The Slow Climb Out of the Big Sad

An account of experiencing chronic depression for over a decade, and how higher ground finally started to become achievable. Photo Credit: Corduroy Graphics

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, a therapist, or a psychiatrist. I am only recounting my own personal experiences with mental health. If you believe you might be struggling and are in need of help, please talk to a doctor or health professional.

You’re lying in bed. It’s noon. No, now it’s 2:00pm. Actually it’s 5:00pm, and also you haven’t eaten yet. Most of your friends and family are winding down for the day, but you’re getting a bowl of cereal for breakfast… for dinner. You only have a few hours left of daylight to be productive before night hits and you feel excused from any obligatory duties. You feel like shit for staying in bed all day, which makes you want to climb back into bed. This makes being productive even more difficult, or dare I say, pointless? The day is almost over anyway; maybe we’ll start again tomorrow…

This reality encapsulated my first month or two of quarantine, but this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced a depressive bout so badly that sometimes I wouldn’t even see my roommate for an entire day. By the time I was ready to exist in the living room, she was getting ready for bed. It happened once at the start of 2020, in the spring of 2019, and throughout my life intermittently since my early days of college.

I’ve had an extensive relationship with mental health issues, my longest relationship to date. I had my first panic attack when I was about 10 years old. It felt as though the entire weight of the world suddenly placed itself on my shoulders overnight, and I’ve never really been able to shake it. We’re going on about 15 years now of panic attacks, bottling in emotions so as not to burden others, crying myself to sleep, and being so overwhelmed by daily tasks that my comfy bed seems like my safest, and at times my only, haven.

I will say it’s not like this all the time. In fact, most of the time I’m pretty content. I have ambitions and get surges of creativity, I like getting sucked into a piece of writing or even emails for hours at a time, and I love hanging out with my friends (my favorite pastime in this quarantine world). However when it does get bad, it gets bad.

If a friend texted me at 11am and I didn’t respond until I finally woke up at 2pm, often my excuse would be that I was busy working. My depressive state was creeping out of my personal bubble and into my social life. It can be difficult to tell others what’s really going on for fear of embarrassment, shame, or guilt. I wasn’t the productive millennial that I wanted to be, or that I felt I was portraying on Instagram. I was exhausted and sad and didn’t want to read the news or go outside. When I lied in bed, drifting off to sleep, I was consciously escaping the world that I was so intimidated by. My brain couldn’t haunt me with thoughts of failure if I simply wasn’t awake. My “nocturnal” state of living that has now become a joke between my closest friends and I stems from something so much darker and deeper than I’ve ever cared to admit.

When I was at my worst earlier this year, I wasn’t showering every day, I wasn’t changing the sheets on my bed every week, and I wasn’t eating regular meals. Did not doing these things make me feel terrible? Yes. So what did I have to do? I had to shower. I had to eat. I had to change my sheets.

Sometimes this was all I could do in a day. Changing my sheets seemed like a mountainous task. Not only do you have to take the dirty sheets off, then you have to put new sheets on. And that’s only if the new sheets were already clean. If not, then I had to do the added task of doing laundry. The weight of these tasks was something my brain couldn’t control. Everything felt heavier than it actually was. This growing mental list of things I wasn’t doing turned into a self-reproach that was, and still is, difficult to unlearn.

Maybe all I did on Thursday was laundry. Maybe I slept all day but once I finally got up, I was able to clean my sheets. Some might have considered it a day wasted, but I considered that a day in which I completed one single task. Considering I had many consecutive days where I couldn’t even do that, I considered this a success. I slowly began to fight back against the inner goblin that scolded me for being lazy, when in reality I was just overwhelmed by what many would consider to be daily, mundane tasks.

One day, I washed all the dishes I had piled up in the sink. That was huge. It was a visual accomplishment. Another day I organized my sock drawer, which led to organizing my closet. Finally I got to the point where I was running out of tasks and it was time to tackle the Big One: Cleaning My Room. Something that I had been dreading doing for months was within arms reach. Completing this was an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. Having a clean room made me feel better about myself, and that in turn increased my motivation. It may have only been “one task,” but I felt ten steps closer to this higher ground that I was trying to reach.

You might start off with a list of ten things to do. While ten tasks could seem overwhelming, one task doesn’t. Breaking things down into steps has helped my productivity and mental health more than I would have ever thought. It’s such a simple concept, yet still a difficult one for many people to learn and turn into a habit. Even if you only do one task a day, at the end of a week you’ll have done seven tasks, which seven days ago seemed like too much to accomplish.

Is my room still as clean as that day I cleaned it? Hell no. But it’s not as bad as it used to be. It’s no longer an obstacle in my life. By freeing up the physical space around me, I’ve also freed up ample amounts of mental space. I no longer fear being awake and alive. Now I feel okay setting my jacket on my chair or leaving my journals opened and sprawled out across my desk, because it’s proof that I’m living. It’s proof that I’m moving and getting things done, and that’s a great feeling.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, please don’t hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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