“But the biggest thing about self-care is to be gentle with yourself and remember there’s no one way up that mountain.” – Jonathan Van Ness
Some get out of the pit through therapy counselling, some get out of the bleak through medication. Some – the lucky ones, have found their way up that mountain. For some, the road to recovery from depression and anxiety still seems thrice unpropitious.
That was me; the “latter some”. I’m A.M and I have depression and anxiety disorder, or what I would call it, D+A.
With increased awareness about the importance of mental health today, there is a myriad of quotes popping up on social media pages, advocating the acceptance and abolishment of social stigma around us. We are constantly advised to accept our mental illness as an intrinsic part of us, as it is only then that we can be confident about taking a step to reach out for help. I’ve had my share of D+A for about 3.5 years. However, I only did accept D+A to be a part of me one year after developing this condition, which eventually led to me falling deeper than where I already was. I will tell you why later on.
The constant unexplainable dysphoria started in 2016, when I was 16. There was a ceaseless cloud of malaise and suicidal thoughts. Anxiety attacks were quotidian. I didn’t know what was wrong with me ---
or rather I didn’t want to admit that I had depression and an anxiety disorder. I was averse to the idea of seeking help as I was reluctant to acknowledge my condition; I hated that it was a part of me. Thereafter, I started dealing with my condition through unhealthy ways, which were ostensibly effective. On top of everything, I started feeling suffocated by everything around me – people, commitments and school. I started pushing people away, I started isolating myself socially and I started forming a hard-wearing bubble. All I could remember was crying myself to sleep recursively just to be rid of the general feeling of melancholy. Every night was worse than the previous. On top of everything, my condition was heightened by my ongoing personal issues. I was perpetually on the edge of giving up on myself; notwithstanding, 2016 was also the year of my ‘O’ Level examinations, which compelled me to suppress every single emotional baggage in order to focus on it. This self-negligence was the start of everything unpleasant thereafter.
Came the age of 17, I was in Junior College. It was also the time that I underestimated my ability to deal with my own mental health issues – I still refused to accept that I had any. I thought that I could just brush it off for another two years at least until I took the ‘A’ Level examinations, just like how I did the previous year for my ‘O’ Levels. I used work and books to suppress the haunting thoughts, overwhelmed myself with school work just so I could feel extremely drained and not address the turmoil inside of me. It seemed fine for a while but expectedly, I crashed. I gave in to the thoughts, I returned to dealing with my anxiety attacks unhealthily, I was back to square one. After a while, my condition was severely aggravated, and my perverse coping methods went out of hand. That’s when I started to accept that something was wrong, that having D+A was just who I was and by then, I reached out for proper treatment. At that point in time, it felt like everything was finally going in the right direction but it appeared I was mistaken.
My treatment entailed medications, counselling and therapies. I started off with 10mg of Fluoxetine and Xanax, both of which were supposed to help me with the daily bouts of malaise and panic attacks (which I would often have whenever I was in a crowd alone) respectively.
Juxtaposed with expected recovery, my condition got worse. Every visit to the psychiatrist and psychologist would only result in higher doses of Fluoxetine prescribed and contradictorily, a worsening state of the mental condition. Being in a living hell was painfully repetitive. By-and-by, I was up to 40mg of Fluoxetine daily, I was in a suicidal state and I even had my short-term memory significantly degraded temporarily due to the use of anti-anxiety pills. I was brought to the Emergency Room of IMH twice and I missed lessons a lot. It felt like I was just going around in circles with no hope of recovery. High dosages of medications only seemed to be quasi-effective on me and the therapies set by the psychologist were not well suited for me. I kept this up until 2018.
By 2018, I was vastly desperate to get better. I got increasingly frustrated and disappointed at myself for being this way. I thought being able to get help for it was all that there was. I lived each day hating who I was or rather – the mess that I had become. I remembered walking around feeling the weight of the “grey cloud” on me everywhere I went. I remembered crying a lot as I really didn’t want to live my then-life. I started questioning a lot if this life was worth a try to even live. I tried so hard to pull myself together and continued receiving the treatment and help.
Ultimately, I got tired. I gave up and let go of the search for a recovery route. Nothing was working, everything was bleak. At that rate, I just felt D+A was going to cling on to me for as long as I live. I stopped my medications, I stopped therapies and I stopped counselling sessions. I decided to just live with it or rather, just let it take over my life. I thought, “What is the point?” I wanted so badly to run away from myself and so I delved into work even more. I lived every single day as if I was soulless, as if I was just a ghost borrowing my body just to live when in fact I didn’t want to. It seemed to work for a while until that one panic attack, the worst that I’ve had, which made me come crashing down. It felt like I was at the edge of precipice. I hated everything and the feeling of dysphoria emanated at its strongest. I was back to square one.
I then decided to give treatment one last try. I was given 1.5 months break from school to focus on myself, to focus on treatments. The doctor and I mutually agreed that was what I needed. A break. To have a clear-thinking space to reflect. At the start of the break, I was rather angry at myself for turning into this mess. I tried escaping from myself by focusing on my assessment books. I was also angry to have been like that during my ‘A’ Level year.
However, halfway through, I decided for myself that D+A didn’t have to be a part of me, it wasn’t in the very first place, it shouldn’t be. I thought about what I really wanted for myself in the future and in life. With this epiphany, I started setting goals for myself, I slowly started to venture out doing things that I really love and enjoy. I eventually decided for myself that I needed to be on a path where I would feel a sense of fulfilment and press that restart button which I’ve been searching for all along. Hence, I started on this journey to fight D+A head on.
I left Junior College in the middle of my ‘A’ Level year, dropped important involvements in 2018 and really started doing things that I love. I decided to start studying things that would make my heart feel fulfilled and leisure activities that would make my heart beat in excitement. I started doing all these things alongside receiving treatment.
I’m not saying that I’m totally off the hook with D+A. I still do have panic attacks in crowds alone, I still do panic sometimes whenever I have to take the train alone during peak hours without blasting music into my ears and I still do panic when I enter a crowded cinema alone. I still do take medications and I still do have depression bouts from time to time. However, life in general has never been better. I do feel the huge improvement in my condition and I’m not even sure if it’s the medications or if it is because I’ve decided to set D+A to be a separate thing from myself. Maybe medications don’t work on me. Maybe therapies don’t work on me. Maybe all I needed was to take baby steps in doing the things that I love. Maybe all I needed was effort to put my focus into fighting against it instead of running away incessantly, expecting treatments to work on its own.
Your mental illness should never be a part of who you are. Instead, your mental illness is the one that is stopping you from being who you really are. If nothing works for you yet, it’s okay. Keep on trying, do not subdue to escapism. Treatments are never going to work on its own without efforts to fight against it. If no medication works for you yet, it’s okay. Everyone’s different, keep on searching for one that is for you. No one medication is going to suit everyone the same. If no therapy works for you yet, it’s okay. Hey, maybe the therapies your psychologist is setting for you aren’t suited for you. Ask for an alternative. If nothing works for you yet, it’s okay. Just don’t let go. In this fight, every single subsequent fall is just going to get harder and harder to recover from. Keep holding on, keep on searching and you’ll eventually find your way up that mountain.
When nothing works yet, it’s okay.
“… this collision between one’s image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-on & try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will perish.” – James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name.