No offense to the lovely and not-at-all-annoying humans in my orbit, but one of the best decisions I ever made was to “clean up” my Instagram feed so it includes only psychology, sobriety, mental health and therapy-related content.
Now, when I’m strapped into the struggle bus for what feels like a never-ending, monotonous ride, scrolling on my phone can be an effective way to self-soothe. It actually lifts my spirits when I come across posts like these 👀⬆️⬇️ and relate to them on a deep level.
All these ubiquitous, faceless accounts with underscore-heavy handles really get me! I am not alone!
I had to take a marker to that graphic; I can’t have you thinking that this latest bout of depression — accompanied, I guess, by a brush with burnout — was enough to make me relapse. In the month since I last bothered to visit this space, I passed another sober anniversary, and I’ve got less than 60 days to go until I can collect my 3-year chip.
Peep these flowers from my hubby, without whom I wouldn’t even remember, much less mark, these mini-milestones anymore.
Honestly, the problem for me these days is not wanting to drink. The idea hasn’t even occurred to me in well over a year.
The problem is wanting to sleep…like, all the time. Ten, 11, 12 hours a day, regardless of what the clock says or where the sun is. The second I finish whatever work I’ve phoned in for my part-time marketing job, I’m gulping my chamomile tea, chomping my melatonin gummies, trudging up the stairs with an emotional support Tootsie Pop protruding from my cheek, pulling the blackout blinds in the bedroom, and yanking the covers up to my chin with the TV tuned to the “Law & Order” marathon on WE/Sundance/BBC America/whatever network is airing it that day.
That actually sounds heavenly, so maybe the real “problem” is what I don’t want to do, which is summed up nicely in the above list of symptoms: “Things the person once enjoyed.”
It’s really uncanny, how depression seems to dissolve your capacity for joy, in short order, so that reading, writing, exercising, going outside, showering, putting on the new clothes and shoes you got for your birthday — all of it suddenly seems pointless, and in some cases, outright impossible.
- “Extreme difficulty concentrating”
- “Endless anxiety”
As I shuffled, zombie-like, through the past three weeks, I could not fathom having the energy, much less the mental acuity, to sit down and focus on a book or blog post. My mind has been spinning every which way, yet stuck in a state of inertia. Typing out a week’s worth of social media captions and email campaigns for work took Herculean effort. I found myself losing interest and quitting in the middle of a 45-minute at-home yoga program.
Some days, I couldn’t even muster the will to bathe.
- “Neglecting self-care”
- “Feeling numb or apathetic about life”
Don’t even get me started on those “unusual appetite changes.” Why can’t I be the type of person who loses their appetite when their mental health declines?
Honestly, I’ve been struggling all spring, feeling vacant, uninspired, and not much like myself. But having a full grad school course load and internship search to focus on from mid-January through late April forced me to keep my head above water. Once I turned in my last paper and checked the last box on my final exams, though, I totally tanked. 😑
You can’t just snap your fingers at times like these and reignite your spark, but thank goodness we had a week between spring and summer classes so I could try to regenerate some brain cells.
That, of course, always starts by dragging my ass to the park for some fresh air. Nothing like pollen-packed lungs to clear the head! 🤧
Somehow, I still managed to pull off a 4.0 GPA this past semester. I’m torn between feeling ambivalent, feeling relieved and questioning the value of grades that you evidently don’t have to be fully functional, mentally or physically, to get. Plus, straight A’s don’t mean 💩 in the real world anyway, so big whoop, right?
That could just be the depression talking — or me, “feeding the wrong wolf,” as my husband has started saying since I got my last tattoo.
- “Feeling negative or overly critical”
That one is pretty much a permanent ✅ on my personality profile.
In truth, there are quite a few positives to report, even amid this recent rough patch. My instructors gave me glowing reviews in our end-of-semester evaluations, and higher-than-average marks in things like written expression and class participation (big shocker!) My counseling skills, in the words of my Techniques professor, are “right where they need to be.”
She also told me I have a “vibrant personality,” which at first made me think, “I sure fooled her.” Or, “Must be a typo and she really meant v-ery awkward.” But thinking about that comment now, when I’ve been feeling like an “inadequate and/or hopeless” empty shell, it’s really an important reminder: Hard times are cyclical. I’ve been through them, and bounced back from them, many, MANY times before.
Depression comes. It also goes. It is part of me, but it is not who I am.
Similarly, I’m a person with an addiction to alcohol, but alcoholism does not define me as a person. And the more distance I put between this person and her last drink, the better I can handle whatever negative shit life throws my way. I mean, I’ve built a pretty convincing body of evidence to that effect over the past 34 months, through low times and high times and plain old “meh” times, and here, on some of the lowest-functioning days in my recovery, I’m still learning more and accomplishing more than I did on my best days as a “functional” alcoholic.
Because I am sober, and resilient — and yes, at times even vibrant — my new career as a counselor is moving forward. Last week, I was fortunate enough to get an official offer for an internship at a substance abuse treatment center in West Philly, and I accepted. So, once I get my clearances squared away (FBI fingerprinting! 😳) that will be a done deal, and I will spend 8 hours a week accumulating actual clinical experience in the recovery space, starting in January 2023.
Quick pause to give thanks, that for all the galactically stupid shit I did in those 20 booze-soaked, post-undergrad years, none of it ever got me in trouble with the law. 🙏🏻
Another quick pause to consider: If I didn’t have a 4.0 in grad school, would this employer have hired someone with zero experience in the field? Maybe my grades aren’t totally meaningless? 🤔
By the way, this isn’t the same internship position I wrote about last time. The place in Quakertown was promising, but after meeting the people at the Philly clinic and considering all the different types of new experiences they will offer me, from traveling around the city with their mobile unit to visiting drug court to working with opioid addiction and Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT), which I currently know nothing about, and handling my own case load (of up to 10 clients! 😬), something in my gut just told me to take the offer on the table.
It’s nice to be wanted. It’s also, says the anxious control freak who loves having a plan, nice to get that job search out of the way 8 months early!
My first counseling job with actual clients, y’all. Whew! Just typing that out gives me a jolt of — I don’t really know, but it definitely ain’t apathy. And look! I’m using exclamation points! No telling what can come of this…
This internship doesn’t pay a dime, but like enrolling in grad school and making the shift to a helping profession in midlife, it will keep me accountable and expose me to a whole new support network while opening up a whole new world of opportunity. It will be one of those crucial reminders, when I feel “changes in personality” and “shifts in mood” and start to sink back into the quagmire of “what’s the point” thinking, that there is a reason to keep kicking, paddling, breathing…
I’m sure I could find social media content to help me state the immeasurable importance of purpose in pushing through pain and building a meaningful life you “don’t need to escape from.” But hell, after three Rip Van Winkle-esque weeks, writing this post has felt like running a damn marathon. 😰 And besides, I’ve got the perfect sentiment scribbled right here on my wall.