I’m unwell. I’ve been aware that I’m unwell for several months now. When I’m not crying in my car during my lunch break or escaping my dismal reality by sleeping for 10+ hours, I’m scouring the internet for advice from others who have felt like me but don’t anymore. Naively, I thought I’d be able to follow an Instagram-esque 30-day challenge to recovery, but with all wicked problems, the solution(s) has remained elusive, hidden between multiple therapists, diets, exercises, journal pages, and half-hearted self-affirmations. “You ARE a boss bitch,” I’d whimper into the mirror.
After some introspection, I came to the conclusion that this shit wasn’t working. What was I doing wrong? All the knowledgeable internet strangers said these things would work. Was I broken beyond repair? Perhaps. But I wasn’t doing everything the depression gurus suggested.
I had effectively isolated myself from the majority of my friends and acquaintances. I had been avoiding my best friend for months. I never attended outings or events I was invited to. At one point, I blocked all but two numbers from my phone. I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want to talk.
After months of being a no-call, no-show in most of the relationships in my life, isolation was easy. The calls slowed then eventually stopped. The only texts I received were informing me that my cell phone bill had been paid. I spent my days in traffic, at work, in traffic again, then straight to bed. The monotony was familiar yet agonizing. I wanted my friends to reach out. I’d respond this time, but I knew they wouldn’t. I’d have to reach out and reestablish relationships I let fall to the wayside. The onus was on me.
I started with acquaintances. I figured it was a lower pressure situation. They probably hadn’t even noticed my absence.
Me: Hey, how have you been? You were on my mind.
Acquaintance: Hey!!!! I’ve been really good! I just got back from South Africa. It was beautiful! How have YOU been?
Me: Wow, South Africa. That sounds fun. I haven’t been so good actually. I’ve been really depressed. Trying to get better though.
Acquaintance: I’m sorry to hear that. Are you going to a therapist? I’ve been depressed too. I haven’t found any medication that seems to help.
I thought this conversation would be an outlier, but like many times before, I was wrong. Whenever I inquired about the well being of an acquaintance, friend, cousin, etc., I was always initially met with a rosy depiction of their life -- exotic travels, new lovers, and general merriment -- all things I would have been jealous of if I had the energy. However, when I told them how I was honestly doing, they revealed less flattering aspects of their life too. My depression became an accidental truth serum.
With one in five people in the United States dealing with a mental health challenge, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I wasn’t alone, but we’re in the FOMO generation. We are trained to project our perfect life, but that only reinforces social isolation. Honesty and vulnerability can break that cycle and turn others’ lives from a source of jealous anxiety to a paragon of support.
I try my best to keep it real, and these days, my life is more blooper than highlight reel. So if you ever ask me how I’m doing, the response will likely be: “Awful, thanks for asking.”