I’m a person who struggles with anxiety and depression. I wasn’t born depressed, but I definitely have a tendency to develop depression as a part of my personality. I remember being 13 and feeling a “dark thing” enter me and it left me in shadow most of the time ever after.
Anxiety and depression limit what I do in life. There are some normal activities I steer clear of because they cause me too much anxiety, and I could probably be capable of having a higher-level career if I was able to handle anxiety better. Sometimes I find myself wanting to do something but unable to do it because I am paralyzed with a sort of dark heaviness that drains my energy beyond reason.
The dark heaviness is often coming from life circumstances and although it might look like a chemical imbalance if someone were to scan my brain, I don’t think it’s an inborn trait. I have a sense of weariness that comes from the frustration of identifying problems every day that I want to solve that I can’t solve, and knowing that each day will bring new problems, many of which I still will not be able to solve. I have a sense of hopelessness from knowing that the world I live in is totally wrong and yet the task of fixing it is unfathomably large and hardly anyone around me is willing to even look at what the problem is. I am very emotionally sensitive and sometimes when I’m feeling tired, frustrated and hopeless it causes additional effects like trouble concentrating, feeling “spaced out” and forgetful. When I’m in this state, tired and spaced out, I make stupid mistakes, and then I get more frustrated, which causes a snowball effect where I keep feeling worse and worse until I just want to escape from my life. All these factors are a part of the Dark Thing.
I have found cognitive behavioural therapy very useful, and I took medication for a few years. I am not on medication now, but sometimes I’m on the verge of needing to go back on it because I’m not doing well.
There are a few reasons why I don’t want to be medicated. I have a belief that medicating depression just covers up the problem without solving it. I hate the pharmaceutical industry and I don’t want to give them any money. I hate drugs and don’t want them in my body. I’m scared of side effects–both known and unknown. I’ve been on medication before and I know that it numbs me—I feel less anxiety and depression, which is good, but I also feel less joy. I am capable of feeling joy sometimes, and I want to keep that capacity. I also know that anti-depressants kill my sex drive, and since sex is one of my favourite things in life, I don’t want to lose that. It’s a contradiction to give up one of the few things you enjoy in order to feel better. It’s just trading one problem for another problem of equal magnitude. Not worth it.
My official plan is to manage my mental health by meditating. I know that meditating helps me a lot, because I’ve done it before and it has helped me a lot. It helps me by relaxing me, which makes it easier to sleep, easier to think clearly, and easier to deal with problems. This prevents the Dark Thing from building up too much. Sitting quietly and listening to my body also means that I acknowledge feelings I’m having that want to be acknowledged, which means that when they feel heard they can finally let go, and I feel better. If I don’t listen to my feelings then they build up until I can’t ignore them, and at that point I’m usually not even a functioning human being anymore.
I don’t necessarily follow my official plan though. I don’t do meditation very often even though I know I need it. It’s hard to explain why this is, but my best guess is that it’s exhausting to process emotions and our default habit as humans is to find distractions in order to avoid them. I also have an underlying attitude that it’s silly or frivolous to just sit and listen to my body for a while. This is an attitude I need to let go of. It’s not silly or frivolous to take care of yourself, and emotional care is as important as any other kind of care.
Sometimes I have a really bad time, where I either cease to function entirely and just sit still feeling paralyzed, or when I lose it and start sobbing. In these moments I face the fact that I either have to start meditating or I have to take antidepressants again. It’s one or the other, I don’t get to choose neither. And yet old habits are hard to shake. I’m still at an impasse where I haven’t done much of anything and I’m letting myself just be a mess.
Just this month I did finally sit quietly and listen to my body again, and I was amazed that I got all sorts of insights and clarity in a short time. I also felt more relaxed. I know that the brain gets into habits with emotions, and when the brain is in the habit of feeling anxiety it jumps right to that feeling all the time and stays there. I know that retraining the brain to feel something else is a process that requires a change of habits and a practice over time. I know I can do this is if I stick to it. I should do this regularly, not just when I’m in a crisis, because that’s how you prevent a crisis.
Even though I don’t like taking medication, I did for a while because I wasn’t going to be able to get through my life otherwise. I went off it a few years later when I got more stable.
Even though I don’t like taking medication, I wouldn’t try to stop someone else from taking it. We all get to make our own decisions about how we take care of ourselves, and we all respond differently to medication—some people might like it better than I do.
Some people might look at my situation and think I’m absolutely crazy for not being on medication. I clearly am losing out on some things in life because I have mental illness that is untreated. This is where values and priorities come in. I value the feelings of joy that I feel really strongly when I’m unmedicated and I value having a sex drive. Feeling sexual desire is actually one of my sources of energy. I have a right as a human being to feel joy and to feel sexual desire and to be energized by that. I have the right not to have that numbed. If I had less anxiety I might be able to move into higher positions at work, but I don’t think this is something I need. I don’t have much money, but I also don’t think money is that important.
I don’t think children and youth should be medicated, because there is a risk of side effects, one of them being increased suicidal feelings, which is a very big deal. I think young people need to learn how to manage their emotions and they shouldn’t be encouraged to see drugs as a solution to problems, because that’s the wrong approach. Medicating a person numbs them to emotions, good and bad. When you medicate a young person, they might lose the opportunity to learn to experience joy as well as pain.
If there was a large lobby group insisting that everyone with depression necessarily had to take pills, and that was trying to cover up other ways to deal with depression, and that was calling people “bigots” for managing depression in ways other than medication, then I’d be really pissed. This would limit the choices available to people for how to take care of themselves, and it would steer everyone toward the method that generates money for capitalism instead of the method that connects us to our humanity. If there was such a lobby group, I’d call them a part of capitalism and I’d say they didn’t care much about depressed people.
Feeling the emotional impact of the shitty world humans have created is a part of the human experience, and we can decide that it’s a reason to make things better, or we can decide to blame ourselves for being defective and just numb ourselves to it. Some people might have to numb themselves because they have no other choice, they can’t manage otherwise. I’m not trying to judge those people, I know it’s rough. I have been there. But anyone who can should fight for a better world so that people don’t have to feel this way in the first place.
You have probably guessed by now why I decided to write this post—because my attitude toward anxiety and depression is the same as my attitude toward gender dysphoria. I think our natural feelings are a part of who we are and can be managed, and I think that being born with a tendency to feel uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean we have to use medical interventions. This is my attitude toward mental illness, including my own.