I’m not sure where the depression and anxiety exactly began. I mean, I know mental health is biological, and oftentimes genetic, so yeah, they begin there, but a lot of incidents might have more or less set them off in the past few years. My dad died unexpectedly when I was 23; I moved to LA, friendless and without contacts, to embark on an apocalyptic failure of an acting career; I met a man I would date for four years, get engaged to, and then break up with in grand fashion, leaving me once again friendless in a city I only knew in relation to him. I quit my dream, I went back to school, I got a big-girl job, and I moved out on my own. And depression and anxiety have been along for the ride, in varying degrees, pretty much the entire time.
Having anxiety and depression is like having two lousy roommates, the kind who usually live in their bedrooms so you mostly don’t even realize they’re there, but who occasionally emerge to get a Pellegrino out of the fridge and ask if you’ve put on a bit of weight recently, or maybe it’s just that you went and got bangs. Cutting bangs was definitely a mistake, Anxiety tells you, gesturing with the Pellegrino. Too bad you can’t do anything about it, and it’s going to take at least a year to grow them out. No one’s going to fall in love with you with those bangs. I wonder how many fertile eggs you still have in your mid-30s uterus, and how many are literally drying up and dying as we speak… yeah, it’s probably better to go to bed and sleep for at least 12 hours.
It’s weird to feel less and less in control of the things you do or don’t do, but that’s sort of how a combo of anxiety and depression go. You can receive a pretty standard text message, we’re talking something along the lines of, “Hey, want to come for dinner tonight?” But reading it feels weirdly confusing. You stare at the screen for a good minute, contemplating how to answer. Anxiety slinks out of its room, sipping a pamplemousse La Croix, hissing, You’re supposed to go to the gym tonight. If you don’t go tonight, you’ll have to go tomorrow, and what if something happens tomorrow?
Then Depression pokes its head out and nods solemnly, intimating that it’s probably best to just not respond. Later, Anxiety pops back in and whispers, I can’t believe you didn’t respond, you as*hole. No wonder you don’t have any friends and everyone hates you.
Anxiety thrives on routine. As a person with anxiety, I am governed by my routines, but since I also have depression, those routines get all screwed up. If you’ve experienced these, you know what I mean: You end up being governed by routines that aren’t routines at all, like hiding in bed until it’s dark out, then getting really anxious about all of the things you should have done all day instead of being curled up in bed, watching Animal Planet.
Then depression makes you sad that you’re such a waste of space, so sad that you can’t do anything but hide in bed until something very serious makes you get out of it, like your job. Or the pizza delivery guy, whose arrival compels Anxiety to jeer, You fat loser. Living with Anxiety is actually a little like living with a tiny Donald Trump.
You can’t think, you can’t focus, and you can’t accomplish things you normally could, like holding a conversation, or putting your clothes away after trying them on and deciding you look bad in them. Every single task necessary for maintaining daily life feels like far too many steps, like putting dishes in the sink (get out of bed, carry dish, walk dish to kitchen… never mind) or doing laundry (get out of bed, gather clothes from the floor of your apartment… never mind) or going to Soulcycle (get out of bed… never mind). Depression sits on you, and it’s heavy. It smushes your face into weird, puffy shapes and slowly you turn into someone you don’t even recognize in the mirror.
And that’s sort of how it goes, for the most part. You’re held hostage by yourself, in this never-ending pattern. Until you break it.
This is super personal, and different for everyone, right? But when I got on meds, I felt like I understood where fairy tales had come from—it felt as though a spell had been lifted. It was absolutely transformative, like Beauty and the Beast, except of course I was the Beast, because that’s how my love life goes. And all it took was holding Anxiety’s La Croix for her and asking, Hey, will you just shut up for a minute and swallow this?
Gradually, I started to feel like myself again, but maybe even better: alive and capable, like a real walking and talking human person full of glitter and heart-eye emojis. As I began to feel better, getting myself to do things became a little easier, things that I couldn’t make myself do before, like brush my teeth, or make it through an entire exercise class without tearfully wandering out, muttering to myself.
At first you make yourself do those things you know should make you happy, until you begin to do them because you find yourself actually wanting them, like a real boy(!) with emotions and needs and the whole thing!
After the meds really started working, I did stuff I wanted to. I called my mom! I drank a glass of water! My soul found stuff that made it sing again: a tuna sandwich, the Hamilton soundtrack, a first friend-date over pancakes and mimosas that lasted five hours before we realized where the time had gone.
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You feel imbued with power, like it’s surging out of your eyeballs. You’re basically an X-Man. There are dishes in the sink? Watch me CLEAN THEM! Who’s that… oh it’s just me, taking the f*ck out of my vitamins! I PUT ON PANTS TODAY! It also makes you feel wise and battle-tested, a benevolent force… and an empathetic one. Suffering always does that, right? Having been brought so low, I’m far more patient than I used to be. Everyone is fighting their own invisible battles; everyone has their own horrible roommates.
Having fought so hard for my own happiness, having learned what it feels like when it’s in short supply, I now feel the urge to throw it around everywhere I go, like I’m a goddamn Flower Girl of Joy. I smile at strangers. I let people into my lane. I tell the lady with the bottle of rosé to go ahead of me and my 5,000 avocados at the supermarket.
…I mean, sometimes. I’m better, but I’m no Mother Theresa. I’m still me. And I still have two bad roommates. They live in their rooms for the most part, but occasionally emerge to get a Pellegrino out of the fridge and ask me about the amount of salt in my diet. They’re part of me, and I’m still learning to live with that.Until then, I’ve got a fridge full of bougie hipster sodas, my therapist on speed dial, and everything really is, for the most part, perfectly imperfectly a-OK.
Mikayla Park is a teacher/nonprofit creative person residing in the slums of Beverly Hills. Find her, and her two charming rescue dogs, everywhere at @mikaylapark.