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What Well-Managed Depression Looks like on Bad Days

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I have no qualms talking about my experience with depression. I started seeing a therapist when I was sixteen and started taking anti-depressants at 24. At this point in my life, my depression is just something I live with and I'm at a point where it typically doesn't get in my way too badly. Thanks to my medication, routine, diet, exercise regimen, and sleep schedule depression has become akin to something I write about rather than experience.

At least, that's how it is most days. One of the really-truly-very-great things about depression is that you never really know when your depression is going to cause problems. Mental illnesses seem to rise and fall under their own volition, and depressive episodes often come with very little warning.

While depressive episodes are more likely to occur for me when I get out of my routine or don't get enough sleep, they can also come out of nowhere. When they do, they typically manifest the same set of symptoms each time:

  1. Restlessness
  2. Disinterest in everything
  3. Constant Need for Sound
  4. Inability to Focus

For me, the worst aspect of depressive episodes is constantly feeling like I need to explain to others why I'm not being myself, but also not wanting anybody to know I'm having a bad day because listening to others' sympathy makes me feel even worse. I'm so used to having my depression so well-managed to the point that most of my coworkers and acquaintances don't even realize that I'm dealing with it that when I can't just ignore the symptoms, I feel like I'm letting people down.

During the work week, depressive episodes are particularly challenging. In my experience, they tend to get more intense as the day goes on. I often find that I can start my workday by responding to emails and getting a decent start on my work that needs to get done.

As the day goes on, however, that becomes more and more difficult to do. I'll find myself looking at the same short email for five to ten minutes because the words just look like blurs and I can't focus long enough to make out what it says. I'll try to coax myself into working on a project that has been on my to-do list for a month but can't find the energy in me to get started. Under the strain of unshakable compulsion, I'll put music or a video on in the background because I'm craving some kind of sound that pulls my focus external rather than internal. When it's bad, I can also feel it in my body. My lower back aches, my neck cramps, and my hips feel strained and inflamed.
While I'm normally a highly-productive and influential member of my team, during depressive episodes I'm slow and struggle to communicate even with the coworkers with whom I'm closest. When it's particularly bad, I often consider putting in some sick time just so I don't feel like I'm dragging others down, but I know that if I sit at home without my work to somewhat distract me, I'd only feel worse.

It's exhausting, and by the end of the day, I feel utterly drained. All I can do is crawl into bed and hope that my neurotransmitters are more cooperative the next day.
As hard as these days are, they make me grateful for the fact that I currently have my depression pretty well managed. There have been points– around the ages 17 or 18, and again at 23– where the bad days vastly outnumbered the good. I remember what it felt like to constantly feel like my nerves were fried from chronic anxiety and the aforementioned symptoms; I remember the many days I was too exhausted to function and the many nights I was too restless to sleep.

In retrospect, I probably could have mitigated many of those days if I would have talked to my doctor about antidepressants sooner, but I spent so long fearing the stigma of mental illness and the myth that antidepressants would leave me in a haze. In fact, it wasn't until I reached a breaking point and started spending more and more time thinking about self-harm and self-jeopardizing behaviors that I knew I didn't have a choice but to seek out help.

After a month or two of my Lexapro getting in my system and helping me feel like I was getting a grasp on my life again, I was in a position where I could actually be thoughtful about formulating a daily routine. My medicine gave me the emotional freedom to actually consider what I wanted my days to look like. I could proactively plan my schedule around my goals because I wasn't having to constantly be reactive to whatever my mental state dictated.

As the next step in my journey to recovery, I used my new ability to determine my own schedule to integrate exercise into my routine. I was tired of feeling gross and having a negative self-image, plus I knew that I needed to spend more time getting my blood pumping to help my happy pills along. My neurotransmitter regulation may be coming out of a bottle, but at least I could give it a hand with some natural endorphin production.

All-in-all, these things were huge steps forward in reclaiming my mental health and feeling like I was in control of my life rather than being subjected to it. The longer I live, the more I refine these processes to try and safeguard against the bad days as much as possible. It can be frustrating at times– for example, I rely on my daily routine so much to prevent depressive episodes that I often cloister myself off from making friends or going on dates– but it's ultimately helping me figure out how to live the life I want to live without being hampered by the struggles of mental illness.


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