I often think about energy levels and how people manage them. It’s a topic I’ve wanted to cover here for a while, but I wasn’t sure how to without reading like I’d unlocked the magical key to happiness. I don’t like saying the word depression out loud because I feel like I don’t deserve to be able to, but I have struggled with depression. I don’t know what else to call it. And I don’t think that anybody should be deprived of the identity of that word because they feel like their circumstances don’t allow for it. Especially since being able to label something is a tool to deal with it.
I feel like my mind was capable of a depressed state a couple years before I began to actually show it. My teenage brain: threatening to overflow with insecurities, confusion regarding my future, stress at home, and a serious lack of identity. I found myself triggered regularly by rejection and loneliness because I sought for myself in places that refused to give anything back. In grade twelve, I was in an intimate relationship with someone who was incapable of reciprocating very much validation and it caused me a certain level of spiralling. I had experienced emotional break downs at this level before but now it was happening more consistently. I could cry for hours with no end in sight. The relationship lasted seven months, the first two of which provided a lot of high moments. My mom pointed out that the dramatic degree of my mood swings (albeit positive) might be unhealthy but I refused to acknowledge it. On the days that I could use his affection to validate myself, I was okay. On the days that he couldn’t offer me that, I criticized myself, and blamed myself. Somewhere near the fifth month I finally admitted that I could feel him pulling away, and desperately wanted to reinstate out initial infatuation with each-other. I just wanted it to be “like it used to be”. And that applied to more than just our relationship. In one of my breakdowns in front of him, which were usually in my car, I told him that I was planning to start anti-depressant medication.
It felt like I was seeing a horizon after a really long night. But even though he wanted me to get better, he likely already knew that he had no way of helping me do so. When that relationship ended and eventually the two following it, I grew very aware of the hole I had fallen into and genuinely started to believe that I may never come out of it. Two years of consistently feeling drained and hopeless in one of the most formative times of my life seemed to indicate a pattern for the future. I remained friends with him though, and one of the boy friends following. Those relationships became healthier as friendships, and overtime I learned finally that I could function alone, separate from a romantic partner. I still had mood swings, breakdowns triggered by the same things as before- rejection most often. I drew back into my familiar hole for varying periods of time. Days, weeks, sometimes months. I skipped class and social engagements to be alone, to sleep. Sleep is a interesting factor in all of this, since it’s never something that I mastered even before my mental health began to dwindle. I didn’t sleep at regular hours and when I did sleep, I slept for too long or not long enough. I dismay at how many hours I wasted sleeping in the presence of the people who loved and wanted to help me the most: my family. For reasons I had developed internally, I hated visiting home and began to resent the time I spent there. I knew that it was important enough that I managed to keep doing it, even if sparsely and reluctantly, but often would manage by mood by sleeping through visits, ignoring my parents pleas to get up and my sister’s confusion about my absence, opting instead to pretend that I didn’t really exist in reality. I’ve learned that in those half-awake moments, when you’re body succumbs to itself, it is possible to remain in the low hum of stale energy. There is nothing to trigger you there. Nothing real to face. I’ve missed lot of important things remaining in this state, mostly when the people In my life needed support, including the entire two months of a serious health scare that my sister faced in my first year of university.
I refuse to allow my mental health to excuse that, because choosing not to fight seems very selfish now. Mostly when it comes to my sister, who I wasn’t there for when I needed to be. I used to think in high school and the few years that I’ve mentioned that my family wasn’t enough for me. That’s why I felt so lonely all the time, as if each rejection made me actually alone. But I never was; they were never any less involved, or any less loving. Instead of embracing my family (in those formative years of transition) I insisted to myself that something better existed. I was sure that only romantic love held enough strength to drive the life force in me: to excite me to live. I’ve since realized, unfortunately more recently than not, that platonic love can offer me just as much drive. My energy levels are not perfectly balanced, but as of the last two months they have been more balanced then they have in a very long time. I am proud to say that I have not fallen into the hole in this time period. In fact, I have not suffered a break down that lasted more than an afternoon. And when I think of love, my sister is one of the first things that comes to my mind, rather than a romantic partner. Followed by my mom and my dad. My friends. My excitement to create.
What has changed in my life to in-still this balance?
- In the last two months I’ve been interacting with more people. That is why despite past doubts, I can say that I am an extroverted person. An introverted extrovert perhaps because I enjoy and probably need my alone time. But I hugely feed off of other people’s energy and feel full when I have a lot of positive interactions. My job at Starbucks has allowed me to multiply these experiences through ‘phantoming’, which is an aspect of the company that allows me to work at neighbouring stores in Canada. I’ve mainly done this at stores in Toronto (once in Oshawa) because there are like a million Starbucks in the downtown district and no shortage of shifts to take. I keep telling people how much I love it because I keep having these great conversations with baristas at different stores. People that I met for the first time that day. And because I value meeting new people and having these type of interactions, I end up walking away from my shifts feeling really energized.
- With this excitement to meet new people, I’ve also been exercising a new approach to dating, since one of the things that inhibits my confidence to a certain extent is the importance that I put on romantic relationships. In the past I’ve made them too important. And so I get nervous around men that I’m attracted to because I treat them more like prospects than actual humans. But phantoming at Starbucks has allowed me to practice meeting people without feeling the need to get something more from them. I.e. furthering the relationship by getting somebody’s number or expecting to keep talking to them. I’ve been consciously practicing this at work and in my dating life recently, trying to start conversations with strangers with no expectation of ever talking to them again. I broke it off with the last two guys I was seeing, and I haven’t been the one to end any kind of romantic/ sexual relationship since grade ten so this is ground breaking. I don’t worry nearly as much that the loss of a casual relationship means one less chance at ultimate romantic happiness. If I only like somebody a little, that isn’t enough to keep seeing them. In addition, I ‘permanently’ deleted Tinder, since the way I was using it was so draining. I spent way too much time swiping through pictures of men, hoping that one of them would be Mr. Right. I realized that the kind of energy I look for from people comes from organic situations, rather than forced virtual ones.
- I basically stopped smoking weed. I haven’t written about this before, but I had been smoking consistently since October and didn’t let up when my energy levels lowered. At one point, I was using a high as a coping mechanism to deal with being alone, because I’d smoke after work to help myself fall asleep. Which indicated that I was afraid to spend time with myself sober. I only noticed in the past month or so that it was inhibiting my social abilities, because I’d get so in my head that I wouldn’t know how to interact with the people around me. I had a couple of panic attacks and bad trips in a short period of time before I finally decided that I didn’t want to feel that way again. And in this last month, I’ve become a lot closer with a friend of mine that I used to smoke with a lot, mainly because I’m actually present when I’m spending time with her now.
- Finally, and this is how I know that my energy levels have really levelled out, I’m not afraid to sleep anymore. I said that it’s been close to two months of having a lot of energy. In the first month I was so determined to keep it going that I wouldn’t let myself stop. I’d go into work and not stop moving until the shift ended. For a few weeks, I was picking up shifts every chance I could, working double shifts sometimes with naps in between. One of my co-workers joked that I seemed like I was high on coke one of those nights. In my mind, I was the freaking terminator of baristas. Then my manager changed my normal night shifts to morning ones for a week and I had a panic attack. I called my mom crying because I thought that any change to my routine would threaten the fragile happiness that I seemed to be maintaining. The last time I had worked a morning shift (over a year ago) was one of the lowest points of my mental health and I often missed those shifts for that reason. When that work week rolled around, I proved myself wrong. I made it to every shift and my energy levels didn’t change. I did continue to pick up double shifts though, and refused to acknowledge how little I was sleeping until my body couldn’t take it anymore. I woke up for a 5 am opening shift after napping for three hours, and nearly fainted in my bathroom, then spent the next three days bed ridden with the flu. I was incredibly restless staying inside all day but it forced me to rest. I mean I had no choice, my head spun every time I tried to walk more than a metre from my bed. So now, I’m not afraid to let myself have a day off. Goes to show you the importance of rest.
P.s. I think it’s important to address that I’m not on anti-depressant medication anymore and that’s not because I took them for a period of time and am now better. I’ve been taking them fairly inconsistently for the past two years, because I sometimes forget to refill the prescription when the three month dosage runs out. If I’ve been off the medication for a couple months, like I was last summer, I would go back to the doctor when my energy levels dropped and request a new prescription (last September). Note the time of year as well. As frustrating as it is, my mental health has been better in the summer months and worse as the school year starts again and progresses into winter. Last September the energy I had been riding in the summer slowly decreased and I had half the motivation to put into school work. The doctor was surprised that despite this reaction, I didn’t experience any withdrawal symptoms when I stopped the medication before. When I first started taking anti-depressants it was a hopeful solution, but I can’t say that It made a difference in the last two years. I forgot to take them often, and didn’t experience withdrawal when I did. I still had extremely low points when I was on them. In fact, the only reason I’m not taking the medication right now is because sometime in February or March I didn’t bother making a trip to the drug store and haven’t noticed a difference since. It definitely depends on how your body responds to the medication, but It’s clear to me that anti-depressants are not a simple solution. My mood is dictated by other factors. Because of that, I am slightly afraid that the returning school year will take a toll on my mind, but I have to think that if I continue to incorporate a balance of socializing and rest into my life that I can maintain a certain level of healthy energy.