Saturday, August 16, 2014

Depression and Disney

This is not a post about Robin Williams and Aladdin, though the events of last week might have contributed to why I'm writing this post.  He was a wonderful man and many of us grew up watching him, from Mrs. Doubtfire and Jumanji and Hook as children, to his HBO comedy specials as young adults.  He will be missed.

I just lost it while watching Mulan.

The part after she is revealed as a woman and left in the mountains, when she says, "Maybe what I really wanted was to prove that I could do things right. So that when I looked in the mirror I'd see someone worthwhile. But I was wrong. I see nothing," was too much for me.

Cue the ugly crying and hyperventilating.  Hearing Mulan say that was really just too much for me to deal with at that moment.  I felt vulnerable, I felt relieved, I felt like I was recognizing myself in her character.

I love Mulan.  It came out when I was 13 and in the midst of Spice Girl fueled Grrl Power!  I've seen the movie and listened to the soundtrack so many times that I can sing and speak along with the movie without paying attention.  I even quote it to my dog (You missed?! How could you miss, that treat was three feet in front of you!!!)  But I've never really paid attention to those lines before and what they could mean.  It was sudden, and hit me so hard, probably because I love this movie so much.  To think that this strong female character, who I grew up with from a shy and awkward teen to an even more socially awkward adult, could be struggling with self esteem and depression too?  Wow.  I wasn't expecting that.  Or how emotional it would make me.

I have depression.  I also suffer from a related problem called impostor syndrome, which came out in full force when I started my PhD.  They both fill my head with thoughts of being worthless, that no one cares about me, that nothing I will ever do will be good enough.  That if I left this party early no one would even notice, so why do I ever leave the house?  Why do I even try?

Right now I'm good.  I am able to recognize when it's getting bad, and I can remind myself that depression is an evil fucker and it LIES.  Then I can try to work through it.  It's not really as simple as all that, but that's basically how I've been operating the past year and I don't have the words to describe it better.  I never intended to use this blog to talk about my depression.  And I don't like dwelling on where I was last year because it makes me feel vulnerable, though some part of me is always aware of it.

Last summer was the worst it has ever been.  I spent the entire summer on my couch, getting no work done, not taking care of myself in any way.  My boyfriend was traveling a lot for work and gone almost every week, only coming home on the weekends, so I was alone for most of the summer, alone with my thoughts.  I wouldn't even buy groceries because it meant I'd have to leave the house, so some days I just wouldn't eat.  It took everything I had to wake up in the morning and take care of my dog, because through it all I knew that I needed to at least make sure he was taken care of.  I'm amazed that I was able to do that at all.  I thought about what a waste of space I was, trying to make myself as small and inconspicuous as possible when I did leave the house, feeling like I had to apologize to the cashier or the person sitting next to me at the movies for simply existing.  Wishing I could just disappear, fade into nothingness.

When I heard Mulan say those lines, the same belittling words I've been telling myself since I was a little kid... it was too much.  To think about where I was this time last year, where I am now, and how easy it would be to go back, slipping into that fog of feeling worthless.

I can't pinpoint when it got better.  It just... did.  Slowly.  I'm sure it would have been easier if I had gone to see a therapist, but I couldn't afford it and the services offered at my university were even a stretch on my wallet - and not all that helpful, since the sessions were with students doing their clinic rotations and they couldn't offer any real professional services. They could refer you to someone if they thought you needed it, but that was it.  I found those sessions really unhelpful - the girl assigned to me refused to let me talk about what I felt I needed to that day, instead redirecting me to topics I did not want to discuss or weren't immediately relevant to what was going on that week.  And I regret that I let that make me feel like I needed her permission to talk about the topics I needed to get out.  (One thing I remember about these sessions, is I would tell a story and finish with, "And it just makes me feel so powerless and frustrated," or something similar, to which she would reply, "And how does <whatever I was just talking about> make you feel?"  It was like, were you listening at all?)  On top of that, her rotation ended at the end of the semester, so if I wanted to continue I had to start over with someone new.  I stopped going.  I needed more than what they could offer.

Other grad students I know have found the counseling offered by the uni very helpful... I did not.  And that's okay.  But what is NOT okay is that I suffered for a whole summer, feeling like I couldn't get the help I needed because I could not afford to see a real professional.  How we handle mental illness in this country is disgusting, since the stigma and our crap insurance practices make it difficult for people to get the help we need.  The ACA isn't much help either (how was my well woman yearly check up MORE expensive than before the ACA? I thought pelvic exams were free!)  Now I know there are hotlines where you can just talk to someone when you need it.  I wish I had known about these last summer, because talking helps me.

If you or someone you know needs help, someone to talk to, or is thinking about self-harm, please remember you're not alone and there are people who can help.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline  - 
(in addition to the hotline, you can chat with someone via the website linked above. They also offer crisis services through the same hotline,

Samaritans Confidential Crisis Hotline  -
(available to talk if you are depressed, overwhelmed, thinking about self-harm, or just need to talk)

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