COMING DOWN WITH DEPRESSION, PART II: HEALING

Sunday, May 19, 2019
This is the second post in a little two-part series I've written on my experiences with anxiety and depression. I personally feel that everyone has a mental health story. None of our bodies are exempt from getting sick, so why wouldn't each of our minds, at times, also be unwell? I'm so happy to finally share story with you. Read Part I here -- COMING DOWN WITH DEPRESSION, PART I: HURTING. And for Part II, read on... 💛


I've learned volumes about anxiety and depression in the last two years since that doctor's appointment in 2017, and one major fact about the conditions is that the spectrum for both is large. You don't have to have anxiety attacks to be ruled by anxiety. You don’t have to be reclusive, sleepy, and numb to be depressed. You can largely be yourself - functional and "okay" - and yet still be squashed by the conditions.

For me, I was always functional and on-and-off anxious and depressed. In fact, I still maintained my happiness a lot of the time. But if life really knocked me down somehow, anxiety jumped in quick, often escalating my feelings to depression.

My anxiety-turned-depression, I learned to see, revealed itself in big life changes (babies, cross-country moves, running businesses, barreling through big degrees, changed or strained relationships). It manifested itself in worry after trying to cope with the changes — of trying to combat a sense of abandonment that seems to always accompany change for me while desperately seeking normalcy.

My mind's anxiety flared with perfectionism. It took some introspection, but I finally realized one day that I lived in a cycle of doing well and feeling great -- I'd perfectly cover my bases, check my boxes, work hard, do good -- until somehow, in some way, my efforts weren't "good enough." Because of a mishap I’d made in my mothering, or disapproval I received from family, or the rejection I got from friends -- because of my supposed "mistake" -- my ambition would screech to a halt. I would mentally freeze. Which, then, made me sad. I know what I'm capable of doing, I know what I want to do. Why can't I just keep doing it? 

Anxiety reared its head in my mind with self-deprecating thoughts. Like a tough coach, I used to mentally bark out my faults as a woman, friend, wife, and mother so as to motivate myself to change. But no, instead of those thoughts making me rise up, they mentally shut me down.

I could always function through my cycles of stressed, scared, and sad moods and I could eventually kick them, which is why I didn't ever think I was depressed. Or that I had anxiety. Sad and nervous at times? Sure. But depression and anxiety? No.

Thus the wake-up call that I wasn't mentally well was a godsend. I wasn't okay, and that, ironically, was okay! Acknowledging and admitting my problem largely tackled my problem. Taking baby steps toward healing my mind ensued afterward for me. They're simple, and to this day, I still take them...

What I have learned to DO to keep anxiety and depression at bay:

1. Tag anxieties, see realities

I have what I fondly call, "My Anxiety Notebook," which I turn to when I feel real anxiety really coming on. This little notebook has helped me immensely.  I list the anxieties that are worrying me -- current relationships, old wounds, lost friendships, social pressures -- anything and everything. I write down what the worry is, why it is hurting me, and what I can actually, literally do about it. Not surprisingly, by the time I get to the "what" as to how I can solve the problem, I often realize that I can't or don't need to do much to solve the problem -- the anxiety isn't as big of a problem as my mind was making it out to be! Even better, a very common "what" I can do about a particular anxiety surfaces: to see the good in the person or the situation, to ask God to intervene and help them and to help me, and then - since I've passed on the issue to  Him (a much higher, much more effective power than myself), my mind lets it go. The anxiety literally leaves. Or, if the anxiety does have a solution that I can name, then voila -- I have ground to get working toward. Name it to tame it.

2. Speak up, sister

I have learned to honestly, unhesitatingly communicate my needs in my closest relationships. For example, I've learned that to majorly combat feeling alone in motherhood, I need my Ryan -- above all  people in my life -- to see me in my work and to thank and applaud me. So since we work apart throughout every day and can't "see" each other, we text. Our specific game-plan is that whenever one of us thinks of each other in any way, we shoot over a quick text. I was blown away as I saw how much Ryan literally thought about me during his every single day as we started connecting this way. The man was texting me every couple hours! I mean, I knew Ryan saw my needs and loved me (why else does he invest in working so hard for the girls and me to thrive?), but to get a glimpse of his thoughts in real-time was powerful for my mind. I wasn't alone. I was so loved by him. I was -- I am -- his world, just as he is mine.

3. Let my people in

Still working on this one, but I've come a long way in believing others when they say that they want to help me, which (um, obviously!) has helped ease my sense of being alone immensely. Like last week, when I was updating my friend on my pregnancy, she offered to have Claire and Emmy come play at her house while Olivia was in school so that I could have time for myself. Instead of responding with a, "You're so nice -- thank you. I'll let you know if I need you!" I said, "Are you sure? Because I'd really love that. Does Friday work?" Turns out, her Friday was booked but her upcoming week is open, so we're meshing our schedules this week.

I don't know if I harbor a fear of being let down because of times when my "help" actually couldn't help, or because I don't want to bother others (or both?), but I have had to really learn to bravely let others in. Uncomfortable vulnerability is dumped all over me in doing so, but it's worth it. I get to see how people really do love me, they really can show up. I'm really not so alone.

4. Accept the "empty wells"

One of my dear friends in San Diego is a therapist (I've dubbed her my therapist!) and we talk all things "life" almost daily after kindergarten pick up. The concept of "empty wells" that she recently shared with me is pure gold. "Don't draw from the empty wells," she told me. "It hurts to accept that the wells, or people, you want to or should be able to draw from in your life are dry, but it hurts you even more to then stand back and mourn or criticize those people's insufficiencies. Find the full wells around you and draw from them." 

Ding! A light burst on in my mind when she told me that. Yes, why should I sit around and feel sad about how I've been let down or left alone? Why shouldn't I see the empty wells in my life with more empathy and grace? Aren't I an empty well, too (isn't that why I'm looking to certain wells for help)? No need to mope about what isn't or what can't be. As I've accepted the "empty wells" in my life, gifted those good souls with more empathy and grace (again, the same kindness I seek!), and found my life's full wells to drawn from, I have been able to heal.

5. Forgive and speak highly of me

As we all have done, I assume, I've been so guilty of criticizing myself after falling short somehow in my roles. EX, I lose my cool with the girls and quickly my thoughts run to, "You're such a bad mom. They didn't deserve that kind of reaction. Why are you so mean? They need someone so much better than you." You can't hide the truth -- if I lost my cool and was unkind, I lost my cool and was unkind. But what I do not do anymore is berate myself. I don't criticize myself mentally at ALL anymore, not for any mishap, big or small. If I lose my cool with my baby girls, I acknowledge that I made a mistake, both to myself and to the girls. I verbally apologize both to myself and the girls, and then I figure out what I'm lacking so that I can better stay calm next time.

I speak highly of me. This kind of true self-love has turned my mind and heart around completely. I do love myself. And I am more capable than ever of loving others as a result.

6. Give gratitude my mind's greatest space

It takes some cognizance, but making the most room in my thoughts for gratitude -- gratitude for everything that happens to me -- has relieved me of so much depressing mental weight. Like when I am unloading the dishwasher for the hundredth time in a week, instead of thinking, "I am unloading ANOTHER load of dishes and again NO ONE is helping me" as I often used to think, I instead mentally say, "I can't believe this machine washed these dishes for me. In my sleep!" It's the glass-half-full concept, and it's nothing novel, but intentionally, literally flipping so many hard, isolating situations in my life as a mother and seeing them for what they give me has been an absolute gift to my well-being.
If any of this comes across as "Jeni has it all together," and/or that I'm doing everything right, please remember: I DON'T. Have I learned so, so much in the last two years as I've worked to understand myself and to heal? Yes. But look at that time frame -- two years! And there is still learning that I'm undergoing! I have made progress, though, and I am so, so grateful that. The peeling away of layer after layer in my mind and heart in order to understand myself -- my voids, my needs, my bad habits -- has been farthest from easy. It has been painful. You've seen a wound from road rash -- open, tender, red skin with bits of dirt, rocks, and road. Scraping out that debris hurts. But meticulously removing  each residual piece from your crash lets the wound fully, completely, beautifully heal. No pain no gain, right? I like to flip it, too: lots of pain, lots of gain.

Being mentally strong has given me so much hope for the arrival of my fourth baby girl. Of course I'll struggle as I adjust, but will I feel alone? It marvels me to say it considering my story, but honestly, no. Not if I don't want to. At this point, I know too much -- too much about how to take care of myself, how to reach up and out for help, how to process my feelings. If I come to believe that I am, again, "alone," it will largely be by my choice. Yes my brain chemistry will be thrown, my hormones will go a little crazy, I can (and likely will!) still be anxious and depressed at times. If my mind deeply struggles again, yes I'll again get professional help. But I've learned and accepted that being alone is part of the motherhood package, and do I need to feel loneliness to the extent of my past experiences with this life rodeo? I don't think so.

My greatest thanks in this journey goes to my Heavenly Father. When I have seen that I've been unwell and then plead with Him to help me get better, He has delivered. He has guided me to the right professional help; He has given me the stamina to work hard to change. His Son, Jesus Christ, has then ultimately gifted me a changed mind. God lives. His Son empowers. They have never left me alone.

Then, I have to say thanks to my Ryan. His are the purest eyes this world has ever known. Ryan doesn't see what I lack. He only sees how I succeed, even in the middle of my muddled, miserable failures, and his kind eyes toward me on my journey have meant everything. His confidence in me is so concrete, I can't help but stand taller with and through him. I love my Ryan so deeply for being there for me.

And to my beautiful baby girls -- if or when you read this in your future days as a new mothers -- know this: your mother loved you. I love you! I love you for the catalyst you have each been to my growth. I love you for your unbelievable patience with and forgiveness of me as I've learned to be better and while stumbling and tripping (and stumbling and tripping). Your eyes for me are just like your Daddy's: kind and positive and oh so good. You are angels, my girls. Thank you for loving me.
And to my friends across the world wide web -- thank you for reading. How I hope my story helps one of you along your way. I know you feel absolutely alone at times, but truly, we are so in this together.

XO

Jeni

All photos in this post were taken by my talented friend, Ashely So'oto, just after Emmy was born and just before we moved from VA. Two years later, they still spark a sense of magic for me. Thank you forever for them, Ashley! 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this! It's nice to know there's a virtual tribe of mamas going through the same stuff you are - the fast and slow of mothering and the fight for mental wellness. I could relate to so much of it- the hubby in grad school 24/7 thing, missing that good old STG sun, the independence/isolation fine line, breathing easier even just after hearing a diagnosis... and others- bad experience with a hormonal IUD and food intolerances were a big part of my journey of healing! There's a podcast by Live Free Creative called MOTHERING THE MOTHERS that goes along with all of what you wrote! We have to mother ourselves too!! <3 Love your beautiful writing & photos.

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    1. Thank you so much, Kelsey. <3 There really is SUCH a tribe of women out there. I love so much that you can relate to so many particulars in my story (grad school husband, STG, that fine independence line)! And thanks for that podcast rec -- I'll check it out! xoxox

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