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Why My Key To Recovery Was Adding ‘Anxiety' And ‘Depression' To My Vocabulary

Just over a year ago I realized I was depressed, shortly thereafter I realized I also had anxiety.

Of course, neither of these things started a year ago – they'd been around (in various intensities) for years — but last year they were so debilitating I was forced to stop and notice them.

I did a lot of reflecting — I wrote a blog post, saw a psychologist, my friends reached out to me, I took not of triggers and I looked back on past events with a new lens.

I tried to be mindful of things that made me feel good (generally) and things that made me feel good about myself (specifically).

I sought out activities I enjoyed and tried to stop living on autopilot and start being present. I began making deliberate decisions about my day instead of letting life happen to me. In short, I made some drastic changes.

Once “depression” and “anxiety” became part of my vocabulary it was like I was getting to know myself for the first time. I suddenly had the words to understand previous events I hadn't understood before.

More specifically, I could understand why I'd responded or acted in a particular way. Those moments where I felt out of control for no apparent reason and could feel myself getting hectic and panicky but couldn't understand why, those days where I'd lie in bed unable to leave and all those times I couldn't answer the phone finally made sense.

A lot of the guilt, regret and self-hate I'd been carrying for a long time started to, very slowly, slip away.

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I started to see my previous relationship in a new way – I saw so many instances where I was triggered without realizing it, where I wasn't being difficult I was depressed and where I wasn't unreasonable, I was having an anxiety attack.

It probably sounds so silly, but I genuinely hadn't realized what was going on inside me. The stigma and silence around mental illness is so severe that I had few reference points. It was a long time before something entered my mainstream that I could identify with.

So, for a long time, I was undiagnosed and felt super strange and alone. The first time I realized I'd been having panic attacks was while watching “Suits.” I was sitting in bed and suddenly I was like, “Hey! I have all of Harvey's symptoms, WTF.”

Once I had these words, and the tools to understand myself a little better, I had to have some very honest and very painful conversations with myself.

I had to forgive myself for things I'd done in the past because I couldn't change them and they weren't my fault. I had to be gentle and I had to resist the very strong desire to want to fix myself – fixing implies broken and an unbroken self — neither of which are real.

There were (and will be) several watershed moments. This practice of forgiveness and acceptance is an ongoing process. There will be another depressed or anxious day, I'll handle another situation in a way I wish I wouldn't — and that's OK.

This is constant work and sometimes it's exhausting. I constantly have to remind myself not to get too frustrated or too critical when I consider everything to be harder than it should be.

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Last semester I had a presentation and on that day the thought of catching public transportation to school was completely crippling. I just couldn't do it. I felt ridiculous that something as easy as catching a taxi had transformed into something so terrifyingly impossible.

I had to be gentle with myself. I had to try speak to myself the way I would speak to a friend going through the same thing. I had to be my own friend. When I became kinder to myself, it got slightly more manageable, and I didn't judge myself for blowing my budget and calling an uber.

Understanding myself better has also been vital for navigating all my relationships (romantic, familial and platonic). If I don't understand how I work, how can I expect someone else to?

Being more in touch with myself has meant I've been able to explain how I work to the people who love me, and it's meant they've been gentler, more compassionate and less frustrated.

Surrounding myself with people who are willing to understand has been equally important, I need people who are safe and who will not judge.

I changed how I speak about my anxiety and depression. For a long time I spoke about “good days” and “bad days” and I've stopped that. I didn't want to call any version of myself “bad.”

So now, I call it what it is: I refer to “anxious days” or “depressed/low days” and sometimes “hard days.”

It's been a year of “anxiety” and “depression” being a part of my daily vocabulary. It's been a tough year but it's also been a good year.

Having the words gave me power and meant I could manage myself better, communicate my state better and people could understand where I was coming from and what I was experiencing better.

I'm working on this every day. I'm working on forgiveness and acceptance and self-love every day. This probably isn't going to go away, and that's OK.

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Caitlin Spring

Contributor

Caitlin is currently in Beijing, completing a Master's degree at Peking University. When she's not in class or writing she's in search of the most life changing glass of wine.
Caitlin is currently in Beijing, completing a Master's degree at Peking University. When she's not in class or writing she's in search of the most life changing glass of wine.

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