When I found, last September, that I had relatively severe post-partum depression, I felt it was important that I share my story and my struggle. I was so low and full of shame that I thought if one person read it and felt like less of an isolated monster, then it was worth it. It turned out to be incredibly therapeutic. I am very thankful that I started it right after I started my medication and right before I started therapy. My past posts are now benchmarks for me to see the results of my hard work. I don’t feel like the same person that wrote some of those early pieces.
October 23rd will earn me my one year achievement award for going to therapy. I think I am going to bake myself a cake.
I cancelled one appointment because I was too sick, I skipped one because we were out of state and she cancelled twice. Other than those four times, I went every Thursday– whether I wanted to or not.
I have learned so much about myself and my mental illnesses that I constantly struggle to parse through all of the new information. Some of it really fucking sucks. Some of it has probably saved my life. There is a lot of overlap between the two.
I’ve struggled for as long as I can remember with what I now know is depression, anxiety and PTSD. Before a year ago I would have scoffed at the PTSD and minimized and dismissed my depression, because “some people have it so much worse”.
I didn’t even find myself worthy enough to be diagnosed with PTSD and depression. That is so fucking sad. I can see that now. Mostly. Saying it out loud makes it sound absurd that I found myself so unworthy that I didn’t deserve to blame my problems on a mental illness.
Get the fuck outta here, girl.
Of all the coping mechanisms and calming techniques I have learned the one I am most gracious for is developing a new inner voice, one that is learning how to challenge those ridiculous and harmful distortions that I had myself convinced were just my personality. I thought nothing short of a lobotomy could change it.
I felt stupid, honestly. Daft. How could I be 34 years old and not know that some of this shit I feel isn’t necessary. It’s real. It feels real. The emotions are there, the thoughts are there. The requirement for them, however, is not. I am slowly learning that. It isn’t a straight, easy path. I fall a lot. Like, a lot a lot. But I don’t fall as much as I used to and when I fall now, I am able to pick myself up much quicker and kinder than ever before, a drastic improvement on where I was a year ago.
Going over my last quarterly evaluation with my therapist was surreal. I even wore makeup for the very first time to see her, usually I don’t bother because I cry a lot in therapy, its a great place for that. Last week though, I didn’t feel down at all, so I thought I would be safe. I made it through most of it without crying and when I did it was because she said some very kind things to me and that almost always makes me cry.
She said I was different from her other clients because I do so much work outside of therapy. I find my own information, I study, I practice, I’m self aware and trying to be honest with myself. She said she usually doesn’t get to see the progress in her clients, but with me, she does. As someone who has always strived to be the star pupil and teachers pet, this works very well for me. Between her and my partner and our dynamic, I am creating a support system that is working for me for the first time in my life.
We were recently watching the second season of Big Mouth and they introduced a new character called the Shame Wizard. It is spot-fucking-on. The Shame Wizard appears mostly to the teenagers and shames them for everything that they feel guilty about. At least the SW is clever and funny, albeit evil, the shamey voice in my head is just malicious.
It’s been interesting learning more and more about my mental illnesses and the things I can do to help myself. I never knew I had so much control over my brain. It has been both a miraculous breakthrough and a terrifying realization. It makes me feel more hopeful about my mental health prognosis, but knowing it is ultimately up to me is pretty fucking scary.
Knowing and being able to recognize when I am slipping is sometimes infuriating. That is where I tend to berate myself. I think some of that comes from being a smart kid in a country school that didn’t know what to do with me. I never learned how to really try to do anything. I was either good at it immediately, or I lost interest pretty quick. With few exceptions. So, in my thirties, trying to stick with something that is so excruciatingly hard isn’t in my wheelhouse. It gets incredibly difficult to pick up that sword every single day and try to — at the very least, keep the monsters at bay.
But I fucking do it.
That’s why I am starting to feel proud of myself, I think. I have stuck with this intensive mental health journey for a year. Within that year I have grown so much and I’ve done so many positive things I never thought I could do. I tracked my mood for over 100 days, and still going strong there. I dove back into my art and my photography. My home has never been cleaner, even with a toddler. It is getting easier for me to get my ass up and do the thing that needs doing even if I would rather hide in a pillow fort with the toddler and color all day. I have learned to communicate with my partner on a whole new, sexy-as-hell level. I have more empathy for my teenage son who is also battling depression and anxiety. I have more compassion and patience for people in general. Learning more and realizing people hurt and struggle the way I do really put things into perspective for me. I wouldn’t wish my inner voices on anyone. Not even Trump, and really, fuck that guy but it turns out, I am not evil.
I don’t think I would have said that a year ago. I would have called myself evil, laughed and not even realized that I believed in my core that I was and that laughing was a defense mechanism that I have been perfecting for decades.
I don’t feel that way anymore.
Hurray for therapy and hard work.
Nikki is a photographer, writer, artist, and advocate of radical self-love. She writes about mental health, gaming, sex, and inclusivity.