The following is not about coping with depression. That’s a topic that’s dealt with and written about immensely, and unfortunately, there is no cure-all remedy. Not to mention finding a recovery strategy is a lot like finding a spouse or finding your true career path which takes trial and error, self discovery, experimentation, effort, and compromise.
Like I said, there’s plenty of existing material out there about diagnosing and overcoming mental illness, but there’s far less on the aftermath. By that I mean most guidebooks focus on identifying the problem and treating it, tying up the rest of your life into a concise little epilogue. Good for you, you can smile for no reason now! Here’s the doorway out to the rest of your entire life; be sure to leave the “depression” or “anxiety” label in the recycle bin on your way out. Then once the now-formerly depressed individual realizes they’re at the ending point of the once-infinite road of utter despair, they find themselves circling a rotary of where to go next. These new opportunities are just as daunting. I’m okay, I guess...now what?
Hitting that point is surreal. Life isn’t going to seem anything like reality for a while. It’s going to feel like a trick, a lie strategically designed by the monsters in your head to fool you into thinking you’re getting better when you’re actually getting worse. Speaking from my own experience, depression feels like cancer of the mind. It tears away at you until you’re not quite sure who you are or even were before, and it sits there feeling permanent. It promises that while you might be able to function despite its presence now and then, it’s not going anywhere. It’s a lifetime commitment. (Or, so it claims when it first crawls in.)
For some people, it is forever, like a small, hidden tattoo that they’ll eventually get used to. Just like any illness, some make it to a full recovery while others do not. But perhaps the reason that some people seem to struggle with it through their entire lives is because they don’t believe they can ever get past it. However, recovering - even if temporarily - still counts. It’s just tough to recognize, especially since people dealing with mental illness are prone to wave off improvement as a fluke.
I know I did. Back before things were “okay,” I of course tried to make them that way. I smoothed out the creases with any possible method I could think of, usually by redesigning my appearance, my taste, and my general routine. Still, I seemed to be destined to make the same mistakes - whether it was submerging myself into a rickety relationship almost immediately after meeting someone, or taking on handfuls of projects in areas I knew virtually nothing about, or putting myself in risky situations because I figured:if I try enough times, the outcome might change.
I conducted most of these practices with minimal sleep and mindless decisions, replacing actual energy and rationality with caffeine, alcohol, adrenaline, and a series of curious shrugs.
This was how things continued to not be “okay”. Being miserable was, thus, something I got used to. Many people do. Things aren’t perfect, life takes effort, work isn’t always supposed to be fun, and we need to support ourselves somehow. Long, boiling-hot showers and burying your face in pillows become sources of salvation. After a while, you simply accept when things aren’t fine and you’re not okay because depression and anxiety…those aren’t rarities anymore. They’re generic-brand labels. Those differences that would have made you alternative and special in high school are the very things that fit you into an ever-growing statistic alongside everybody else now.
So… what about the day you wake up, look forward to going into your job or class that day because you really enjoy the work you’re doing and the people you interact with, and you have leftover spaghetti for lunch, and maybe the day isn’t completely perfect, but by the end of it you get to wrap up by watching an old DVD you forgot you had and you fall asleep texting somebody who makes you giggly-happy?
What about when things become, dare I say it, okay? The realization is slow. You start talking about the bad in past tense. You start laughing more, for no reason. You start being sad a little less, and these instances usually tend to have accompanying reasons. You start to be able to pull yourself out of bed because of things you need and want to do, and it hurts a little less to push the covers off and put clean clothes on. Your routine becomes comfortable, even comforting, and the occasional tweak doesn’t set your world on fire.
It’s hard to admit when these things happen. Mental illness can be, after all, something of a safety net. It’s something to blame when you’re feeling all wrong. We grow attached and accustomed to the labels given to us by society, doctors, and ourselves. Peeling the labels off and living life as if we’re just another ‘okay’ person is daunting and weird. It’s not something you do overnight. It’s not always something that lasts forever.
But do yourself a favor - take a moment now and then to be mindful, and think about what you need, want, and feel. A good day doesn’t have to be a fluke. Productivity doesn’t have to mean something terrible is around the corner. You’ve earned the happiness that comes with fighting a long battle inside of yourself. Reap the rewards and embrace being okay when it comes to you.