Here's the thing about depression.
(Well, I mean, there are a lot of things about depression, the main thing being that, well, it blows, and the other things are basically just groaning sounds of various decibels.)
Anyway, this specific thing about depression is that it's kind of a swindler.
I grew up Catholic, then I went to a Lutheran summer camp for many, many years and spent time doing ministry in college. I've since become what you could call more spiritual than religious, but I think a lot about my depression in the same terms that a Christian would describe the devil. He lurks in your subconscious, whispering vicious lies that make you believe you aren't good enough or strong enough or rich enough or just plain enough. You find ways to build those parts of yourself back up; you go to church or to the gym or to happy hour or to whatever place or state of mind that makes your heart feel a little less empty. Me? Well, among other things, I go to therapy.
I've talked about it briefly here before, but I started going to therapy back in November. I hang out with my therapist Sarah every other week, so I'd estimate I've spent probably 15 to 20 hours dumping my life onto a perfect stranger. When I type it out like that, it doesn't seem significant. I spend 40 hours (or more, let's be real) at work every week, so 15 to 20 hours over the last eight months doesn't feel like a lot. But in those hours, I've learned a lot about myself. I've learned the different ways my anxiety and depression manifest themselves in my daily life and the thought patterns or habits that can trigger them. I've learned to mentally track how many times a day I say the words "can't" or "should." I've learned that I am really bad about having high expectations for everyone in my life, including myself. Sarah somehow pulls things out of me that I didn't even realize I was thinking or feeling until I say them out loud, and then I spend weeks wading through the weeds of my subconscious.
Recently, I'm happy to report, things have been really great. I've lost 35 pounds since January and I'm actually starting to feel like myself again (whoever that is). I'm exercising daily and taking care of my body, and I feel stronger and healthier than I ever have. My boyfriend Jared and I moved into a little two-story house in East Austin last month, and I've loved exploring our new neighborhood and settling into our new home and our life together. I've recently thrown myself into reconnecting with old friends and fostering friendships with existing friends, and I feel happy and loved. I was put in charge of a new project at work that makes me feel incredibly happy and fulfilled. I feel really good.
So at therapy two weeks ago, when Sarah asked me at the end of my session, as she always does, "So, two weeks?" I almost told her, "Actually, maybe let's do a month." After all, for several sessions in a row I had basically been telling her the same thing over and over again -- that I was, miraculously, pretty okay. But something told me to stick with the schedule. I was thinking about when I would get sick and get prescribed an antibiotic, and as soon as I felt better I'd stop taking it, even though the doctor always told me to make sure to take them all -- but I never listened, and sure enough, I was sick again a week later. If it works like that for your body, it must work like that for your brain, right?
Then, last Friday night, I was doing my usual routine. After work on Fridays, I go to a class at my barre studio called HIITRestore -- it's basically 30 minutes of intense cardio and strength moves, then 20 minutes of stretching and rolling around on the floor. It's my favorite way to end the week. On this Friday night in question, I was rolling around on the floor when suddenly I felt like I was pinned to it. I remember thinking immediately, "I really need to not be here right now." I also remember the intense imagery of a sumo wrestler sitting on my chest, because that's how it felt. I couldn't move. One of my best (and sometimes worst) qualities, I'm not ashamed to admit, is that I'm acutely self aware. I'm able to identify how I'm feeling at pretty much all times. (It's a blessing and a curse.) This was my inner monologue: I really need to not be here right now. What is happening? Am I having a panic attack? Well, usually, I hyperventilate during a panic attack. That's not what's happening right now. I definitely can't breathe, though. Yep, that sumo wrestler isn't letting me get enough air. Oh, she's telling us to stretch our other leg now. I can't do that if I'm pinned to the floor. Can I just get up and leave? What will she say? Can't get up and leave, still pinned to the floor. I guess I'll just stretch this leg and see what happens next.
It went on like that for a good five minutes, which felt like an hour. Then I went to my car and was overcome with intense dread. My chest was tight. But I was so calm -- this wasn't my usual panic attack. My heart wasn't racing and my breathing wasn't quick. I felt completely calm, except I was absolutely convinced that I was dying. I wondered if I should drive myself to the hospital or call Jared to come and pick me up. I sat in my car until I figured, well, it would be silly to make him drive here in traffic. So, dazed, I made my way home. I spent the rest of the evening in bed, watching Netflix and being generally over-dramatic about what had happened.
I asked Sarah about this the following Monday, and she described the way exercise can sometimes release really intense emotions. She didn't seem to think it was a panic attack, but I'm not convinced. (I mean, she's probably right, because she always is, but don't tell her I said that.) We talked about a few other things that had been on my mind, and I went about my day, feeling a little better.
Then this past Friday, it happened again. I filled in on the early shift at work, so around 1 p.m. I was getting ready to leave for the day. I stayed late to take care of a bit of breaking news, and I finally made it to my car about a half hour after my shift was supposed to end. And then I just ... sat there. I had gone to my car to get my gym clothes, to change really quick and then spend time lifting weights before sneaking in a quick nap and going to happy hour with some girlfriends. I scrolled through my phone for a half hour. I just couldn't leave. I don't know why. When I finally changed into my gym clothes and went back to my car, I sat there for another half hour. I wasn't being lazy about going to the gym -- it was going to be a light day, after all -- I just couldn't do it. (There it is. Me saying I couldn't do something. I'll put a dollar in the "can't" jar, Sarah.) After an hour or so of sitting, I went to the gym and spent 20 minutes on the elliptical, which is not even what I meant to do. I couldn't think straight or even think, period. I don't remember what was on my brain for the full four hours it took me to get home from work on Friday. And I still have no idea why. Well, I have one idea.
Because that son of a bitch depression decided to pop his head in and see what was up. Because just when you start to think, "Hey, I'm feeling better! I'm cured! I am no longer a Depressed Person™!" Then depression is like, "Ha, bullshit. I'm still here. I live here. You're stuck with me for like, ever. You idiot. Why don't you lay down and sleep for like three days straight now, 'cause that's all you're good for, anyway."
I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that it's kind of okay to not be totally okay. There probably isn't such thing as totally okay, anyway. Depression isn't cancer. It's not something that you can stamp out with hours and hours of treatment. It's something you live with. It's something you learn to deal with, and recognize, and work on, and give the finger to sometimes because man, does it deserve it. So no, I'm not quitting therapy anytime soon. Because, well, we've still got work to do.