On Jan. 1, 2015, after a few dark and gloomy months spent battling what I thought qualified as Seasonal Affective Disorder, I went for a run. I wasn’t drunk or anything: I just decided I needed to start taking better care of myself, immediately, and running was the easiest, most effective thing I could do on the spot.
As I ran, my legs ached with and at the same time for every step forward. I could feel my heart pumping and the cold, crisp air burning my lungs. I felt alive in a way I hadn’t in a long time, until suddenly all those sensations exploded within me, and a thought blossomed in my mind and filled me up with a resolution and a warmth I had forgotten I was capable of feeling.
“This is it,” I thought. “This is the year I get better. This is the year I move on. This is the year I let go of what and who’s been ailing me, and focus on what and who’s good for me. This is the year I graduate. This is the year I leave home for good. This is the year I visit another continent. This is the new year.”
It wasn’t. I didn’t accomplish a single one of those things. In just a few weeks’ time, my anxiety got terribly out of control, and it became pretty clear that my condition wasn’t just seasonal: It was deep-rooted, crippling, and there to stay.
Many people asked me why I didn’t seek professional help immediately, if I was so certain that what I was experiencing wasn’t just a passing mood. The truth is, I don’t know. I had my reasons, and they seemed valid at the time. I still don’t trust myself enough to know if they actually were, at least to some degree, or whether I was simply playing the emotional ostrich.
That’s not to say that I didn’t do anything to get better at all.
The first thing I did was read about it—desperately and relentlessly. Scientific publications, notes from friends in med school, blog posts, newspaper articles: I devoured anything and everything I could get my hands on. Not because every source was 100-percent reliable, or because giving a name to the issue was going to solve it automatically—I just needed to fully understand something that ran much deeper than the “bad temper” and “mood swings” I had known it as until that point.
Then came the “trying” phase: the careful experiments with every remedy I had encountered or been suggested during my research.
I tried dieting. This wasn’t about losing weight or getting in shape to improve my self-esteem; it was simply a matter of giving my brain the resources it needed to work properly. Serotonin, fish oil, niacin, magnesium, vitamin D—anything that a reliable source claimed might help, I was willing to try, and I did.
I tried yoga and meditation. I harassed friends who practiced it regularly in search for tips and advice, until I reached the conclusion that it might not be for me.
What took the biggest effort—but also brought the biggest rewards—was, at last, opening up. Reaching out may not be the hardest step, but it’s the one that takes the most courage. I had a vast network of people at my disposal who could have supported me and helped me, and yet I kept quiet for the longest time. I believe my go-to answer was “I don’t wish to burden you with the details of my self-pity,” which was designed to sound dramatic enough to please my inner drama queen, but at the same time to downplay my state of mind and make it sound like I was exaggerating. One day, I simply forced myself to share out of exhaustion and probably desperation, and I haven’t looked back since.
Sure, I’ve hit a few snags along the way: A hard lesson I had to learn is that not everybody is equipped to handle mental illnesses. Even the most loving, well-meaning people might be clueless as to how to comfort someone struggling. What’s more, sometimes those people might be doctors or family members, and that’ll feel hurtful and discouraging. But mostly, sharing my ongoing struggles was—and is—one of the best decisions I made, and I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t.
It took countless and lengthy conversations with friends, over tea or drinks, in person or over the Internet, to push me to keep going and do more, and most of all, to never stop seeking help until I found the right kind of it.
The battle against depression is to be fought one day at a time, for every day you learn something new. Along the way, I found that telling my stories, in all the hilariously tragic details, helped me cope. Every single time a friend listened, and laughed, and offered me their support, the notion that something good was still coming out of that whole mess, of my malfunctioning brain, never failed to warm my heart.
Last year wasn’t the year I had hoped it would be, let alone planned. Instead, it was the year I learnt how to solve a Rubik’s cube. It was the year I didn’t quite fall in love, but stumbled upon it as I was looking for something else entirely. It was the year I travelled by myself to places whose language I did not understand a word of. It was the year I dived from a cliff. It was the year I picked up roller derby. It was the year I started writing something other than emails and shopping lists. It was the year I scared myself to life, and even if I’m not exactly where I hoped I’d be by now, I don’t consider this time wasted.
It was a gut-wrenching year, and a wonderful one as well. It took my breath away more times than I can count, and it wasn’t always pleasant. But I’m still here, and I’m still breathing.
I have expectations for the new year, goals and dreams and hopes that may or may not come true, just like everybody else. But I also have resolutions, and they’re nothing like the ones I had last year, or any year before then.
I want to learn to relinquish control and let life surprise me.
I want to learn how to focus on what to have for breakfast.
I want to learn how to be inspired by the amazing women and men I am lucky enough to have around me, rather than unfavourably compare myself to them and feel any less accomplished, any less at peace with myself, any lesser about myself at all.
I want to be more and more often the better, brighter version of myself that I know I can be.
And most of all, I want to cut myself some slack if I don’t always live up to my own expectations.
I have doubts about this new year, too: I don’t know if it will be the game-changer I was hoping for twelve months ago. I don’t know where January 1, 2017, will find me. But I know this is a new year, and I’m embracing the clean slate.
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