Okay, I fooled you.
I’m not talking about getting physically naked, although studies have shown that being in your birthday suit has physiological, mental, and emotional benefits. But that topic deserves a separate piece.
I’m talking about getting metaphorically naked —raw, real, and honest with yourself and others.
Depression and anxiety (let’s call it DAX, to make it more fun!) are chronic afflictions that affect millions of people around the globe. I am one of these affected people.
A few months back, I had an episode that lasted for a month. All was bleak and hopeless. I feared I would never be able to pull myself out of it. Well, I am writing to tell you that I, in fact, have come out on the other side with a greater sense of self and a glow of enlightenment. This seemingly-endless depressive episode taught me that I need to get real with myself —I need to get curious, introspective, and proactive about my healing.
First, I’d like to share how DAX manifests for me. In doing so, I’m hoping to shed light on the fact that you are absolutely not alone in your struggle.
I know an episode is upon me when I start to feel a seemingly incurable emptiness. I become a vessel. The air and the world moves around me and through me, and I am simply an observer. My chest, shoulders, and feet turn into cement at the thought of getting out of bed and doing something with my days. I want to hide. I want to be absorbed into my mattress and disappear. When I have to interact with people, it is painful and embarrassing. There is no hiding my sadness, so I’d rather hide myself. Sounds familiar?
Then comes the negative self-talk and loss of hope in my creative work. I’m not talking about a bit of self-doubt; I’m talking full-blown deprecation. “I am a failure. I have nothing to offer. My voice is unimportant. Hell, I don’t even have a voice. Nobody will give a thought to my art; it’s worthless.” This type of thinking sets me careening down the “rabbit hole.” I fall into a vicious cycle but I know that yoga, deep breathing, and writing it out are the things that help me get through it. But when I’m feeling miserable, I become immobile and shut down.
Let’s talk about the rabbit hole. I know I have fully descended when I can no longer reason with myself, nor accept the love and reasoning from those close to me. I literally cannot stop the negative self-talk. I become addicted to beating myself up. I apologize for the way I am feeling, I apologize for affecting those around me, I apologize for apologizing.
Okay, now that we’ve covered the manifestations of DAX, let’s move on to a personal anecdote which includes me having a near-meltdown in public.
I started dating Greg —a really kind, talented, and grounded man—five months ago. He’s a “real” man in the sense that he is spiritually evolved. He is not afraid of his emotions, nor is he afraid of mine. But I didn’t know this until I finally got “naked” with him .
I had been trying to wade the proverbial waters of this deep sadness for two weeks without letting him know what I was going through. I would occasionally downplay it with “I’m feeling bummed,” but I never elaborated. I wasn’t ready to let him in. Physically, yes; emotionally, hell no.
Amidst this depressive episode of mine, he invited me to one of his gigs (yeah, he’s a musician, my second greatest weakness after fried potatoes). I knew the show was important to him, and I knew his friends would be there; I had yet to meet them.
I didn’t feel like going. I didn’t feel like performing the pretty, funny, cool maybe-soon-to-be-official girlfriend. But I pushed myself to do so because I wanted to support him, and I hoped that maybe getting out of the house and interacting with people would get me out of my negative headspace.
This was my first and greatest mistake—I ignored my boundaries. I neglected what I really needed, which was a hot bath full of Epsom salts and a big-ass cry.
I go to the show and
I bring my best friend Ali with me. She is my rock and my bill-free therapist. I also bring Nick along — he’s a new friend, down to earth, easy to be with, and also a musician, so I figured he’d get along with Greg.
As soon as we step into the venue, the anxiety sets in. To combat this, I have a strong drink and a couple of hits of weed. As many of us know — as I know — substances usually exacerbate whatever we’re feeling. I decide to ignore this concrete piece of wisdom I have held with me since my first bad trip in high school. Surprise surprise, the alcohol and weed send me in a full-frontal dive down the rabbit hole.
I keep the internal waves at bay during the show. The music is good, it allows me to focus on something else, and it also gets me out of interacting with people. But after the music stops, the nasty voices get loud.
Greg packs up his equipment and descends the stage. I tentatively kiss him hello and congratulate him on an awesome show, trying my best to seem sincere and totally calm. He asks me to step outside with him and meet his friends. Ali and Nick are already outside mingling. I take a deep breath and follow him out. As soon as I see his crew, I veer straight over to Ali and Nick to smoke some more weed. More bad decisions.
I get too high. I turn into a major weirdo. Mind you, paranoia is a symptom of anxiety. Mix that with the paranoia induced by some strong Cali weed, and you’ve got a recipe for a crappy evening. I avoid Greg’s wanting glances. I feel guilty and embarrassed for being so standoffish. I tell Nick to excuse us and lead Ali into the women’s restroom , otherwise known as the “conference room.”
“It’s all ruined. He thinks I’m a fucking weirdo. It’s all ruined,” I pout. Ali tries to reassure me, “Nothing is ruined, babe. It’s much bigger in your head. I promise you, nobody is giving this a second thought.” I can’t hear her. I can’t absorb anything she’s saying. I just keep talking at her. “He’s too grounded for me. I’m too f*cked up. It won’t work. I should just end things with him now before he sees this part.” “This part” referring to the part Ali knows very well — the part that is imperfect and sometimes afraid and sometimes self-loathing and overall the part that is just trying her best. The human part.
“Kait, you need to breathe.” I continue spewing words at her. “We’ve been in here for so long. What if Greg thinks we’re doing coke? What if Nick thinks we’re doing coke? Oh my god we must seem so shady. I’m so shady.” Ali lovingly looks into my eyes, “Kait, I just want to grab you and shake you and tell you to stop. Just stop. You are not breathing. We need to find a way to get you out of your head. Let’s get out of the bathroom.” “Okay, okay.” I take a deep breath. Ali leads me out. I hold on to her for balance.
After avoiding Greg for a good 35–40 minutes, I finally step into his group of friends. I rub his back, force a smile. “Hey, sorry, me and Ali were just chatting. She’s going through something.” I make a sympathetic face. The silver-haired man whom I spotted earlier sitting in the front row at the gig steps into the group. Greg greets him with a smile, then turns to me. “Kait, this is my step-dad, Dave.” Jesus Christ! I turn beet-red then grab Ali. Back to the bathroom we go. Poor Ali.
“His step-dad is outside!” I search her eyes for justification. “Okay…so what?” “So what?! That’s a big deal. That’s moving very quickly. Greg’s told me about him, but not that I was going to meet him tonight.” She puts her hand on my shoulder, once again, “Darling, he’s here to watch Greg perform. Just like we are. He didn’t surprise you with a sit-down dinner. It’s not a big deal.” “Well, maybe he’s just trying to seem casual but it’s like a surprise attack. Maybe he wants his dad’s opinion. And look at me tonight. I’m a mess.” “You look fine.” “Well, I don’t feel fine. I can feel stress-lines forming. I have a headache. And my stomach is falling out of my ass. I can’t go home with him tonight. I don’t want to.” “So tell him that,” Ali says bluntly.
This was all beginning to feel very silly—pulling my best friend into the bathroom, then reappearing to the guy I “like like” then disappearing to the bathroom again then reappearing and asking the guy I like like to have a “talk.” But alas, DAX works in mysterious ways, and an episode makes otherwise grounded, mature individuals who do a lot of yoga and eat organic and meditate (meditating like once every three weeks counts, right?) do manic (read: silly) things.
I finally resolve, “Okay, I’m going to talk to him. Right now.”
I go outside, stroke Greg’s arm, “Hi. Can I grab you for a second?” “Sure, am I in trouble?” I break a nervous smile — just what I was afraid of. He thinks this is his fault. “No, not at all.” I lead him to a private hallway in the bar. He leans against the wall, waiting. I take a deep breath. “So…I just feel like, um, well…I guess I freaked out a little bit because I wasn’t expecting to meet your step-dad. It felt a little fast for me.” He scrunches his brow. “He’s just here to see my show. Did you feel weird because you’re stoned?” “Yeah, a bit.” “Well, he’s stoned too. So, don’t worry.” We laugh, nervously. The step-dad deflection isn’t flying.
“Okay, well, I think I want to…um…I need to go home tonight. I’m sorry.” “Oh. Is everything okay? Did I do something?” he asks again, his puppy eyes searching. “No! No. Absolutely not. I’m just not feeling that great.” He wants more. I look at him, then smile a self-conscious smile. “Okay, do you really want to know the reason I don’t want to go home with you tonight?” “Yeah…” “Because I have the shits,” I blurt. He laughs. I laugh, then become self-conscious again.
“And there’s more.” He waits. I take a big, brave breath. “I’m not happy tonight. I haven’t been for the past month. And this isn’t new. It’s something I struggle with regularly. Like…clinically. I feel like I need to have a good cry later and I don’t want to put pressure on you or freak you out. I don’t want to be naked with anybody, I’m not feeling pretty or sexy, and I don’t want to feel more vulnerable than I’m already feeling. I shouldn’t have even come tonight.” I wipe moist droplets from my upper lip. A mix of hot embarrassment and relief washes over me. My heart is beating fast. The good cry I need to have later starts right now, in this hallway bar. “I’m sorry for acting so weird,” I sniffle through embarrassed tears. He gazes at me thoughtfully, then says, “Stop apologizing. You’re being real, and that’s awesome. I like seeing you this way.”
Wow. That is the sweetest thing I have ever heard. This guy is total boyfriend material and as much as a part of me wants to go home with him for being so cute and sensitive and understanding, I must remember what I need—I need to go home and be alone, and maybe journal, and definitely cry some more and deal with what I’m going through and stop trying to avoid it any further. So I kiss him goodbye and hug and thank Ali and bid Nick farewell and hop into an Uber, and then head straight to my bathtub.
I know I have to work with the genetic makeup I was dealt. DAX runs in my blood. It’s not a smooth ride, but I’ve learned along the way that self-care and a little humor makes for the quickest route out of the rabbit hole. A few solid pieces of advice I can offer to those also affected:
1. If we can’t be real with ourselves, we can’t be real with anybody else.
I’ll say it again: depression and anxiety are chronic afflictions. As such, they require constant maintenance and attention. If you have diabetes, you don’t just level out your blood sugar once and then continue living diabetes-free. You’ve got to monitor it, be in touch with it daily. I’m not saying you need to wear your Prozac like a candy necklace and tell every single person that you are suffering. I’m just saying be aware that this is in you and it shouldn’t be ignored, or else it may get big and ugly and get the best of you. And you don’t want that, because there is a best of you waiting to shine through.
2. Never apologize for your feelings, and never let anybody make you feel wrong for feeling what you’re feeling.
Your emotions contain history lessons and learning lessons — they are integral, intelligent parts of you.
3. Talking about said feelings always helps.
Take it from someone who comes from a family of food/alcohol/substance abusers, people who would rather ingest and numb their feelings than let them out. I’ve seen what this does to the human spirit, and it ain’t pretty. I’ve seen what it does to me. Talking may seem like the hardest thing to do in the moment, but in the end, it is the safest, easiest, least-detrimental route to dealing with the internal rollercoaster.
4. And if you don’t feel like talking about it with others, try talking about it with yourself.
It may sound silly, but giving yourself a pep talk out loud can really do wonders. My last pep-talk, brought on by a wave of anxiety related to an editing project, went something like this: “You are a badass. You will make this work. You will find art in the chaos and you will figure out whatever technological glitches may arrive. You have the Apple Store. You have your film school buddies. And you have you. I have me. Patience, practice, persistence will lead to inner peace.” Aahh…calming exhale.
5. The most important thing to remember when it comes to dealing with DAX is to be gentle with yourself.
Stay hopeful that it will pass, even in the moments when you are absolutely convinced that it will not. Give yourself what you need, as long as it’s not like, deadly or anything. And yes, although it’s important to have an awareness of the world at large, you should still give credence to your pain. You can’t help make the world a better place if you yourself aren’t happy and productive.
During this recent, very intense episode, I thought that I would be stuck in the rabbit hole forever. I was so deep in the self-loathing and the paranoia that I couldn’t see a way out. Here’s what brought me back: unabashedly facing myself, for all of my faults and all of my victories, and being honest with my best friend and my mother and my now-official boyfriend, even when the fear of being exposed and raw was nearly paralyzing. I was already dealing with so many emotions, adding shame and embarrassment to having these feelings would do me no good. I couldn’t hide what I was going through — it’s visible and tangible, so why not talk about it?
To hell with the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety. To hell with the looks of misunderstanding, the looks of pity, the looks of fear. We who are depressed and anxious are just people trying our best, trying to be happy, trying to be part of the world.
The quicker we can look at ourselves and allow others to look at us through a clear lens, the quicker we can heal.
So strip down, fess up, and get honest — it feels damn good to be naked.
Author: Kait Ellis
Image: Elephant Journal on Instagram
Editor: Katarina Tavčar