“Too young to be depressed”

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in 2007, when I was 15 years old–though I knew I had both sooner than that. I’d talked in diary entries years prior about my “autopilot depression”, numbness, and thoughts of self-harm.

That’s when I had my first therapist. She was nice–but after six months, we still hadn’t talked about any of the big things that were really wrong. She thought I just needed to ride my bike more and work through some friend drama. My antidepressant prescription wasn’t renewed, and I finished out high school miserable and alone…

Or, mostly alone. A year after high school ended, I married my boyfriend of three years. We adopted a kitten together and had fun with our new adult independence while working and going to college.

Jobs gone wrong

But my mental health started to catch up with me. I lost my second job after only six months because of depression and anxiety; my catastrophized thoughts told me that I wasn’t very good at it, and I started to get physically ill before every shift. 

My third job lasted longer, but the same psychosomatic sickness happened after about nine months, when I couldn’t handle the constructive criticism I’d received from some kind people who probably still thought I was pretty good at my job overall.

That was in 2012. I became totally convinced that I had tried this whole living thing, this whole being an adult thing, and it hadn’t worked out for me. I tried a new therapist, but she didn’t understand me at all–I was struggling to get out of bed every day and she was giving me tips for how to clean my house just enough to still host dinner parties. 

I went on more medication. I didn’t know at the time that I was suffering from hypothyroidism–so with that untreated, the depression medication made me so exhausted that I slept 14 hours a day and still had to drink massive amounts of caffeine just to be awake enough to play video games. For a year, I didn’t get out of bed, I barely showered, and I subsisted on a diet of Dr. Pepper and one fast food meal a day. I couldn’t see a way out at all, because even if I could find a job, what did it matter if I’d just lose it after a few months when I had my next breakdown? 

It nearly cost me my marriage.

Wrong comfort

The only solace I really found was in homesteading. Through homesteading–according to several sites–you could buy a small, cheap plot of land in a place no one wants to live, build a house (which may or may not have a working toilet) for a couple thousand dollars, and put in the labor of growing all your own food. For some reason, this seemed more achievable to me than the idea that my mental health would ever get better.

It’s hard to overstate how much this homesteading dream, built entirely off of an anxious concern that I’d never be able to work again, changed my life. I probably researched, planned, and worked on homesteading pursuits for thousands of hours over the next few years. It’s why I got into crochet, which has become a source of great calm and pride in my life. I became a pescetarian for a while because having my own aquaponics fish farm sounded more plausible to me than raising animals for meat. I tried and tried and tried to get into gardening. I learned to bake bread, to make yogurt, to can food.

Succeeding and failing

That little spark of hope (and some other big changes in my life) led to me getting my first freelance copywriting job after literally begging for work in a chat room. And I was actually good at it–which gave me the self-esteem I needed to finally finish my English degree, and to hold a very good remote job for four and a half years. That job ended because of structural changes in the organization, not because of anything to do with my mental health. I was doing a lot better.

But over the past year, some things have changed that have thrown a wrench into my entire life story. In late 2019, my lower back pain worsened to a point where it is disabling. Uncertainty and patience have always been two of my greatest weaknesses, and here was this big change I didn’t know how to deal with, where any potential fixes would require tons of patience while it was still uncertain whether they would even work, whether my back pain could get better. (Having no insurance in 2019 and bad insurance in 2020 certainly didn’t help; we’ll see if I can get medical help in the new year.)

It also forced me to contend with the truth about my homesteading–that while there’s nothing wrong with growing and canning some or even most of your own food, and while it would actually be a good thing if more people lived in smaller homes, my obsession with and plans toward homesteading were based on a lie my brain had told me during a time when my back may have been able to handle it. It no longer worked.

(A big disclaimer here: I’m not saying that everyone who’s into homesteading gets into it because of overblown anxiety–only that I know it wasn’t healthy in my case.)

I had to reinvent myself and my hobbies, accepting my newly disabled condition without the “building a tiny house in the woods” fallback. And it was working!

… until COVID got worse. 

Remember that whole “uncertainty is one of my biggest weaknesses” thing? Everything about the COVID pandemic has been wrought with uncertainty, and I simply couldn’t cope. My worst fear, born of my depressed and unemployed state in 2013, came to pass–I had another extended breakdown.

And it… wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Yes, I was unemployed and depressed and terrified of going broke. My husband tried to convince me that everything would turn out OK, but I couldn’t really believe him at the time, because how could it ever be OK?

But it turns out, when you live with mental illness long enough, you learn little ways to cope–you find little moments of comfort. My 2020 rock bottom was not as bad, or as long, as my 2013 rock bottom. It lasted five months instead of 18. I slept 10 hours a night, not 14. I gave myself permission to rest, let myself plan without catastrophizing, and focused on keeping myself alive.

And it worked, and we didn’t lose our home, and we’ve turned out OK so far. Maybe I’ll believe him next time.

What now?

I still don’t know what my hobbies are now that I’ve lost all the ones rooted in anxiety. I still don’t know if my back problems can be fixed. I’ve found that I didn’t practice the art of loving and valuing myself, so I need to find some self-worth again. 

This isn’t the kind of story that ends with my full recovery, believing I’ll live happily ever after. I haven’t recovered, and I can only hope that I still will.

But I have learned so much about myself since my first diagnoses 13 years ago. I don’t think my future is hopeless, nor do I think it hangs on little threads, like “I’ll be OK as long as I can homestead” or “I’ll be OK as long as I don’t have another breakdown.” I simply think, no matter what happens, I’ll figure something out.

I am balancing being my best with calming and rest. I’m working on myself. I’m getting better all the time, even if it’s only in tiny little ways. 

That’s all we can really do.