When I think back on 2020, I’ll probably recall a tumultuous, trying, and confusing time. It’s been a year of adaptation, change, and persistence, and there are still a few months to go. I’ve spent most of this year fighting my depression and anxiety—and losing on more days than I’d like to admit.
But, maybe most importantly, 2020 is the year I went back to therapy.
It’s human nature to find ways to adapt, heal our bruises, innovate, and push forward. The struggles of this year, coupled with the approaching winter months, may have you worried about feeling glum, exhausted, or depressed. According to World Health Organization, more than 264 million people are affected by depression globally. And the shift from summer to fall triggers Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, for a number of us.
With so many dealing with depression, why does the harsh stigma around it still exist? Why, when I’m down for the count, do I feel alone in my fight?
Depression tricks your brain, and while I don’t have all the answers, here are some tips, experiences, and resources that help me get through the really hard days.
Disclaimer: If you or someone you know is struggling with poor mental health, depression, or suicidal thoughts, reach out to a physician, registered counselor, or therapist as soon as possible.
For me, recognizing and naming my depression was huge. I spent a solid two years drowning in emotions, not understanding why I wasn’t feeling the way I always had. My typical fixes didn’t work, and friends and family noticed I wasn’t my cheery self. I isolated myself and lost interest in my hobbies. I struggled with fatigue, my appetite was all over the place, and I felt hollow inside.
Asking for help is the first step to getting better—but it’s not an easy one. When you battle with poor mental health, it’s the line in the sand where you relinquish control. You wave a white flag, but instead of giving up, you ask for reinforcements. It’s scary. It takes a lot of courage and humility. And it’s worth it.
Dealing with depression, anxiety, and mental health is like decrypting a cipher only you can read. Once you’ve decoded your actions and emotions, you discover the reality of what’s going on.
My dad was the first person to bring up my depression. It wasn’t until he put a name to how I was feeling that it clicked for me. The first code was deciphered, and I found great power in calling it out. I wasn’t becoming this solemn person—I was dealing with depression. I knew I needed help to regain control of my life.
Depression is different for everyone. Take time to understand how you’re feeling and what you need to take your power back.
Therapy has taught me how to tune in to my emotions, track their source, and be okay with what I’m feeling. Fair warning, sometimes the mental effort it takes to tap into your emotions can be draining, so try to get to where you can always be tuned in. On days when I feel my emotions are ruling me, I prefer to access them at the beginning and end of the day.
Emotions are complex. Left unchecked, they can be overwhelming and controlling—especially if you’re struggling. But you always have the power to confront them. As you identify your emotions, it’s easier to recognize your triggers, or tell someone else why you feel the way you do.
Meditation helps draw my focus inward. When I have an unwanted emotion, or a damaging thought or feeling, I acknowledge it without judgment, sit with it, and then move past it. Knowing what you’re feeling allows you to name it and recognize its root—from there, you can finally acknowledge it, address it, and hopefully let it go. Feeling is hard work, but it’s beautiful to connect with your inner self and grow through emotional intelligence.
Take an emotional inventory:
How do you feel?
How do you wish you felt?
Where is your sadness/anger/anxiety/emptiness, etc. coming from?
What do you do when you feel this way?
Is there something you can do to help you not feel this way, or feel better? Maybe go for a walk, draw a bath, call a friend, or make a favorite snack.
Do you know why you’re feeling this way? Is it because of a relationship, interaction, memory, or belief about yourself?
Who is telling you if what you’re feeling is right or wrong? Do they have any place to do so?
What can you do to remind yourself it’s okay to feel, and this feeling is temporary?
If this list is too much, start with the first bullet for a while and work through the rest as the week goes on. Give yourself space to think and absorb, and be gentle with yourself.
If you or someone in your life struggles with their mental health, the best choice may be to seek professional help. Counselors, therapists, and doctors have years of education and are dedicated to your well-being. You may feel ashamed or self-conscious about needing help, but don’t listen to those negative thoughts. It’s okay to need serotonin. It’s okay to try melatonin to help insomnia for a while. It’s okay to talk with someone about your life to get an outside opinion.
It’s okay to need help.
The simplest way I can explain therapy is to imagine your mind as a messy, twisted ball of yarn. Your therapist helps you separate the knot into individual strands, and together you pull at the pieces that are stuck or twisted to untie them. A therapist listens and gives you an outside interpretation of the things buzzing around your head. Then, they equip you with strategies and a plan for when things start to tangle again.
There are different types of therapy—EMDR light therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, talk therapy, and more. Mobile apps are even on the rise if an office visit isn’t right for you.
While therapy is a personal choice, and it looks different for everyone, it has definitely been the right decision for me. I went to my first therapy session at the age of 22 after two years of sleepwalking through life, struggling to finish my undergrad, and finding myself single for the first time in eight years. It took a lot to accept I couldn’t simply fix myself. And man, was I a ball of nerves waiting for my first appointment. Now, four years later, 2020 has made me realize I need more time with my therapists. Even though our appointments are virtual, they’ve helped me navigate this bizarre and difficult time.
Though this year may feel like a decade, it’s only temporary. Things will change and get better—it may take time, but it will happen.
Depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of. Talking with someone you trust can do a world of good, even if it only lets them help carry your feelings. You are important and deserve to live a flourishing life. Everyone has their own mental health journey to navigate, and we’re all in this together. Sharing our struggles brings us closer and make us feel less alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, look into these resources: