Breaking the Silence

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Image: BuzzFeed

Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton, two of this generation’s music greats, recently released a song that is both haunting and deeply moving at the same time. It’s called Say Something (the video version absolutely gives me chills), and it is usually playing in my head. The song comes out at a time when everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has something to say about something. Our world is so chaotic, so broken, and it’s hard not to have an opinion about any of it. The song poses a lot of big questions, but I think the line that has been really bothering me is the lyric “Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all.” This statement unsettled me, because I usually find silence on important topics to be absolutely offensive in its passivity.

Then something changed in me. I woke up one morning about two months ago, and realized I had lost all hope. I felt no joy. I am not trying to be humorous when I say that it felt like dementors had entered my home and stolen everything from me. I thought I would shake this feeling after a day or two, but I couldn’t do it. I started having massive breakdowns once or twice a week. I would find myself bawling and weeping in the shower and shaking uncontrollably. I lost all motivation to do anything. I started having thoughts that I didn’t want to be here anymore. I was exhausted. I felt angry, resentful, ashamed, and bitter all at the same time. I alternated between wanting to lock myself in the bedroom and wanting to get in the car and drive away without telling anyone. And this lasted for about six weeks.

My poor husband was befuddled and tried so hard to help me, lift my spirits, encourage me, and at least make our environment at home better. Nothing he did seemed to make a difference.  While I quickly recognized that I was deep in a depressive episode, I didn’t actually know what to do about it.

As a counselor, I know all of the things to DO to fight depression: Eating healthy, daily exercise, routine, relationships, medication if needed. I was doing most of these things. I had weened myself off of medication after the first of the year since Tim and I knew we wanted to try to get pregnant in the foreseeable future. I carefully planned out the weening process based on what I know about SSRI medications and my own body. Everything seemed to be fine, for a while, until my mind and body took this uncontrollable turn that I could not explain.

I tried to “tough it out”. I am a mental health therapist, for heaven’s sake! I should be able to pull myself out of this! Yet, how many times have clients sat in front of me and said the exact same thing? And how many times have I spent HOURS telling them that depression is not about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”? I had forgotten my own professional wisdom when it came to helping myself.

I realized I needed to get back in a healthy rhythm. I needed to cut out the things that tend to trigger my depressions (certain foods, alcohol, isolation) and add in the things that I know work better for me (exercise, journaling, quiet time at night, and quality one-on-one time with friends). These changes helped a little, but I realized I still needed assistance. I talked to my doctor, and decided to get back on my medication. It was a lower dose, and it turns out the medication that helps me is actually safe for pregnancy, should that happen.

I noticed a measurable difference within a week. I realized that I am someone who is biologically, genetically, and environmentally prone to depression, and I need help to fight it. My body is crazy sensitive to many things, but I had forgotten how sensitive my mind and heart are as well. Even after making some lifestyle changes and starting medication again, I realized that something was still off. I had a hard time pin pointing the source, until I realized how horrible I felt every time I checked social media. I never want to be someone who is constantly attached to my phone, but I had arrived at that place again and it was having a pretty big impact on me.

Every quiet moment, every red light, every lull while standing in a line I was scrolling through Instagram and Facebook and I felt terrible about myself each time. I was comparing and contrasting myself to others and their lives. The images and videos and memes seemed to magnify all of my current fears, insecurities, and personal battles. I also realized that I was talking WAY too much. I was posting all the time, and very little of it was actually meaningful or helpful. I was craving the likes and the follows and the shares. I had developed a very unhealthy relationship with an unrealistic world.

So I cut myself off. I removed all social media from my phone and logged off sites on my computer. In the time that I usually spent saying something online, I started listening by way of reading and absorbing the experiences of others without the ability to respond. I read books, articles, blogs, and listened to podcasts from all different sources. I also spent a lot of time in silence.

I didn’t miss the social media frenzy at all. In fact, within a week I noticed a major difference in my mood and my ability to process and reflect on the world around me. A month later, when I finally logged back on to FaceBook just to see what I had missed, I realized I had not missed much. I only stayed on for about a minute because I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. I have yet to log back into Instagram.

I want to keep listening and I do want to keep writing and sharing. I believe both of these things are important processes for me and for others. But I want to find that healthy balance between saying something and knowing when to say nothing. I had become so consumed with things happening outside of my self and my own sphere of influence that I lost hope in everything. Social media didn’t cause my recent depressive episode. I believe it was a combination of factors including life circumstances, chemical imbalances, and lack of self care that lead to my personal Pit of Despair. But out of this, I have learned that I need to fight for certain things like quiet time, healthy habits, medical care, and rest in order to be my best self. I also need to fight to let go of the things that are harmful to me, no matter how mainstream they may be.

I hope that in talking about it, someone else will realize they don’t have to white knuckle their way through depression either. I think it’s worth saying something if my missteps and experiences can help someone else get out of their pit as well.

So let’s talk about it.

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