Relapse during Recovery from Mental Illness
Up until a few weeks ago, my recovery from suicidality, depression and anxiety had been going smoothly. I was staying on the level, making slow but steady improvement. There had been some bumps in the road that caused me some anxiety, but nothing I couldn’t handle. If I’m being totally honest, I was probably drifting along with a false sense of security because things were going so well.
But recently, a more intense anxiety reared its head. I started worrying about and dwelling on little things, things that were out of my control, things that really didn’t matter. I had trouble sleeping at night and I didn’t want to eat. I got so wrapped up in my own head that anything from the outside seemed like an imposition to me. I was struggling with my own self, I couldn’t really handle anything from anyone else, not even my wife or kids. I couldn’t even accept help. I put myself out on an island.
And then – for the first time in six months – depression started creeping in. That’s the way it usually goes for me. Anxiety builds and builds and I can’t escape it and then the depression moves in behind it. I fought against it, I didn’t want it to be true, but fighting the depression only made it worse. I felt more trapped, more isolated, more alone, surrounded by my fears.
I didn’t cope very well with it. I was getting anxious about being anxious and depressed. I was depressed because I was feeling things that I guess I had secretly hoped I wouldn’t ever feel again. I was down.
Down was a place I didn’t want to be again. I fought against it with every ounce of energy I could muster. And fighting it did no good. The depressed and anxious feelings got more intense. The more I struggled, the more I tried to think my way out of it, the tighter the depression and anxiety’s grip got on me.
The old signs started creeping in. I started skipping showers. Spent whole days on the couch with a pillow over my head. Wasn’t talking to anyone about what was happening with me. Desperation clenched me, I hoped for someone to pay attention to me, to notice my struggle.
I thought each day would be the one where I would figure out what was causing me to regress, what was taking me back to these dark places. I felt certain each day that I would work it out and instantly feel better. This only caused the pressure within me to build, the anxiety increased and the depression deepened.
This continued for a couple of weeks, and I steadily regressed. The depression was the worst I had felt since I had put myself in the hospital with suicidal ideations in February. The anxiety made my mind race, I couldn’t concentrate. The noise in my head was so loud I had to make a concerted effort to listen when someone was talking to me or what they were saying would go right over my head.
I just struggled. I felt sorry for myself. I felt lost. I had returned to a place I had never wanted to think about again, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
One night, my wife and I decided she would see the kids off to school in the morning. This took some pressure off me, as I had not been sleeping well the previous few nights. I took an extra anxiety pill that night and I went to bed early. As I was lolling in between awake and asleep, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to expect myself to do anything the next day. I wasn’t going to try to figure anything out. Whatever happened would just happen and that was going to be it. I slept well that night.
And when I woke up, I felt light. I felt free. I had given up.
Giving up. Letting go. It’s the simplest of notions, but one of the hardest things to truly do. It requires faith. It requires trust. It requires hope.
Faith, hope and trust are often difficult to come by when we suffer from depression and anxiety. They get buried in all the static of our minds. They get clouded over by our diseases. But they are there if we allow them to shine through.
And this is the lesson I learned during my relapse. The lesson of giving up, the lesson of letting go. By giving up my imagined control over depression and anxiety, I opened myself up to other possibilities – possibilities that allowed me to free myself from the grips of my diseases. I began to see ways to address my problems, to manage my symptoms, to regain my life. And now I’m heading in the right direction again.