Depression and Anxiety: the Gifts that Keep on Giving

Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned a lot.

It’s been 7 years since I first stepped foot into a psychiatrist’s office. And to think I should’ve gained a firmer grip on my depression and anxiety by now is foolish. Of course, there are things that I recognize right now that make dealing with each depressive episode a little less scary, but in no way is it any easier.

Individuals who live with Clinical Depression don’t get to just “be okay.” We live in constant fear that one day we’ll wake up and that dark cloud will be back, lingering heavily over our heads. However, that fear doesn’t have to be incredibly intense each time. For almost a decade, I’ve been putting into practice what it means to live with depression. Even better, what I desire it to mean to me. I want it to be a life without boundaries. I want it to be a life filled with meaning and inspiration. A life that will be worth the energy that I put into digging myself out of the hole each time. Although the cloud is never too far from my mind, I don’t allow it to overtake my entire life like I used to.

This brings me to the first gift: optimism.

I promised myself to never fall as deep as I did before, albeit sometimes I have no control. Being blessed with the ability to view life through an optimistic lens has proved to be one of the most effective tools that God gave me. I’ve been able to see the light in even the gloomiest situations, which has helped alter my mood and alleviate my anxieties. Had I not been fit to optimistically identify the benefit of medical help and imagine happiness for myself again, overcoming would’ve almost been unattainable.

In any situation that I feel anxious or depressed, I start thinking about all that I’ve accomplished thus far and what I’ll accomplish in the future. No matter the impact or the size, each thing is important. Though it sounds cliche, focusing on the positive things in my life has undoubtedly brought me a sense of peace. Recognizing even the most minor accomplishments as good is an excellent way to be more appreciative of the progress made in my life, thus fostering an optimistic mindset.

Secondly, I’ve been granted the gift of mindfulness.

Before my diagnosis, I had no idea what it meant to be mindful. As an anxious person, my mind does not care about what’s happening right now. It’s solely focused on what-ifs.

In a restaurant, a friend’s house or a movie theater, I’m constantly mapping out an escape plan…just in case. When it’s nearing time to eat, I’m thinking of ways to eat my food so that I don’t contaminate myself. When I use the bathroom, I’m building intricate strategies to get in and out with the least amount of contact with germs. My mind is always racing to figure out impossible problems, and mindfulness has helped tremendously in decreasing the amount of time I spend in my own head.

When I detect an anxious attack or depressive episode coming on, I stop to think about something that’s happening right now. What do I smell? How do I feel? What color are the walls of the room I’m sitting in? How was lunch? The goal is to think of anything in the now that will reel your mind back in from the deep sea of spiraling thoughts. After years of practice, I’ve finally mastered mindfulness and it has served as a mediator for what could’ve been the worst breakdowns I’ve ever had.

Lastly, I’ve been given active hopefulness.

I use the word ‘active’ because beforehand, I merely hoped when it was necessary, like when I tried out for the district-wide musical and hoped I got a part (I did.). Nowadays, I’m hopeful for almost everything. As I’ve stated multiple times in previous posts, hopefulness is the biggest thing that helped me through my darkest days.

Hopefulness and optimism can be used interchangeably, but for me, they’re different. Hope is my motivation to keep going. Having hope helps me to see even an unpleasant day can turn good just by having something to look forward to. Maintaining optimism is believing that practicing active hopefulness will transform my days, months, years, ultimately transforming my entire life.

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I hope that whoever is reading this can begin to realize that the smallest victories are often the ones that save us. Because life is filled with small victories everyday, it’s only right that we give the same acknowledgement to them as we do the bigger ones. Finding that one thing to celebrate in the midst of a powerful storm is a skill that isn’t learned overnight, but when constantly put into practice, nearly every day can be considered a good day.

In no way am I saying these gifts have cured me, because…well…they haven’t. However, because of the challenges I’ve faced due to depression and anxiety, I’ve developed a knack for appreciating almost every aspect of my life. I’m optimistic the future is bright, mindful of the moment that I’m currently in and hopeful that tomorrow will be even better than today.

For the past 7 years, I’ve been fighting a constant battle. With all my might, I’ve worked to keep my head afloat so that I stay true to the promise I made myself. The lengths I’ve come inspire me to keep going. I have completely accepted that this is a fight I’ll be in for the rest of my life, and it takes a lot of energy. However, I thank God I’m not tired of fighting yet.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash