Written by: Zahra Khamisa // @zkhamisa
Depression for me was a whole new ball game, one I never expected to play in. I have been attending a mindfulness group for depression for the last 4 months or so. Each week I show up whether I want to or not along with two other guys, a 40 something year old and a 70 year old and me the 25 year old. My first realization from this group was that depression does not discriminate; there is no cookie cutter individual or reason one becomes depressed. The anxiety that has lived within me much longer than the depression wanted to know WHY I became depressed before I could even think about moving towards acceptance and healing. The anxiety in me naturally over thought about this daily.
For me personally, I now understand that my anxiety led to exhaustion, which led to my depression. This isn’t everyone’s story. However, the last stat I read stated that of those diagnosed with depression about 85% also have generalized anxiety disorder. Hey that’s me I thought. I so badly wanted to understand myself better and actually fit myself into some category of belonging instead of living out my individual circumstances and path. The need to belong to something, anything, is so engraved in each of us, even if it’s to belong to a depression and anxiety group.
At it's core, depression is a multi-system shutdown and deactivation. With depression we often overestimate our ability to do a task and underestimate the complexity of a task, especially tasks that were once so simple. This stemmed from an underlying assumption that my abilities and motivation were unchanged from before, I refused to believe I was depressed. Before my depression, I used to go to the gym all the time. Get up, get dressed, get to class and go to the gym before I come home. It was second nature, I didn't even have to think about it - nothing was a good enough excuse to make me miss it. However, once my depression hit, it stopped. It had been weeks since I last went to the gym, what happened? I refused to believe what was going on with me, so I just kept telling myself that "I'll start tomorrow" or "It used to be so easy, let's just start going every day again". But did I? Nope. It wasn't nearly as easy as I thought it would be and no, I couldn't just all of a sudden commit to a new, everyday routine. My inability to follow through on my ambitions led to deactivation and ultimately, further deactivation. On the other hand, with anxiety we often overestimate the probability and intensity of something bad happening (uhh...guilty) and underestimate our capacity and ability to handle it. The root with my anxiety is fear and intolerance of uncertainty. The practice becomes gradual exposure instead of avoidance.
In case you haven’t noticed already, those are completely opposite situations. The two are often used interchangeably without much thought to each unique differences. No wonder I felt confused about who I was and what I had known during this period where these two mental illnesses overlapped in my life. Never have I felt less like myself, which to me was one of the scariest feelings I have ever experienced. Two voices inside of you with totally different opinions, thanks mind, thanks body, thanks world.
Recently, living with both became overwhelmingly evident as I thought about travelling again. When deeply depressed I remember thinking things like “Good thing I traveled young”. I felt like I would never have the desire to travel again, a quality I used to associate with who I was. Then a month ago I got this loud, screaming feeling to travel again. The anxiety in me worried (and worried) that if I didn’t listen to it and plan right away that it might go away, that I might lose this part of myself again. I got a glimpse of who I used to be and the things I used to want and got so obsessed with the idea that I might finally “not be depressed and back to myself.” I ended up putting so much pressure on myself, thinking in an all or nothing mentality and ended up having my second panic attack. Oops.
Acceptance is moment to moment.
I am starting to accept that I no longer need to search for who I used to be and rather this is who I am right now. And right now. And right now. Navigating my mental health has actually become a gateway to figuring out who I truly am.
In my work with cancer care we often acknowledge that people do not feel like themselves anymore, there is a real mourning for who they used to be. A way to reframe and shift this perspective is to accept moment to moment and celebrate the changes, the progress, the healing and the difference. This notion of acceptance is now my personal work, and what I am only beginning to understand is that it is every day work, lifetime work.