January 2019 was definitely not going well for me. I mean it was going well on paper, I had just graduated college with my Bachelor's degree in Psychology and was dating the man I'd soon be married to. I had quit my job a few months before to focus on my last stretch of school, so I had no stress really. I should have been so relieved and relaxed and basking in all my wonderful free time. But I was NOT okay. I was so depressed and anxious I could barely leave this one spot on my bed.
I returned to therapy at this point and I remember crying in my therapist's office telling her that I would sit in my bedroom starving or thirsty because I couldn't even bear risking interaction with my roommates by walking the ten feet into our shared kitchen. I told her that every time I left my room or my apartment I felt like everyone was staring at me. I was so paralyzed. There are actually huge chunks of time from that period that I don't even remember because I was so messed up.
I had also started taking antidepressants just before this time and they finally began to kick in. I kept going to therapy. I kept widening my circle by a few feet, or a few words to my roommate. One night I could hear my roommate and a few of her friends in the kitchen and I remember standing on the other side of the door willing myself to walk out there and fill my water bottle like it was the scariest thing in the world. I finally stepped out and ended up meeting two girls who have now become really close friends and I was so so proud of myself for initiating human interaction. I made very slow progress but I stuck with it. I kept going to therapy, I kept taking my meds, I kept making small steps to be social.
People tend to underestimate mental illness and downplay it constantly. I just want you to know that if you've ever felt this way so have I, and so have a lot of people. When someone negates mental illness by saying, "oh but you have no reason to be depressed/anxious", they don't realize that that is the actual worst part of the experience. When you know that there's no logical explanation for not being able to get out of bed or being way too scared to make a phone call, you feel so guilty and so ridiculous for the way your brain is making you feel.
My therapist explained anxiety to me this way: the early humans that were afraid of the lions, tigers, and bears and hid in their caves survived longer than the ones who had no anxiety about predators. So basically anxiety is this weird leftover evolutionary defect where when we're walking through a grocery store we suddenly feel the rush of anxiety that is our brain trying to protect us from whatever danger it thinks it detects that isn't there. Basically you have to recalibrate your brain to realize that you aren't in danger when your roommate is making small talk. Or when you have to make a phone call to set a doctor's appointment. Or when ordering food in a restaurant feels like standing on a stage in front of thousands of people. Your brain is trying to help you survive and you have to thank it for doing its job and gently correct it.
It's hard work, it's tedious work, it's really brutal and emotional work, but it's worth it. The baby steps I made of getting a job, of making new friends, of being vulnerable with my therapist and with my husband, these small steps led to bigger steps. They led to getting married, to launching an online platform, to solo travel, to things I always wanted to do but was too scared to.
Today I had a check in with my therapist after a few months of not meeting with her. She validated me in thinking I'm making progress. Healing takes time. And though I know that I'll struggle with my mental illness for the rest of my life, I know that I can accomplish the things I want to with a few small steps (and a few big leaps) at a time.
So if the biggest step you took today was brushing your hair or making your bed before crawling back into it, I've been there. And there is hope. And small steps lead to bigger ones so just keep stepping.