Photos: Jacqueline Filmore
It’s been some time since I told you about → my struggles with depression and anxiety. I feel like after about half a year I’m ready to give you a first update on my situation. That’s why this post is part one of my story and journey with these two – cause I’m pretty sure that there’s room for more and probably not only a second update.
“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”
– Mother Teresa
I found this quote when I was searching for some matching words to the photo above. For me, it’s incredible to think that I had totally forgotten how to smile or laugh and actually mean it – not fake it. It’s unbelievably hard and tiring to fake a smile when all you actually want to do is cry all the time. There’s this hashtag – #notjustsad – that perfectly describes depression. Depression is more than just regular sadness, it’s as if everything inside of you is feeling all the negative feelings at the same time and this is exhausting. So exhausting that all you can do is sleep. All. The. Time. Mostly because you’re tired and also trying to escape from all this, but also because sadness and desperation (and more) are overwhelming.
People tell you to get your shit together, that everything will get better soon, that you don’t have a reason to be sad and they tell you to “just smile”. And at some point, you simply give up and whenever someone asks you how you’re doing, you don’t tell them the truth, you put on your fake smile and say that everything’s okay. It becomes kind of a mantra you repeat again and again, so often you almost believe it yourself. You start to believe that this state is actually normal, that this is how you’re supposed to be, that there’s no way to change it. And that depression is your only friend. It feels weird to think that reality is different. That this is not what you’re supposed to feel. And you believe that giving up depression, all you have left, is wrong. At least that’s what I felt. I felt like depression is kind of my best friend. That doing something about it will take away all that’s left and that it won’t get better then. And somehow, it feels great to wallow yourself in all those bad thoughts, to be “the one that’s depressive”, to have an excuse for all those negative things you do, for all those bad feelings, for all the sadness inside of you. So why give that up?
When that big BOOM in my life happened, I was finally able to understand that this is not me. That being like that is not okay. That I don’t wanna be like that anymore and that I have to change. Looking back, I’m glad that it happened because otherwise I wouldn’t have had this extremely important realization. I decided that there’s no way for me out of this without help, without therapy. And so I started to look for someone to give me a hand on this new life-changing journey.
Now, you have to know that finding the right therapist is not that easy. I had already tried a few therapists since I was 11 years old after an incident where a man followed me through the city and even waited for me outside when I tried to hide in a store. Only after seeing someone I knew, he disappeared. But a few weeks later he appeared again – in my daily bus to school. This incident caused that I wasn’t able to go somewhere alone and after I took my driving test and had the possibility to drive to school, I also couldn’t use the bus anymore. The therapist I visited at that time did not help at all. I went there every week and she played some stupid games with me, even did an IQ test and told me my intelligence was below average (something I’ll never forget cause I’m seriously not dumb). Even after years I still wasn’t able to take the bus and being alone still made me feel very uncomfortable.
When I was 16 years old, depression started to get real. At school, I started to develop a huge fear of having to prove myself, fear of bad grades, fear of talking in front of the class. So much fear of it all that one day, when I was 18 years old, I had a major panic attack and ran away from school. This happened not only once. I tried another therapist and another one. Around 21, I even thought about going to a psychiatric day-care hospital but it felt wrong. And then I desisted from looking for help – also because I was convinced that I can get through all this on my own, that I don’t really need help. But – as you can imagine – it got worse.
Moving to Hamburg three years ago and being alone for the first time, in an own apartment, working from home (all day alone), not having friends yet, coming from a small village to a big city I didn’t know much,… all this triggered my fear and the anxiety grew. It grew so much that after about two years I wasn’t able to leave the house on my own. I was afraid of everything, I was scared and panicked all the time. And I was still convinced that I don’t need help. Even though my depression made me think about suicide more than once and the anxiety held me as a hostage. I won’t say that I was stupid, cause I was sick, but I could kick my own ass when I think about all this. I kept saying that I don’t want to do a therapy and that I don’t need it. Way to close your eyes and ignore the obvious…
“There were so many things I felt were not how they were supposed to be and I was finally ready to change it.”
After realizing that I seriously need some help, it wasn’t that easy to find someone for this job. Our health insurance system is kind of shitty when it comes to therapies – they pretty much want to choose for you who’s going to be your mental health assistant just so you don’t have to pay for it. Private therapists are pretty expensive and – let’s be honest – I knew that my condition would take some time to get back to “normal”. Half a year later, I’m still not where I should be, even though I’ve made enormous steps and am extremely proud of myself when I think about how I was six months ago, how I felt, how I acted, how I thought.
Since I needed help very urgently and there’s a serious problem with the waiting time you have to be able to accept (around 3-6 months) in order to get a therapist that’s paid for by health insurance, I decided to go for a private one nearby. And I was more than lucky – she was the perfect choice for me. And for the first time in years (and therapists), I felt ready to tell everything. I felt like I didn’t have to hide and put on my fake smile. I wanted help. I had accepted that this is the only thing that’s going to save me from, well, probably something really bad. I had already had my mental meltdown when I had to understand that my marriage was over, that I had to leave my favorite city, that my blog was probably going to die, that my actual life plans were destroyed and not happening anymore. It took me a long time to finally accept that “right now” is my new reality and that without help, I’d fail at everything that’s coming. So I sat there and told my therapist everything. Every single detail of what had brought me to her. Everything that I knew about myself that’s “wrong”, everything that caused my anxiety, everything that made me feel depressed, all those fears and struggles and the fact that I felt like I’m not able to live on my own. That I’m not independent, that I’m not the adult I should be, that I’m scared of this and that and so much more. There were so many things I felt were not how they were supposed to be and I was finally ready to change it. I knew it was going to be hard work and uncomfortable work. I knew I would have to do things I hated, things that scared me, things that I’ve never or hardly done before. And I was ready to fight.
Some days ago, I posted the picture above on Instagram and wrote this:
“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” – that’s a quote by Mother Teresa and she was so right! Through all that shit I’ve been going through the last years, I had almost forgotten the power of a true smile, of laughing – and not faking it. I’ve been in therapy since June and it’s absolutely incredible how much I’ve already changed because of all this. Deciding to get help was the best and most important step of my new journey and I want to let everybody who’s been struggling with their mental health know that you deserve to smile, to laugh, to be happy, to love life, to feel worthy and loved. You’re not alone, never. Don’t forget how great it feels to smile!
This is a short summary of what happened the last months in my life. I’ve changed a lot, my behavior and feelings towards certain situations changed. I’ve started to drive more and actually have fun while doing it, I’ve started to go out for running errands, I’ve started to keep my appointments by myself, I’ve started to take the bus again during summer (when I didn’t have the car), I’ve started to travel alone by train without being anxious, I’ve started to do easy everyday things without being scared and I’ve started to think positively – something I had stopped to do years ago. I’ve always called myself a professional pessimist and kind of lived for my motto that everything’s going wrong and will be bad. And today, if there’s something not happening as expected, I’m actually thinking of it as a challenge to prove to myself that I’m capable of making it. I’m seeing positive things where I’d have been desperate before.
And most important: I’m smiling and laughing again. And meaning it. I’m being happy. And you can’t believe how great it feels!
I know how hard life can be for someone with depression and anxiety and I know how hard it is to accept that this won’t change without help. I know all the struggles, all those feelings and bad thoughts. I know how much life sucks when you think that dying is the only way out. And that’s why I’m writing this blog post and sharing it with you. Because I want to let you know that being like that is nothing to be ashamed of, even though in our society it still is something you shouldn’t make public and let everybody know. That’s something I want to change, as well as your thoughts towards your or other people’s sickness. I want to let you know that if you’re feeling all this, it’s okay to get help. It’s okay to accept that you can’t change it on your own. Because you’re not alone. There are so many people like “us”. And so many who really want to help. Who can help. And whose help you should gladly accept.
If there’s only one person who reads this and finally feels ready to go for it, ask for help and get it, my deed is done. And it makes me incredibly proud to talk about this, to take you with me on that journey, which is a super exciting one. To show you how great it can be to get rid of all that negativity in your life and become a mentally healthy person that’s starting to be independent again, but most important: a person who found her way back to laughing instead of being afraid.