The last two and a half years have been an emotional roller coaster. I moved to New York City, got sober, lost both of my grandmothers, and my mother was sick. I spent much of that time in denial about my depression. I subconsciously chose to stay busy in order to avoid processing the emotions that came along with those big life changes. I lived in “go mode”. Often prioritizing others’ needs. The more time I spent helping others, the less time I had to deal with my own emotions. While there’s nothing wrong with helping people, there’s something wrong with why I was so eager to help.
People often advise others who are going though a tough time to stay busy. I used to be one of those people. Now I think that advice is situational. It can be helpful advice at times, but sometimes I believe it can actually be damaging. Sometimes busyness hides something else.
When I stay busy, I don’t allow myself to feel what my body and mind need to feel. Feelings like grief, depression, anxiety, stress, or sadness are valid. They deserve just as much respect as love, positivity, and happiness. It’s OK it be sad. It’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to stay in bed all day. It’s OK to cry. I had to learn this the hard way.
For most of my life, I’ve stayed busy. I was either busy getting wasted, busy sleeping around, busy dropping out of school, busy working several jobs at a time, busy building a business, busy jumping from relationship to relationship. This behavior didn’t stop when I got sober. I continued to numb myself with working towards a promotion I thought I wanted, training for a half marathon, overcommitting to writing assignments, coaching other people in their sobriety (something I was NOT qualified to do), and masochistically reading self-help books.
My therapist calls this agitated depression and high functioning anxiety – staying too busy to actually feel my feelings. Rob Lowe’s character, Chris Traeger from Parks & Rec, is a classic example of someone like me. Shout out to the writers of Parks & Rec for helping me process my diagnosis with some comic relief. Seeing Rob Lowe portray an overzealous, delusional character that was crumbling on the inside helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. And I got to laugh about it.
Agitated depression is hard to come out of because it’s hard to slow down enough to see it. When I was in the thick of it, I was getting shit done, but my plate was overflowing and I couldn’t catch my breath. People would tell me “I don’t know how you do it! You’re so focused! You’re so driven! I wish I could be like you”. I wasn’t healthy. I was drowning. I bit my nails. I picked my face until it bled. All day would be go-go-go until I got home and had melt downs. My body and mind were throbbing from constant movement. I picked fights with people I cared about because I was too unstable to process my emotions and communicate them effectively. I lost my temper at any given moment – hence the term agitated depression.
Weekly therapy has helped me identify and manage my behaviors. I’m trying. I now value down time. Arguably too much, but hey – I’m a woman of extremes. The days that I stay in bed to cry and draw and cry and nap and cry are days that I’m actually doing well. I’m feeling my pain. I’m present to what’s happening and I’m giving my body permission to go through it.
Photographer: Robert Riese Photography