(TW Depression, Eating Disorder)
Depression can be sneaky. It can creep up on you, especially when you haven’t been deep in the throes of it for a while and you’re so busy that you don’t really notice it. I was coming out of a depressive episode at the beginning of last year, and I got to a reasonably good place. I’m typically a high-functioning depressive with mild anxiety who over-books herself and doesn’t get much sleep, but when you live your daily life with a relatively mild form of depression, it can be difficult to recognize symptoms of worsening depression. I typically exist in a state of “alright.” When anyone asks me how I’m doing, that’s always my answer. When asked that question now, if I’m being honest about how I’m feeling, I may need to start tacking “barely” onto that “alright.” But it took me a while to get to that point. Recently, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even noticed the little changes in my life and personality that are signs of my mental health declining.
I’m exhausted…even more than usual
I, like most partially-functioning adults, live my life in a perpetual state of exhaustion. Getting up in the morning is awful, and after work, I’m too tired to do much more than eat and sleep. Unlike most adults, I am still able to function while exhausted without coffee. I do drink coffee because I enjoy the taste, but I only abuse coffee when I can’t keep from falling asleep at my desk. Lately, however, I find myself abusing coffee more and more. At this point, my definition of “functioning” is buying expensive coffees regularly. And while my wallet and I are pretty sure that’s not the correct definition, at least it makes me feel good and awake, so it’s close enough!
I usually fall asleep around 9:30 at night, but lately I’ve been falling asleep around 7:30. And even with the extra two hours of sleep, I remain exhausted day in and day out. And when I say that I’m “exhausted,” I usually qualify that with “in every way possible.” Yes, some of the exhaustion is physical, but a lot of it is mental and emotional, too. Not only can I not catch up on sleep, I also can’t seem to get back most of my mental energy on any given day. I start most days at around 60% mental/emotional capacity and it just declines from there. That morning fog that I usually have the first hour or two after I wake up has been lasting longer and longer until entire days feel like those moments when I just wake up. Could you imagine living in a perpetual state of that moment when you just wake up?! It’s not fun.
Giving up on my side jobs
While I am normally excited to search for new opportunities and potentially fill my calendar with new jobs, recently, I’ve completely fallen off my freelance work. Some of my contracts have ended or paused, and I haven’t felt the need to replace them with new ones. One of my freelance clients has asked me to let him know the amount of work that I can handle weekly because he wants to extend our contract, but I can’t bring myself to respond and add more to my workload. Not only do I not have any side jobs right now, but every time I start looking for a new side job, I immediately feel discouraged. Jobs that, a few months ago, would have seemed like a perfect fit now seem impossible. Without the confidence that I’ll be able to do any of the jobs that would normally appeal to me, I don’t feel motivated to apply for them. Not applying to things compulsively is just very unlike me.
Creating a routine has become even more daunting
I have trouble sticking to routines. Even the smallest habit can be difficult to incorporate, whether or not I have the necessary time to add it. My standard tactic is to slowly add things into my routine in bits and pieces until I fully incorporate the habit into my schedule, but recently, it’s been harder than ever to add new habits into my routine. I have abandoned my old morning routine that allowed me time to read and center myself before work and have been unable to get back into it. I’ve stopped taking CBD for my anxiety because even taking the bottle out of the cabinet before bed feels like too much effort. Reminders on my phone that were meant to give me some routine and structure are now unceremoniously shut off without so much as a first glance. I wanted to start journaling daily, but I approached it assuming that I would fail to keep up with it. Normally, I approach new daily habits cautiously optimistic and hope that I can keep them up, but I just didn’t have that cautious optimism this time. I knew that it would fall to the wayside. I’ve looked at my journal every morning with despair, knowing that I won’t be able to maintain a daily writing habit. I gave up on it before it even began, and that’s an awful feeling.
As someone with an eating disorder, I often struggle with my feelings about food and my body. Most days are filled with self-loathing and obsessive thoughts about food. However, since I’ve been working with my dietitian, Kelsey, I do feel that my relationship with food is better than it has been in a long time. I haven’t been restricting and have started thinking of food more kindly than just as a necessary evil. Overall, I’ve gotten better at listening to my hunger cues and making sure that I eat when and how much I’m supposed to eat. These past few weeks, though, it seems like following her teachings have become harder and harder. I’ve almost stopped eating meals and only eat snacks. I’ve started ignoring my hunger cues again when it was more convenient to go without food. I didn’t even realize how problematic this was until my acid reflux became so bad that I had to start taking medication. Once I caught onto this dangerous pattern, I started forcing myself to eat meals, but when I’m too busy to notice my hunger cues, I can easily go through the entire day without food. Focusing on myself and my relationship with food takes a lot of mental energy. Unfortunately, when struggling with depression and feeling defeated and exhausted, it’s difficult to have the energy necessary to work on that relationship.
Reverting back to past habits
Recently, I’ve been plopping myself in front of the television on the weekends with a hankering to watch Four Weddings. While this TLC show is definitely fun at any time and any age, I haven’t really watched it in years. During my breaks home from college, however, I would watch that show obsessively. I’m not really into big weddings, but something about watching them on TV is just a lot of fun. I couldn’t understand why I wanted so badly to catch up on an old show that I had all but lost interest in until I realized that this is another pattern of mine: regression. When I begin to suffer from depression more severely, my brain will gradually nudge me to things that were comfortable to me in the past. My brain thinks that if I can watch TV from a better time, maybe I’ll actually feel better. Unfortunately, the ornate wedding gowns, theatrical ceremonies, and petty comments haven’t quite done the trick yet, but I’ll keep you posted…
As someone who takes pride in how self-aware she is, I was shocked when I took a step back and realized how much my mental health had taken a backslide. Once the initial realization hit me, however, all of the signs — both small and large — became even more apparent. Luckily, now that I see these things happening, I can begin to adjust for them and make sure that I’m taking care of myself properly. I may not know what steps to take, but knowing that something needs to be done is the first step. And at this point, all I can do is take one step at a time.
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/