I have both depression and anxiety. This is not uncommon, as they frequently come together. Neither are severe. (My girlfriend has severe anxiety, and has been hospitalized over a dozen times for it, and is only now, at the age of 23, starting to get it under control to the point where she can put her life back on track.) I'd like to write a blog, maybe a few blogs, on how these illnesses, untreated, can impact your life. I'd like it if those of you who are experiencing things similar to what I've experienced read this and identified. And for those of you who can identify, I'd like to keep my message simple.
I will preface this by saying that I am an incredibly lucky person. I have struggled with these illnesses since I was around 14, but they were only diagnosed recently. In spite of this, I have led an objectively successful life: I have a job, which I have held down for several years; I did very well in college; I am typically dating somebody. I'm fairly smart, I am hardworking when I can focus, and the sight of me naked doesn't make women vomit uncontrollably. In general, I am my own worst enemy. This is mostly due to luck. I've had very little to do with it until recently.
The first subject I'd like to tackle is relationships.
Tell me: What would you think about a relationship you were in if you frequently, although with no regularity, felt shitty around your partner? If you take those scenarios in a vacuum, you would probably draw the conclusion that your subconscious was telling you that your partner wasn't right for you. The notion that you feel good around someone who is a good partner is fairly intuitive.
But what if, other times, you felt incredible around your partner? The sight of them filled you with love, with devotion and admiration and protectiveness and attraction, and you couldn't imagine being with anybody else.
What if you were both sharply critical and strongly admiring? What if some days you wanted to fuck them three or four times in a day, and others you didn't even want her to touch you? What if some days you couldn't wait to see them, and other days the instant you saw them you felt nothing but irritation?
If you're me, at least, you'd be pretty fucking confused. This has been me since I started dating. Some days I felt wonderful around my partner, and some I felt like dogshit after a day in the sun. Having no point of reference, my assumption was that this was called "being confused about a relationship."
But being confused goes away after a while. When you think about it, you come to a conclusion, one way or another. I never did. I always held part of myself back, and as a result, I was frequently moody with no explanation, very inconsistent, and generally just not a good partner. That I ever held down a girlfriend for longer than a month is a miracle to me.
What do those feelings really mean? I have termed them, for lack of (creativity) a better phrase, bad feelings. The italics are important. They're inexplicable negative feelings. Sometimes they manifest as irritation; sometimes as sadness; sometimes (frequently, for me) as completely uninhibited, unrestrained anger. (Again, I am lucky: I grew up in a Quaker school, and so violence against others, even when I am furious, does not even occur to me. If I had gone to public school, if I had hit somebody even 1/100th or 1/1000th of the times I'd wanted to hit someone, I'd probably be in jail.)
None of these emotions had any source, but all emotions carry information. If you examine a feeling you get, you should be able to determine two things: What the feeling is, and where it comes from. When you put those two things together, you can learn what an emotion means. As a (very silly) example:
You have a bad feeling. It's pretty apparent that it's anger, from the way that you want to pull somebody's tongue out through their asshole. It clearly comes from the fact that this somebody just spat on you. You put those two things together, and you determine that you're angry at someone for spitting on you. You can follow that back further and understand that you don't like being spat on.
This example is quite silly, but it's demonstrative. Take something from a relationship: Your girlfriend has come over and asked you to clean your dishes, they're gross. You get angry. You're angry at being told what to do. But you can follow that further, and maybe you find out that there's been a pattern of you getting angry when your girlfriend asks you to do things in your own house, but when your girlfriend asks you to clean the dishes at her house, you don't mind. You can quite reasonably come to the conclusion that you feel like your personal space is being intruded upon. Your bad feeling had a source and an emotion, and it carried with it some important information.
Bad feelings which come from depression may not carry any such information, and this is where I, at least, got into trouble, because I assumed they did. These feelings had no source, because their source was an illness called depression. I would be sitting on the couch watching television with my girlfriend, and suddenly start to feel angry, or sad, or irritable. There was no reason, so I began to believe it was because I secretly hated her; because she wasn't right for me, and my heart was trying to tell me as much. In retrospect, that's quite melodramatic, but at the time, it didn't seem so.
So I was confused, in a big way, and it showed. Nowhere concrete, nowhere distinctive, but it was always present in my behavior, and it was always just a manner about me. I was always a little standoffish. I would maintain my personal space even when there was no reason for it, when I didn't even really care about it. Because I wasn't sure, and I didn't want to throw myself at somebody who I wasn't sure about. And there was no way I could have been sure, in that mindset.
Now, let's be clear - some people are just reasonably uncertain about their partners. They simply haven't made up their minds yet. This situation is different from that one. I am not an indecisive person. I try to make my relationships work, even when I undermine myself in the sorts of ways I've illustrated.
The other half of this picture is self-esteem. Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are good friends. There's not a lot to be said on this topic - when you feel bad, especially inexplicably, you don't also feel like someone who can make pants disappear with a look and a come hither. Sometimes you justify this to yourself - I certainly did. I reasoned that I was annoying, unattractive, socially inept, which is why women avoided me. Except for all the women I'd dated, but I ignored them. It defies logic, because there's nothing logical about it. There's not a whole lot to illustrate on this point. I still haven't figured out how to raise my own self esteem to the point where I feel like I could get a girl if I tried. It's led me to wonder if the love I feel for my girlfriend isn't just relief. Sometimes I get flashes of confidence - I'll look in the mirror and say "I'm not Brad Pitt but I'm not Danny DeVito either," or "I can't count the number of times that I've had a girl, or many girls, or many girls and guys, in stitches with laughter." But depression erases that. Or makes it harder to remember, anyway.
I still haven't figured out how to be in a healthy relationship, but I've figured out what helps - being honest. Instead of being moody, instead of getting angry or irritated for no reason, I'll tell my girlfriend flatly, "I'm feeling depressed right now, and I don't have a reason for it." And I'm lucky that she's had a similar background, so she can understand intimately. But I don't think that any partner who loves you and is worth being with wouldn't at least try to understand. So to those of you who are reading this who struggle with similar sets of feelings, if you trust your partner, try explaining it to them. And if you don't, but your partner does, understand.
That's me on relationships.
I'd like to reiterate: If you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, or you simply find yourself experiencing frequent, unprecedented, unpredictable, incomprehensible bad feelings, which prevent you from keeping a healthy relationship, from holding down a job, from treating yourself well, I'd like to encourage you again to get help. See a therapist. Get treatment. Nobody will force drugs down your throat and nobody will withhold them from you. Nobody will ask you to cry about your childhood and nobody will stop you from doing so. Because I finally took others' advice and sought out help, I am learning to cope with my issues, and push towards leading a normal, healthy life.