Coping With My Mental Illness

Not many people can say they know the specific date that they hit rock bottom, but I can—November 8, 2019. I woke up that morning after having spent almost all of the previous afternoon and evening in my bed, too apathetic and low to even get up. I didn’t manage it at all on the 8th, only stumbling into the shower that night. Then I went right back to bed. I don’t really know what happened next, but I had an epiphany of sorts. Maybe I had just enough hindsight or self-awareness, but I realized that I had, in fact, hit rock bottom. This was the end result of the downward spiral I’d been in for the last few days. Once I realized that, I knew I would be able to start to try and climb back up.

But the climb is difficult. The insidious thing about depression is that it’s not caused by any specific event. It happens because of faulty mood regulation by the brain, which messes with the thousands of chemical reactions going on in our bodies all the time. Even more from that, the social stigma surrounding depression is a major reason why those of us who suffer from it struggle so much. Because depression often has no obvious and clear cause, somebody with it is often accused of being sad about nothing, or being over-dramatic. When I hear people say stuff like that, it makes me feel that much guiltier. I know logically I have nothing to feel guilty about, but logic is no match for mental illness. I got twisted up so much that I once wondered if I was tricking myself into faking my depression, just because I was so convinced that I didn’t have any right to be depressed. 

Depression is daunting and scary, but a mental illness is still just an illness, and those can be cured through the right process. Once I became determined to pull myself out of the hole I’d fallen into, I embarked on that process. One of my problems had been that I was prone to bottling up my feelings and emotions. I was too scared to actually deal with them, so I locked them up and tried to ignore them. I built a dam in my mind, but once that dam broke everything hit me at once and I couldn’t handle it. So now I’ve stopped bottling things up—I allow myself to actually feel things and process them naturally instead of hiding from them. 

Probably the most useful coping method I’ve discovered, however, comes from Taoism, a system of philosophy from ancient China. I’m not a Taoist, but I know something smart when I see it. A big part of their philosophy is to be like water. By that, they mean to be adaptable. When an obstacle falls into a river, it simply flows around the thing and keeps coursing. Don’t try to fight against the current; allow it to take you where you need to go. Once I started to actively try and apply this to my life, I found that a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I used to make things worse for myself when I was in a depressive episode because I would stress out so much about little things that were beyond my control.

I’m not recommending those ideas as general, one-size-fits-all cures for depression. Every case is unique.  And they’re not really cures, anyway. But they’ve helped me significantly, and though I’m not at 100%, I’m no longer at 0%, either.