I’m Tess. I’m here because I want to give another perspective on what it’s like to go through depression. When I was in my depression, I realized there was a lack of articles talking about the different ways it can manifest. There are serotonin based depressions; then there are depressions that are side effects of other mental disorders. I fall into the latter category. I get anxiety based depression due to having Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Panic Attack Disorder (PAD). This causes me to have insomnia, depression and hyper self-awareness.
GAD, is that feeling of nerves when you hear dramatic war music, but the war never arriving, just the music on loop. PAD is what activates your fight or flight mode. With panic attacks, you can feel like your dying. It is a very delicate situation and is very scary and exhausting. Andrew Solomon’s TEDTalk (Depression, the secret we share.) demonstrates the difference between serotonin based depression and anxiety, ‘And then the anxiety set in. If you told me that I’d have to be depressed for the next month, I would say, “As long I know it’ll be over in November, I can do it.” But if you said to me, “You have to have acute anxiety for the next month,” I would rather slit my wrist than go through it.’ This is to explain how different the two disorders are. This is important because if your depression is the symptom of another disorder you have to take that disorder into account when looking at the whole depression.
Most of my life I was told to hide this side of me because mental health disorders have been stigmatized. This taught me there would always be a part of me that the world would never accept. Now, I refuse to be ashamed or told I am less than because I happen to have mental health disorders.
What is self-awareness? It means more than just being aware of one’s actions, faults, strengths, and weaknesses. It is also about knowing everyone else’s. That might sound counter-intuitive to its name, but I want you to think back, how did you become you? Were you born exactly like this? Or did other people’s actions influence the outcome of your life? The difference is every choice you make is a direct impact, while others have both a direct and indirect impact. To be hyper self-aware is to know this, and factor this into account with EVERY small or large decision you make.
My hyper self-awareness is how I know what my first four memories were. I knew my parents were going to get divorced when I was eight; I knew when I was around twelve I would be the black sheep of the family.
My self-awareness started when my maternal grandfather passed away. I was four years old; I can still feel intensely how safe and loved he made me feel. He was my best friend; he was my person. My first memories are of him; the family at the Russian Circus, going to construction sites, in our backyard with him showing me his pocket watch, laying in his hospital bed with him saying ‘I love you, Tess,’ then being in the waiting room as he passed away. I remember hiding in the closet by the garage door that was lime green thanks to my color blind father; I remember the look of deep utter sadness in my mother’s eyes. Looking back now, this was probably my first panic attack. That year I started therapy. That gives me 21 years of therapy under my belt. I guess you could call me a veteran. I got diagnosed by specialists with having anxiety disorders, poor small motor skills, and ADHD. Only two of the three were actually what I had. There are a bunch of factors for the misdiagnosis, one being that symptoms for anxiety disorders and ADHD disorders present themselves in the same way for children at a young age.
My misdiagnosis, anxiety disorders, wrong medication, the relationship dichotomy with my family, and my own core personality all lead to how depression affects me today. I want to clarify, no matter what I write here, my family are still good people. It’s just it wasn’t a conducive environment for me to be the best version of myself.
My family was co-dependent family. Everyone relied heavily on one another, and the more you needed the rest of the family the more they seemed to love you. But they still liked to be the ones in control of the dynamics of the relationship. I learned from a young age that my opinions about myself were invalid. When you have spent more than half your life learning that, it takes extremely hard work to change that notion.
In the beginning, of therapy, I hoped that this would be the appointment where the therapist would listen to me and not discredit what I had to say when the parents told me I was wrong about my feelings. I learned from a young age to give up hope. When the therapist would listen to my parents over me; I knew I would never win this war. An example of my feelings being overlooked can be summed up in a story; she used at dinner parties. I was seeing my pediatrician and the doctor asked my mother to leave the room so he could speak to me privately. She left, and I thought it was safe for me to speak. The doctor asked how my anxiety was, and I said ‘If you eliminate my mom, my anxiety is good.’ Little did I know she overheard, and she thought it was funny I used the word eliminate. She thought I sounded like a mafioso and imagined me as an eleven-year-old mobster. She missed the point which without her I had manageable anxiety levels. Instead of reading into that statement, my anxiety issues were demeaned invaluable enough to be laughed at by dinner party guests. If I bring it up, my mother will deny it. In fact, she has, telling me I made this up. I had to text my friend because I was scared to write this because what if I am wrong? I am 25, I am independent, I am still scared that what I know as fact is false.
This brings us to mid-July, I was just sitting there, and I knew the depression had come back. I could feel it in the pit of my soul. I immediately texted my then boyfriend and told him ‘My depression came back.’ These words set me on the biggest whirl-wind I have experienced. I lost friends, loved ones, and family. People couldn’t handle my depression. They couldn’t conceptualize what I was going through.
In the beginning being self-aware made me feel worse than I thought was possible. I was scared that if I could still get up and go to work, I wouldn’t be considered depressed. If I could still go to networking events, that would negate people believing I had depression. There are just so many articles about not leaving your bed, about how depression manifests and how people reacted. But there was nothing that was specific to the kind of depression I was feeling. I was much more prone to the angry outbursts symptom than I was for not leaving the bed for multiple days. I thought my depression was invalid because it did not fit the stereotype.
I found solace in only listening to Twenty-One Pilots. My boyfriend would stay on the phone with my for hours just talking, while I stayed curled in a ball on a couch, crying unable to move to walk one foot to take a Xanax so I could finally breathe again. I usually don’t take anti-depressants but in this case, I tried three different ones. The most severe side effect was me not to be able to eat or drink anything that didn’t have the constancy and nutritional value of water. I was constantly feeling like I had the flu, without the ability to sleep. I lost 30 pounds in a month. I told my close friends how I hated how people told me how great I looked losing the weight. Each time I wanted to cry, because I wanted to scream ‘I’m glad my depression compliments my figure so well.’ But I couldn’t, because you have to keep that hush hush.
I was ashamed while at the same time I knew I had nothing to be ashamed about. I tried to be vocal about mental health awareness and started posting articles I found informative to my Facebook and Instagram. I promptly got yelled at by two family members in the same day to inform me I would never get a job if I was outspoken about Mental Health Awareness. I would say I expect those calls again.
In the worst of it, I kept up with my industry goings on. I went to therapy. I exercised. I took freelance jobs. I went to my friend’s place and did freelance work together. I actively worked hard on myself, because I knew that this time if I fail I had no familial safety net. This made me feel more invalid like I shouldn’t have depression. That I knew better than to have depression.
It got to the point that I hit a plateau in therapy. I knew what I needed to do. I decided I would redirect the funds into a trainer to help me get into shape for a Spartan Sprint. I met with my now trainer, Tony. I told myself I was would be completely honest with him. So I was, I told him I was doing this mainly to get me out of my depression. I was hoping that by feeling physically stronger; I would feel stronger mentally. And I did. I am now signed up for a Tough Mudder with my gym in July, and I am starting to train for power lifting competitions.
My depression still active, I got to a point where I started actively hiding from talking to people, scared I wasn’t worthy of their attention. I had just left a twitter thread for the second time. I thought my mental health burned another bridge. Instead, I just got a simple Twitter message from my friend Gary saying ‘Hi, Are you okay?’ And for the first time, I decided to not play my depression down. I said no, and then I vented. He let me feel everything I wanted to feel. He validated me. He didn’t try to fix me; he just offered an ear and a shoulder. He let me move at my pace and let me message him about things other people would consider small.
Was everything cured? Certainly not. It took months, months of training and pushing my limits. Months of forcing myself to respond to people even if they asked ‘How are you?’ I stopped hiding my disorders. I still got panic attacks and still heard all the horrible thoughts about myself. The difference was I finally felt like I was finally using my set of skills to build myself up instead of tearing myself down.
I am happy to say that I no longer am in that depression. In fact, I can tell you the specific date that it ran away. May 14th, 2016. The wedding of two of my closest friends, Joi and Andrew. At my worst moments, they would hold me up. During their reception, my self-awareness provided me with a feeling I never thought I’d experience. Over-whelming love and happiness. I was intensely aware of the way people saw me that night. And I love what I saw. I am strong, resilient, sassy, loving, honest and cool as fuck.