Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Recent Resurgence: Confronting Mental Illness Years later

It has been a year and a half since I have been inspired to write anything. Looking back at my old material, it is clear to me how much I have matured in the past few years. My blog is going to take a new direction, and the first step is changing its name. Even though I am indeed still a "Southern Atheist Bisexual Vegetarian," a change is necessary. However, my post is not dedicated to this declaration, but the compulsion behind my urge to write.

My mental illnesses have largely lied dormant during my hiatus. I have managed my anxiety and coat-tailing depression without medication or self-injury for years now.  I am living a happy life - I have been in a healthy relationship for a year and a half and counting, I'm in graduate school and earning excellent grades, and working a part-time job that's fun. I have no reason to feel scared, depressed, or otherwise disturbed. Yet, I find myself suffering from my worst episodes of my depression and anxiety in years. I want to share this with everyone as I navigate a road I have not been on in a long time.

For the past few weeks, I have been devoting the majority of my energy to not succumbing to the impulses my disorders are trying to induce. I started to notice the subtle onset of a bout of depression when I kept choosing to sleep in hours after my alarm went off. My demanding standards of punctuality and reliability in my scheduling are things I have taken pride in for most of my life, but a steep increase in lethargic behaviors has ensued. Getting 8 hours of sleep a night has turned into 10 or 11. I have been turning in half-assed assignments minutes before the deadline when I'm normally done with everything days ahead of time (and actually proud of the content). I'll start on an assignment, only to immediately quit and save it for later. I've grown irritable when I'm forced to engage with reality instead of being allowed to be in my little Christi bubble, undisturbed. Answers to "how are you" are sounding more like "Ok" instead of the cheerful "great!" that usually radiates just as much from my smile and characteristically friendly body language as it does the bubbly tone of my voice. This blog post has taken 3 attempts to finish.

The explosion of anxiety was not far behind the depression. Last week, a classroom exercise left me in a panicked state hours after the class ended. We were asked to debate one another in small groups and then rate each other's performance. I freaked out because I knew I sucked at debating and didn't want to be told this by others. My body immediately went into fight or flight mode, perceiving my classmates as a threat despite the friendly environment. I expressed my strong feelings of repulsion toward the exercise, strongly considering leaving to go home. My heart rate flew over 120 BPM, my head began throbbing, and my arms and legs trembled relentlessly.  The real me would have said, "oh, this sucks. Whatever, I'll get it over with." The mild discomfort of speaking up in class is now an exhausting balancing act of expressing my words coherently while suppressing my mind's urge to shut down from people looking at me.

For those not aware, I passionately study the Russian language and have done so for the past three and a half years. It is one of my favorite hobbies. I am currently conducting an independent research project in my field (Peace and Conflict Studies) for elective credit in which I write papers in English and translate them into Russian.  I send my work to Russian friends and they fix my mistakes. Their corrections are often met with gratefulness. Lately I have grown discouraged and upset at myself, lamenting over why I'm bothering trying to write these papers at all if they're going to suck. A quitter is not who I am, but you would never know it after I refused to even look at the corrections of my latest paper for days. I wouldn't even talk to my friends in Russian because the thought of Cyrillic characters pissed me off.

Erosion of my self-motivation, not managing stress appropriately and sudden regressive changes in my personality clearly indicate my mental illnesses are still present. I'm tired of retreating in shame, fighting alone when I know I'm not. I have been humbly reminded that even though I have managed them well for years and am living a life with few problems of substance, there is no shame in admitting I still struggle with these illnesses every now and again.

This wave will pass, as the others that may come after it. My depression and anxiety will not win in the long run. They do not have the same power over me as they did when I self-injured. They do not have the same power over me as when I expected medication alone to combat their effects. Keeping these victories at the forefront, the direction I choose to move is forward.