a junior in high school. I was sick all the time, stressed, not sleeping, and just felt anxious, so I finally got the courage to ask for help. Her reaction was disappointing. She told me that too many people were over-medicated and that if my feelings didn’t disrupt my daily life, that I was fine. And that I should probably do some cardio workout of some sort for endorphins.
Now, I loved my doctor. I’d known her for a long time, I trusted her. My mother was even with me at the appointment when this conversation happened, and she too had anxiety, so if she agreed with my doctor, then I was fine. Right? My mother and I both left the appointment thinking “that was that.” And I accepted my feelings as what they were. Just feelings.
I didn’t know, then, that having a panic attack in AP European History class and having to miss French class because I was at the nurse’s office trying to calm down was a disruption. I didn’t know that throwing up before school from nerves, something I had been doing on and off since the first grade, was not normal. I also didn’t know that with anxiety often also came depression.
And so, I kept living my life, doing my best to cope or hack my way through the rest of high school. And then I attended college. And I thrived, for a while. I loved it, in some ways. My anxiety seemed to calm down. I made friends. I got decent grades, I had a boyfriend, I joined activities on campus. But I didn’t sleep more than four hours a night for the first year of college. I didn’t realize was not normal. It was college! I didn’t realize, either, that the metaphorical black cloud that hung over me, tingeing even my best days, was depression.
My sophomore year I did know something was up. But I didn’t know what. Later, when I finally saw a therapist and reflected on things, I realized I was extremely depressed. My mother mentioned that I used to say things like, “I don’t know that I’ll ever feel happy again,” or “I just want to sleep until this feeling is gone, until everything is over.”
I stopped answering my phone when my friends from home called, I deleted my facebook. I spent more time alone in my room and stopped going to parties. Even when I think back to my first semester of sophomore year, I don’t remember much. My brain actually blacked out memories (without the blackout level of alcohol usually consumed to require that phenomenon). Now, these are very obvious signs. But then, then I didn’t realize anything was that different.
Depression often has a slow creep for me. I’ll feel fine, great even, and then every once in a while feel not-so great. And then more days will feel crummy, I’ll have more trouble sleeping, I’ll begin to struggle with my to-do list, I’ll doubt myself. And then, a back-breaking-straw will land on the camel and BAM I will realize my depression is back.
At 22, after graduating from college, I was depressed. I didn’t know it. I just couldn’t shake my anxiety, and my sadness, but I also couldn’t acknowledge that I was depressed. Finally, a friend of mine told me she was worried about me. Turns out, calling your friend at 10 PM every other night, sobbing uncontrollably, is a big sign. And thankfully, she said something to me. So, I took her caution, talked to my mother, started working out and eating healthier, and tried to make some choices and changes in my life. Because, in my mind, my depression was from feeling lonely, living far away from friends, and being unhappy in my temporary job.
I moved to New York City, my dream, with an okay job, and lived close to friends again. But I didn’t get happier. I still struggled sleeping, I cried a lot. I continued to work out, I made new friends, I had moments of great joy and happiness. But I was still depressed. Finally, after a year in New York, and a year hating my job, I called my doctor’s office for advice on anxiety. She referred me to a specialist, and at 24 my mental health life began to change for the better.
I won’t take you through the whole play-by-play, but I saw my therapist, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor specializing in anxiety and cognitive behavior therapy, for 18 months. Then I moved to California for grad school, and we said our goodbyes. I still miss talking to him every week, and I’m feeling like I’m in a good place. But talking to him once a week was a little slice of self-care pie, because I could get things off my chest and have help better understanding and thinking through the things that were weighing me down.
Now, I’m 28, and living in Los Angeles. I’m happy, for the most part. I love LA, I love living on my own in my apartment, I love that I am finally chasing my dream to be a writer and am actively pursuing jobs and working on my career. But, as I mentioned in the first paragraph of this piece, I’ve hit a low. I am scared that I’ll never become financially stable, that I’ll be scraping by and scrambling for jobs forever. Rejection still hits me hard, and I’ve realized that every “no” I get from someone brings up EVERY no I’ve ever had, and I go through all the rejection all at once. This time, though, I see it. I am seeing the pain points in the moments I feel them.
I’ve learned to be gentle with myself, though it is a constant process of care. I’ve learned to ask for help, to acknowledge that I’m in pain, that I’m struggling, that I need help. I’m working with my insurance company to find the right therapist for me so I can afford to talk to someone with my fixed income and budget.
I’m talking to my friends openly about my feelings, and I’m acknowledging the hard parts while still taking time to celebrate the good moments, no matter how small. I’m learning that having one bad day or four bad days can still be involved or mixed in with really good days. I’m learning to unstick myself (because some days I just can’t seem to leave my apartment, and that’s ok) and keep moving. I’m learning to really love myself, all my parts, and ask other people to love them, too. I’m learning, I’m moving, I’m growing. Twenty-eight is SO much better than twenty-two.