I just finished the book Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I read all of it in one day on Sunday, between coffee on the couch and sitting by the pool in my new apartment complex and reading before bed. It’s about a 16 year old named Aza who tries to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a childhood friend’s dad with her best friend Daisy.
But it’s not really about the mystery. It’s more about her mental illness: her constant fears that she’s getting sick, that bacteria is invading her body, that she’s going to wake up one day deathly ill. There’s a constant loop in her head: you’re getting sick NO I’M NOT you are you are you are SHUT UP you’re sick sick sick BE QUIET what if you’re dying what if this is the end.
That’s a paraphrase since I don’t have the book with me, but it’s a pretty realistic depiction of her thoughts. And let me tell you: they stressed me out because they were meant to, and because I identify with them.
I’ve had depression before, and back then it manifested as wanting to cry every day, feeling like I needed to sleep all the time, and walking around with the overwhelming sense that nothing I was doing had any real purpose. I was finished with college, living with my parents, and I didn’t have any real goals. It felt like there were weighted bricks around my ankles, keeping me stuck where I was, and I couldn’t figure out how to move. I saw a therapist who diagnosed me with anxiety and mild depression, and it was a relief to hear those words, like someone was saying there’s a name for this. You are not alone. With my therapist’s guidance, I started to feel better: there was value in things again, I moved to LA, I made a new life for myself.
And lately I’ve started to feel like the depression might be coming back.
At first I didn’t. It didn’t feel like before. On one hand, everything in my life is fine: I’m healthy, going to work every day, and I have people in my life to talk to. I recently moved in with two close friends, I ran a marathon, I’m fairly accomplished in ways I couldn’t identify two years ago when things felt really bad.
This time it’s different. I’ve been feeling down lately, the kind where I just want to go home every afternoon, curl up into a ball under some warm blankets, and take a nap. I want to be hugged, but I don’t really want anyone to touch me. I feel like I go to work every day and it’s like… pointless, almost. I’m not working out as much as I was before, which I know is a factor, but it’s a weird kind of spiral: I know exercising would make me feel better, but I don’t want to do it. I’ve been feeling more anxious than usual, checking doors a handful of times even though I know I’ve locked them, feeling a need to make sure I have things in order, the list goes on. I’d just been thinking of things as a weird sort of dissatisfaction.
I didn’t really catalogue any of this as depression until my friend asked me if it was “the weird sad unsettled dissatisfaction when you have clinical depression but aren’t having an #episode” and it hit me like a slap in the face, like Oh. So maybe that’s what that is. Obviously friends can’t diagnose you with anything, but we talked about my feelings further and I started to think, yeah, maybe. So I don’t know what’s really happening, and I don’t know if this post has a point, but I just wanted to say that it’s okay not to be okay, even if the not-being-okay is something I really struggle with.
I’ve been seeing a therapist for a couple months and I haven’t talked about this with any of her, in part because I think I’m really, really good at pretending things are fine when they’re not. In my head, of course things are fine, because why wouldn’t they be?
I’m not sure if this post has a point, really, other than to say: things feel hard sometimes, I’m going to keep going to therapy and moving my body and eating better foods and journaling. I wish that there was more openness in the world about mental health and going to therapy, and I’m here to say that doing that before genuinely changed my life, so there’s no reason it can’t again.
I started going back to therapy in the first place because of Rachel Dawson’s posts about it.
I know Hannah Brencher has written a lot on this topic, and everything she’s written is incredible.
I just read this piece by Vivian Nunez, who has written a bunch of posts since on the topic; everything I’ve written by her inspires me to love people more deeply and to be a better writer + human.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this post was honestly pretty scary to write and will likely be 10x scarier to share, but I think it’s really, really important to talk about it. Please reach out to someone if you need help; it’s okay not to be okay.