I just wanted to write down some background about all this depressing garbage I’m going through. It keeps me busy, and helps if I ever need to bring it to a therapist someday. So forgive me if a lot of this is rehashing old news.
Scene: I’m sleeping in the back of a car at dusk on a busy urban highway. One of the most comfortable places for me to be. Then, suddenly, I open my eyes and look around. I didn’t fall asleep in a moving car. The thought of kidnapping never crosses my mind, though. I look over to the driver’s seat.
There’s no one there.
For some reason, this doesn’t occur to me as an immediate problem. Maybe I’m just not awake enough. Maybe my car has turned into one of those new-fangled self-driving cars. I fumble for my cell phone to try to see if I can call my parents, because I must be hundreds of miles away from home by now.
And then I start seeing holes in the road. Not potholes. Real dang holes the size of my car, and that’s when I realize I’m riding in a self-driving car over a really tall overpass about to hit some major construction. Not that there are warning signs or roadblocks or anything, or any other cars out on the road, for that matter.
From here, the story can take any number of turns. I can fall through one and end up trapped at the bottom of a swamp-like ravine that takes traversing through sewers to escape. Or my car can magically avoid all of these holes, and end up trapped going on the wrong off-ramp, never escaping the freeway of death I’ve found myself in.
Or I can simply wake up and wonder the heck that was all about.
Yes, this is a dream I’ve had about three or four times now. How appropriate is this dream for anxiety and depression? I’m coasting through life miles away from where I want to be in a mindset (i.e. the car) that I’m not fully in control of, with conflicting emotions that don’t line up with the situation. Any even my subconscious giving me this dream is like, “Hey man, I’ve got two solutions for you: get stuck in this urban freeway of madness for all eternity or just fall into one of these holes. I’m sure it will work out fine.”
To say that these two things color my every thought and emotion is like describing how a broken leg feels to a all-star track athlete. But unlike a broken leg that the body can heal over time, it feels like my mind has continued to deteriorate despite the medications my doctors have placed me on. An athlete can be up and running again, good as new in a few months; I sometimes feel like I’ll never have the confidence and strength of will I had when I was a senior in high school.
The first time I felt the oppressive feelings of depression was when I went to my first year of college at BYU-Idaho. It’s normal for students to feel a regular amount of anxiety when it comes to dating and quizzes and finals. But this felt different. Living with my grandparents at the time, right in the middle of the semester, I was hit with a wave of lethargy that didn’t go away after a day or so. Nothing emotionally phased me. I would do nothing but stare at the TV or even my bedroom ceiling for hours at a time and just sit in a form of sadness I’d never known before.
By the end of the semester, it had mostly passed, besides a few days here or there, and I was able to pass my classes well enough. But my depression and anxiety really didn’t start until a year later, when I turned 19.
As a member of the LDS church, I’m sure you’ve seen missionaries out on the street, or talked to them at some point. When a young Latter-Day Saint boy turned 19 (18 now, I believe, since they changed the age requirement), they are strongly encouraged to serve a mission for two years in a location not of their choosing. Some can go international and learn to speak a fancy new language, and some can go domestic where they may or may not learn a language. It was generally expected of young men to go. Refusing to go would partially label you as a pariah, if not fully. But I didn’t know that I had a choice. I was moderately excited to go; my dad had served in Chile when he was on his mission, and learned to speak Spanish. My grandparents had also served in Argentina and Ecuador, and also spoke Spanish. I felt like it was my destiny to hablar the espanol! It sounded exciting! I could go almost anywhere! I applied for my mission, tore open the mission call when it arrived in the mail with my family all around me, and…
Los Angeles, California, Spanish-speaking.
Didn’t end up speaking all that much Spanish. Didn’t retain it, for sure.
I never realized just how much putting the mission badge and white shirt and tie made you a target of ridicule and derision. And I’d never seen the South Park that apparently everyone’s seen but me, so that didn’t help. Los Angeles is incredibly over saturated with religion in general. I understood that no one likes door-to-door salesmen, but I didn’t realize just how much people hate the idea of talking to missionaries. Items of differing weights have been thrown at me from moving vehicles, I was attacked in the street once as I rode my bike (luckily I was wearing a helmet or I might have been injured), and all the shouting and laughing and Bible-bashing… Got called a ‘blue-eyed devil’ once, didn’t know what to say to that; my eyes aren’t even blue. I was just a quiet kid from Utah getting yelled at for being a symbol. It got so bad that at one point I curled up in a ball under a blanket in one corner of my apartment and refused to go out on the street, much to the disappointment and puzzlement of my fellow missionaries who were ready to preach the good word of God. I insisted I was sick. They thought I was being lazy. No, in fact, I was panicking. Desperately, desperately panicking. (Sorry guys.)
On my mission, I went to a doctor for depression, and he gave me a simple medication to treat it like one treats the flu. These pills did NOTHING. Worse than nothing, in fact, as I had bouts of sleep paralysis and increased anxiety about speaking to people. I felt like I was being ignored by my companions (not all of them!), by the leadership, and by the doctor himself (who obviously didn’t have the time to fully diagnose me). But it wasn’t my depression that sent me home a year early. No, kidney stones did that. But that hardly mattered. I felt like I had failed my mission on every level imaginable.
I came home from my mission a very different person. Much quieter and reserved, certainly. When I was younger, you couldn’t get me to shut up; now you’ll find it very difficult to make me say anything very loudly. Now, this may come as a surprise to family and friends that know me (or it may not), but had I known what I would personally go through on my mission and how it would shape the next decade of my life (and probably the future decade after that), I would have chosen not to go. This is not to say that I look down on the whole missionary program as the root cause of my mental health issues. I am saying that my mission magnified them and did nothing to help me heal after it was through. I came home, went to church, and…nothing. No real acceptance that I had done anything exceptional. After all, Utah is filled with ex-missionaries that actually completed their missions, and didn’t have lasting emotional weights and scars. There were no support groups for early-returned missionaries with depression, or if there were, I didn’t know they were there. Neither did my parents. Neither did my priesthood leaders. As I went back to school, I continued taking simple depression medications from my family doctor not realizing that I really needed to see a specialist instead.
I returned from my mission and went to Utah Valley University, much closer to where I originally lived. As of today, I have been going to that school for eight years. For a four year degree. To say that this process has been rocky is an understatement. Apart from changing my major so many times it would make your head spin, I would have to take a leave of absence once every two semesters just to find my mental footing again. I would hear other students talk about how they were taking eighteen, twenty-one, twenty-four credits at a time, and wondered how they stayed sane. I was taking six, mayybe nine, and was barely making it to class.
So those medications that weren’t working for me? They don’t work for people with bipolar disorder. It turns out I’m on the bipolar spectrum, with highs that feel like regular life and lows that feel like the Pits of Tartarus. And the lows last a long time. Months at a time. Every so often my mind comes up for air for about six or seven hours and I turn into a productive person; this time is pure heaven. My doctors misdiagnosed me as “just depressed” because they didn’t ask the right questions. I didn’t give the right answers. No one took the time to really examine me until I had finally had no other option but to seek specialized help. I didn’t even know specialized help was a thing until, come to find out, there are tons of students at UVU right now with the same problems that I have. As of now, I’ve taken a longer leave of absence just to find help and therapy for a problem that I know I have.
Since my mission, I’ve been employed and unemployed about two dozen times now, on and off. I’ve never been able to find steady work, and the steadiest work I ever found (and made good friends with while working there) I had to throw away because my depression and panic attacks worsened to the point of suicidal thoughts and plans. They say that getting on a steady schedule is key to finding peace, but my mind won’t let me find that steady schedule. At least it didn’t until I started with a place called Wasatch Mental Health. I was finally able to get some of the medications I need to start healing and feeling normal again (Wellbutrin, Depakote, and Risperidone), and I’ve started going to group therapies that I’m not sure are helping yet. In fact, I just threw away a part-time seasonal job because I can’t deal with customer support anymore. I wear my heart on my sleeve at all times and find it difficult to differentiate myself personally from the company I work for. It’s the same problem I had on my mission; people wouldn’t normally dump soda on me if I didn’t wear the shirt and tie, but because I did, they did.
I think the worst part of all of this is seeing everyone I know on Facebook. I can’t bring myself to message people I met in Los Angeles. Everyone has moved on with their lives, grown families, finished degrees, started lucrative careers, and I’m stuck in the past writing this garbage in the hopes that I’ll finally move on too. “But you shouldn’t compare yourself with other people online,” yadda yadda yadda, I get it. But when your only window to the outside world is Perfectionville, life tends to get a little bit darker with each passing swipe of the screen. When you can’t hold down a job for three freaking weeks, you can’t help but look around and wonder what the hell is wrong with you.
If there’s one piece of advise I can give anyone who even thinks they are suffering from depression and anxiety, it’s to look out for warning signs and don’t be afraid to ask for real help. If you’re young and your parents don’t believe in depression or anxiety disorders (as I’ve seen horror stories online), talk to a teacher or a friend about how you’re feeling. If you’re finding life becoming more difficult than it has been, and you find yourself stuck in bed, don’t be afraid to look for people suffering the same thing. We’re out here. I’ve found the anxiety and depression Reddit pages refreshing because it’s filled with people that are experiencing the very same things I am.
There’s some part of me that wants someone to just understand what I go through on a regular day-to-day basis. For someone to come up to me and ask sincerely, “Are you doing okay?” There’s never anyone else with me in my self-driving car, and I’ve been driving for so long that the giant gaping holes in the road ahead of me aren’t even frightening in my dream. And in real life, that’s frightening.
Some fun links for fun times: chuckdrawsthings is awesome, and I love her pigeons. Owlturd is awesome too, even though the internets are drama-ing all over him. They Might Be Giants have a new CD coming out in January!