I know you usually come here for Fun Steph, but she’s taking the night off so I can bring you some real talk. She’ll be back soon, I promise.
So here’s the thing: like a lot of people I know, I have depression. More specifically, I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I think it makes me sound like an asshole when I tell people I have SAD (fun facts: SAD is more common in people in northern climates and women are eight times more likely to have it than men). Could they not have come up with a better fucking acronym? Regardless, it fucks with my head. This past week was especially bad, and it really caught me off guard. It got pretty bad last year, but not until much later in the winter.
I first figured out something was off in university when I would spend weeks in bed watching marathons of Oz . Yes, Oz is an amazing fucking show, but no 21-year-old should be spending 18 hours a day in bed. I luckily had a great doctor on campus, and he set me up with some happy pills. Unfortunately, this meant I had a month of brutal side effects when I started taking them, and again when I would wean off in the spring. I decided it wasn’t worth the constant nausea, dizziness, and general fog I found myself in, so I started looking for other ways to manage my symptoms.
Eventually I settled on a combination of light therapy, endorphins from the gym, checking in with friends, and a few supplements. Overall, it worked pretty well. I was aware that it would probably pop up at some point this season, but normally it’s gradual enough that I can catch it in time. Last week, however, I found myself struggling with an almost-painful level of constant anxiety, trying not to cry on the streetcar (successfully) or at the tattoo shop (unsuccessfully). Instead of the usual (and mostly predictable) tidal flow, I was swept up in a typhoon and I had no idea how to get out of it.
That’s partially why I wanted to write about this. I asked for help, and I knew who to ask because of some extremely brave friends who have spoken about their own struggles with mood disorders.
We I throw around words like crazy and mental, mostly in jest, but there really is a huge stigma when it comes to admitting that my brain might actually be broken. A lot of that stigma, for me at least, is internal. I’m typically a happy person, the constant optimist (even if Louis C.K. thinks it’s stupid), and the idea of not being Fun Steph is terrifying. The depression takes hold, and I think maybe Fun Steph won’t come back, and why would anyone stick around if she doesn’t? The ‘crazy’ part is I can recognize that my thoughts are negative, and probably irrational – my go-to self loathing act is to worst-case-scenario everything – but I can’t talk myself down or stop the anxiety. In theory, I know exactly what is happening and why. In practice, I get mired in the thoughts, and find myself unable to ‘just be happy,’ which, by the way, is fucking terrible advice for someone with depression. If you hear that, the correct response is, ‘Fine, when you decide to just be smart.’
The trouble with SAD is that it’s not constant despair, at least not for me. I can be having a great time with friends, and then all of a sudden I find myself unable to even fake a smile. I can have a week of bad days, and then wake up feeling some semblance of normalcy. This makes it difficult for me to a) predict my mood on any given day, and b) feel like there is actually a problem worth dealing with. I’ve been doubted in the past when it comes to ‘invisible diseases’ (I have had issues with vertigo as well, but that’s a tale for another day), but when I’m a heaping pile of sobs on the couch in the middle of the day, that’s a pretty big indicator that something is wrong in the state of Steph.
Luckily, today was a good day. I took advantage and armed myself with the big guns: boatloads of supplements (I discovered my veggie multivitamin was doing me a disservice in the levels of vitamin D), and now this blog. I feel better having written it, and I hope that in my tiny way I’ve added to the larger discussion I think we should all be having about mental health.