I have a confession to make. When I talk about my therapist, or going to therapy, this is a recent development in my life. I struggled through years of depression, thinking that I was managing it well with medication, check-ins with my psychopharmacologist, and self-care, until I finally realized last fall that the illness was taking things from me, from my life, that I wanted back. And so finally, after talking about it for years, I started seeing a therapist regularly for the first time since graduating college.
One of the worst things about depression is that it’s a disease that so desperately needs treatment, so critically requires care from others, and yet, during these all-important times of need, all the sick person wants is to be alone, to stay in bed under the covers where it’s known to be safe, and not to reach out to others in an uncomfortable search for help.
But I made the leap, and yes, it was uncomfortable. I’ve had to face some things about myself, about who I am and how my mind works. I’ve had to cry in front of this stranger-turned-therapist, reaching for tissues as I ponder the grip depression has had on my life for the past few years. But slowly, I’m gaining insight into myself and my life, and this (while painful) has been helpful. Here’s a peek at what exactly I’m finding out.
I care about what others think. My therapist has been telling me this since day one, and I struggled to believe her. I’m pretty happy to do my own thing; I’m not striving for prestige in my career or trying to appear more successful than I am; I don’t spend hours trying to show the outside world how together my life is. (Obviously, someone who writes in her blog about the days she doesn’t shower is not trying to pretend she always has it going on.) But there’s another way to care about what people think, and that’s to be afraid of disappointing them. Maybe it comes from growing up as a pastor’s kid in a small, microscopic town; maybe it comes from being known as a goody-goody and a straight-A student in high school. Maybe it comes from an internal drive to please others. Who knows? Part of it is just in me. It’s been hard for me to admit that this is true (and isn’t that, in and of itself, evidence that I care what others think?) but acknowledging that no, I don’t want to disappoint my loved ones, and yes, I do want them to think highly of who I am and what I do, has been helpful in my process of understanding where some of my negative thoughts and self-doubt, two driving forces of depression, have come from.
I have a strong tendency to self-isolate, which only continues the cycle of depression. “I worry about you being alone with your thoughts all the time,” my therapist said to me the last time we met. “You spend all day working from home while your husband’s out at work, and then he has his coaching jobs, and you’re home that whole time just thinking. That’s not good for a person with depression.” I protested, saying that I love working from home, that I’m an introvert by nature, that I would be exhausted trying to be “on” all day for co-workers. I explain that working from home allows me to save energy for weekday afternoon plans with friends and weekend socializing. Then, quietly, I admit that on bad days (or sometimes on fine days) I cancel those plans and just stay home. I don’t wander out to the coffee shop a block away, I don’t go sit on the beach and read my book when it’s nice out. I stay home. With my thoughts. A desire to isolate oneself from all outside surroundings is a normal part of depression; but it’s also responsible for causing that depression to continue. There’s a fine line between taking down time when it’s needed as a part of caring for myself and isolating from loved ones because I don’t feel worthy of them when I’m at my lowest. I need to seek better balance.
I’m not lazy. Okay, well, first: of course there is a part of me that’s lazy. I like to sleep in. I like to lounge on the couch and read, and I can binge-watch TV with the best of them. I’m not particularly a go-getter. But as I explained to my therapist all the things I could be doing with my afternoons and weekends in my bustling, quaint suburban town in New England, and then told her how I had no motivation or desire to do any of them most days, I bluntly told her, “I think I’m just lazy. It’s not like I couldn’t do those things if I really wanted to.” She looked me square in the eye and told me, “I don’t think you’re lazy. It’s the depression.” I started to cry. It’s something I’ve believed about myself for so long, and blamed myself for, and felt so much guilt over, that I felt an overwhelming sense of relief to have someone affirm that this is not who I am at my core. The depression monster, as I am starting to refer to him, is the one driving that piece of my behavior right now. To know that this could change, that this is a symptom of illness and not a personality flaw, took pounds upon pounds of weight off my shoulders. Learning to congratulate myself on the hard work of getting through the day, of recognizing that I am spending my energy fighting the monster and not just sitting around in my house, has been enlightening and rewarding. I’m not lazy; I’m just using my energy trying to get and stay well.
I’m only scratching the surface of what I’m learning in therapy, of course; that relationship is private and no one needs to hear the nitty-gritty details of those behind-doors conversations. But I wanted to share some of this because I think it’s a valuable reminder that there’s no substitute for finding an objective, distanced person to talk through your “stuff” with. What I’m learning will stay with me and help me as I change, grow, and heal, and the thought of trying to white-knuckle my way through this disease without professional help now sounds impractical, never mind painful. Discomfort is a small price to pay for learning to practice self-awareness and treat myself with kindness.