“Are you afraid of anxiety and depression?”
Jonny and I are sitting at our dining room table (read: our card table, decorated with a pretty white and turquoise tablecloth, located in the section of apartment designated the dining room despite its lack of room-indicating walls). We’re talking over empty plates, too full to move from the fold-able chairs to comfortable seats.
Content Warning: anxiety, depression, overcompensation
I’ve always been as open and honest as possible about my struggles with mental health; I’ve always tried to explain them to Jonny, a mentally healthy person, so that he can understand and support me. He has always done his best to listen, to read what I send him, to ask questions rather than assume. We work well together.
But the question catches me off guard, even if the answer is easy.
“A lot of your planning — it seems to be to try and prevent depression, but you get anxious about the amount of things you ‘need’ to do.”
He’s right. I take on a lot, and then I take on more when I feel like I’m not doing enough. As we’re talking, there are piles of clothing in the bedroom that I’m sorting, there’s an assortment of items on the living room floor from where I was trying to take flat lay photos, and my dried-lavender-bunch-to-potpourri-pouch is halfway done and waiting on the kitchen counter. Three projects in progress at once. (Three projects I had just started that day, on top of all of the other things I have going on.)
If I keep myself busy, I don’t have the time to be unwell. Too much to do, too little time. As soon as I slow down, my mind spirals and it’s hard to find the motivation to do anything again. Therefore, as much as I want to love “mental health days”, I avoid them. Relaxing is a fantasy. Being able to sit and do nothing would be nice, but my mind doesn’t stop when I physically try to do nothing. Sleep evades me unless I’m exhausted (sometimes even then).
So I plan. I come up with projects, ideas, things to do, stuff to try. I pick up a few more tasks, I buy a new planner, look up trips we can’t afford, try a reading challenge I can’t possibly complete because of everything else I’m attempting at once. I feel good when I’m planning and executing, like I’m being productive, but I know that I’m just running. And I’m getting tired. And a day of nothing sounds more and more appealing.
He asks me if I’m afraid, and the answer is yes, of course. I’m terrified. Every time I’m going through a “high”, much of it is spent preparing for the “low”. Like if I go, go, gogogo fast enough while I’m feeling good, I can race myself right through it, like I can just keep going forever. Like if I find a hobby that I enjoy enough, if that love for that hobby is stronger than my mental health, then I can defeat the cycle of anxiety and depression.
My mental health is a roller coaster that’s tame in some areas, and a 90′ drop in others, and it’s what I’ve been living with for as long as I can remember. I go through periods when I try therapy and/or medications, periods when I find non-medical ways to cope, and periods when I don’t deal with it and it consumes me for a while.
I’m currently on the “DO ALL THE THINGS” track*. Some of my projects are working out, but I’ll have to admit defeat on a few because I’m overwhelmed. (That damned reading challenge is irritating, but I’ll do a separate concession post at the end of the month when the challenge period ends.) Being overwhelmed doesn’t help my anxiety. I’ve been particularly full of existential dread for the past few weeks, probably because I’m racing through my days and not accomplishing every single thing on my want-to-do list.
We hold ourselves to the highest standards, and we’re our own worst critics.
I suppose this post is my note to self to chill the fuck out, have more realistic expectations of myself, and believe that it’s okay. A reminder that I have the best partner in the world because he makes me realize things about myself (like habits that I didn’t notice and that aren’t the best). This post is also a long way of saying that the cycle exists, I acknowledge it, and I work with it (even if not using the best methods).
Do you suffer from anxiety and/or depression? What other mental health struggles do you have? How do you cope? How are you today?
Thank you for reading.
*The DO ALL THE THINGS track: Have a list of all the things. Accomplish a handful. Beat self up about not doing all the things. Add more things to the list to compensate and busy your mind while waiting for sleep to happen. Try again and fail harder the next day.