Coping with depression, trauma and craziness

Photo by Sarah King.

By Casey Niebuhr |

The past few weeks have been unbearably long.

Lately I’ve been experiencing an overwhelming amount of dread, coupled with an increasing immobilization from depression and post-traumatic stress. I’ve fallen behind in my work, I’ve hardly eaten, I’ve been severely dehydrated, and my sleep schedule has been suffering from nights during which my brain simply does not find rest as a viable option.

In short, I have not been able to take proper care of myself, in body or mind.

My challenges are not unique to me, and because of that I find my difficulties worth sharing.

A difficulty I’ve struggled with is finding support. Though I’ve discussed my problems with my counselor, which I will always recommend, the lack of encouragement from my friends and those who I surround myself has been entirely disheartening.

I recently tried to tell my friend how I was feeling, and that I needed help to regain my strength, to which they said, quite cold-heartedly, “Just get over it. What are you gonna do, sit around and cry about it for a week?”

What wonderful encouragement from a confidant.

But this time of solitude, though not entirely voluntary, has also given me time to think, and I’ve learned more about myself, and how people cope with their problems.

Let’s start with highs and lows. My high, or rather highs, of this week was winning a trivia night, receiving a scholarship of $2,500, and having dinner with my father. My low would have to be turning in assignments late, receiving bad grades for those late assignments, fighting impending due dates, and inescapable depression.

What about on a more personal level? What good happened today? I woke up, I made my bed. I washed my face, I brushed my teeth, I showered. I ate today, I drank water—I even went to the bathroom! Small victories in the battle against immobilization. My low of today is my constant churning stomach (anxiety, not COVID).

I think whenever we experience a period of sadness, we’re always told to focus on the positives. Similar to a funeral where the common comfort words are “They’re in a better place now.” A positive and optimistic outlook to help us lift ourselves out of the funk we’re going through.

Focusing on the positives isn’t a bad thing; it’s probably the only thing keeping me afloat during this time. But it made me question, at what point, when we focus on the positives, do we start ignoring the negatives and not face our problems?

It seems, far too often, we use optimism as a way to ‘overcome’ our problems, that ‘this too shall pass’ and the rainbow is past the rain … but optimism does not allow us to come to terms and understand the way we are feeling.

One of the ways I’ve learned how to understand my feelings is to challenge them. I feel shattered and helpless sometimes, ridden of guilt. The way I learned to manage these feelings is to let that guilt go. I routinely remind myself that my experience was out of my control, and that I did the best I could do in the situation under the circumstances. This realization, though devastatingly difficult to admit, brought me to an emotional vulnerability I hadn’t even considered. While I may not be in control of what I experience, I am in control of how I react.

The trauma is still fresh, and it isn’t going to go away soon. I have to continuously practice self-acceptance — self-compassion — in order to keep moving forward and to grow. It’s a process, and I am in a place that is much better than where I was.

The bad days, especially during this time, as difficult as they are, does not mean that I am under-serving or unworthy of love and support, but rather that I am human, and I am facing a challenge.

Let me tell you, though. Waking up and putting on a front, making others smile while my insides are decaying; mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s exhausting.

I often thought about whether I would share this experience and the consequences that I struggle with. I find comfort in feeling that, instead of putting on a front, I be candid and vulnerable again. To tell you, whomever you are, to take ownership of what you’re feeling.

Say it. Say ‘I’m sad.’ Say ‘I’m angry.’ Say it out loud. Say it in the mirror. Say it to yourself. Then, say it to someone else. It’s okay to be vulnerable and express to others what you’re going through; you learn who has your best interest in mind.

As you begin to grow, I encourage you to evaluate the expectations you have for yourself. Evaluate the expectations others have of you. So many expectations that you find yourself overwhelmed and immobilized. Be realistic and honest with yourself, as well as with others. Communicate. Make sure people understand your expectations for them, too.

It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay for me to experience the dread I’m feeling — because I learned, and will continue to learn from it. My guilt is not wasted, and where I fail or fall short, I can try again and fail better, so that I can learn better.

It’s also okay to be okay. The month of October was incredibly hard, and I often found myself overthinking and creating internal problems in moments that I should have enjoyed. Not appreciating the times with the people I was surrounding myself with for the thought that they were not genuine. I’ve learned that, especially living with trauma and post-traumatic stress, it’s so easy to brace myself for something that isn’t even coming. I begin to overthink because it doesn’t feel right for something to go … right.

If you find yourself feeling this way, take a deep breath. It’s okay to enjoy those happy moments. Appreciate them. Often, when I begin to worry about something going wrong, I create the wrongdoing myself. I’m trying to stray away from that, especially now. I’m capturing the moments I’m currently experiencing, and not worrying about what may come, or what has been. It’s a process that, like any other, takes time and patience.

As I navigate through the month of November, I will do my best to keep in mind the thoughts that have broadened my mind these past weeks. I will accept myself, I will respect myself, and I will look for more support, because it’s so much easier when it’s done with someone else. I will be true to my emotions, to my body, to my mind. And, as always, I will be vulnerable with myself in the hope that someone will find comfort in knowing they’re not alone in their battle and that they can grow with me.

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