I can’t take naps during the day anymore, even when I’m exhausted. B and I don’t have kids, animals or a big house to care for, but somehow there are always chores to be done, to-do lists to tend to, projects to work on. I catch up on phone calls, schedule meetings or send emails while I walk. I read on the bus and pray in the shower. I don’t have a stressful life, I just tend to shy away from idle time. It’s been that way for years, ever since I learned that as long as I kept moving, it wouldn’t come back as often. I’m 29 and I’m consistently happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life. The other day, however, uncomfortable with being forced to sit idle in a superfluously long meeting, I realized that as far as I’ve come I’m still afraid it will come back if I hold still for too long.
I used to get pretty bad bouts of depression, especially in high school and college. There were days, sometimes even weeks when I had little desire to put effort into dressing myself, going anywhere, doing anything at all. I’ve emerged from the major hormonal hurricanes of my teens, evolved as a person, and I’m fortunate enough not to have to contend with the kind of depression I battled when I was younger. That’s not to say that depression is entirely a thing of the past for me. There are still days once in a while when it threatens to alter my perspective, change my experience. But I’ve worked very hard to learn how to keep it at bay and stay in a good place. It’s been a long and bumpy road towards balance and overall happiness, but well-being is like anything else worth having- you have to work to get it and fight to keep it.
I always wanted to be happy but for a long time I didn’t quite know how to be happy. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a little bit of sadness settled in the pit of my stomach, an element of dread I never really could put my finger on. I did well to bury it with a million friends and faces and material things and parties and books and music and constant movement and stimulation. But every few months, there would be a few days or a week when I got tired of piling one thing on top of another on top of the sadness and I’d collapse. I’d stay home from school or skip class, say I was sick and sleep for longer than I now consider humanly possible. I would call out of work and eat and sleep all day, close the curtains and watch shameful amounts of Lifetime or E! I didn’t ever ball my eyes out or freak out or have meltdowns in a corner somewhere. It was never that dramatic. Certainly nothing worthy of Lifetime or E!. I was just there, taking up space. Void of the energy to think or move or live. Void of any desire to be myself. God it was bad. I’ve forgotten how bad it was.
I realize now, as I write this, that the anticipation of one of these bouts of depression was almost worse than the “shut down” itself. It often came with little warning; as I got older I could feel it sneaking up behind me but I still couldn’t figure out how to stop it from swallowing me up for a few days. I stood atop One Market Plaza once and watched the fog roll in through the Golden Gate. I had never seen it like that before – with the advantage of an unobstructed panoramic perspective. It sidles in one finger at a time, painfully slow to a focused eye. As soon as you turn around for a moment though, the whole city is cloaked in damp, dank, grey.
At a certain point I got sick of waiting for the depression to come, I got sick of fighting it off with constant movement and hyper -vigilance, I got sick of feeling it. I knew I needed a little help finding my way, but after countless brief bouts of therapy with detached therapists, I didn’t want to lie on a couch and talk about why I hated my body or where my fears came from anymore. I wanted to talk about how to change. I stuck with therapy and bounced around until I found someone that I knew could give me the tools to fight depression and break out of the cycle of torturing my body. That doctor told me that peace and happiness were inside me, always had been and always will be, and that I just needed to learn to stop piling so much sh*t over it. I liked that idea. It gave me hope.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about which habits, indulgences and behaviors help my overall well-being and which ones inhibit it. I’ve changed my diet; I’ve identified forms of exercise that help keep me in a positive state of mind. I try to get enough sleep and take care of myself inside and out. I remind myself every day that I deserve to be happy and that I get to choose how my life plays out. But I’m still learning to enjoy and appreciate quiet, still moments. Yoga has helped tremendously with that, as has mindful awareness and meditation. Those are things I laughed at when first suggested. They seemed impossibly simple remedies for my overly complicated mind. But now I know that they are invaluable stepping stones on my road to enjoying a well-deserved afternoon nap or a perfectly trashy Lifetime movie in the daylight– without feeling like I’m opening the door for depression and inviting it in.