A while back I spoke about situational introversion and how your circumstances and environment can affect your personality. Today I want to talk about situational depression and anxiety and how environment and circumstances affect mental health.
Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million Americans a year and are the most common among mental health disorders. Quite often, depression and anxiety disorders go hand-in-hand. In fact, almost half of the people diagnosed with depression are also being treated for an anxiety disorder.
Before talking about situational depression, I want to go over chemical depression real quick.
The human body produces certain chemicals/neurotransmitters that regulate our moods, namely serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. Each of these have a role to play in our mental and physical well-being and if you are deficient in any of them, it will greatly affect your health.
When someone has a deficiency, environmental changes can only help so much. People like to tell those with depression that they wouldn’t need to take medications if they just spent more time outdoors or just went out to exercise more. Although those things might be helpful, they aren’t going to solve the problem. The issue is more nuanced than that.
Yes, exercising assists in releasing endorphins and that is a good thing. But if you’re so depressed that you can’t get out of bed, you’re not going to exercise. And if you do exercise, you won’t notice much of a difference if you’re also deficient in any of the other things mentioned above.
More often than not, someone with a chemical or hormonal imbalance that is leading to depression requires treatment with medication, therapy and/or lifestyle changes for it. Some people can take an anti-depressant for a short period of time and come off of it once their levels are evened out. Others may require long-term use of these medications. Either way, it’s not a weakness or something to be ashamed of; every person is different and we all process things differently.
I have suffered from depression and anxiety off and on throughout my life, but it has always been due to the circumstances I was in at the time.
The first time I was Baker Acted was when I was around 12 or 13. For six months I would lay in bed planning out my suicide. My parents had recently divorced and I was dealing with feelings of abandonment and abuse. My dad moved to the other side of town and my mom became homeless.
I was living with my brother and his family at the time and honestly the reason I never went through with it was because of my young niece and nephew. Every morning they ran into my room to wake me up and I knew that they would be the ones to find me, and I just couldn’t do that to them.
Although I hid my depression and suicidal ideations well for a long time, they finally came spilling out one morning with a teacher at school. That day I was given a police escort to a mental health facility, where I stayed for the mandatory three days.
While there, I met so many kids with much worse lives than mine and it opened my eyes to the fact that my situation wasn’t as bad as it could be. I came out of that facility a lot better off than when I went in, and I did well for the next decade.
The second time I was Baker Acted, I did so myself. After my friend passed away in 2010 I found myself in a downward spiral. I was self-medicating with whatever substance I could find and had really elevated highs and severe lows.
At the time I hated myself so much that I thought that the only way to make up for how horrible of a person I was, was to abandon myself completely and put all of my efforts into helping other people. I did not focus on self-care or treatment for myself because I honestly didn’t think I deserved it. That’s what depression does, though: It convinces you that you’re a terrible person undeserving of love and instead deserving of punishment or even death.
The only way to describe what I was doing is to use an analogy. So, let’s say I was standing in a desert and those around me were stuck in their own holes. What I was doing was digging up the dirt around me to fill in their hole to lift them out of it without realizing that with every shovelful I was digging myself in deeper. Finally, I found myself unable to escape the hole I had made for myself. That manifested into a cutting episode.
That day will stick with me forever. During one of those severe lows I found myself sitting in the shower with a shaving razor. I broke it to get the blade out and began cutting my wrist. In the midst of it, I thought about my mom and husband (who was my boyfriend at the time), who were in the other room. They would be the ones to find me. Again, that was what stopped me.
I put the blade down and let the water wash the blood down the drain. After a few moments I stepped out of the shower and wrapped my wrist up in toilet paper and then put a sweater on to cover it up. I didn’t want them to know what had happened because I didn’t want them to worry about me. That’s another thing about depression: It makes you feel like a burden to everyone around you and you don’t want to be “that person” so you keep it to yourself, which is highly dangerous.
After my mom went to bed, my husband asked me what was wrong. When I told him, “Nothing, I’m fine!” He gave me a look that clearly said he thought I was full of shit. That’s all it took; I broke down crying and pulled up the sleeve of my sweater. Without a word, he walked over and scooped me into his arms and sat down on the couch, holding me. Neither of us said anything until I ran out of tears. Two days later I made an appointment with a psychiatrist who sent me to a mental facility.
That was Thanksgiving week 2011.
After that episode I moved out of the place in which I was living at the time and changed jobs. I began therapy and found myself getting better and better. However, my depression didn’t fully subside until I got married.
As I said in the introversion post, before I got married I was living as a nomad. After moving out I found myself on the other side of town and slept in a new place every night. This caused so many problems.
I never knew where any of my stuff was and would often forget that my work shoes were at one house and my badge at another. I would fall asleep and wake up at 1am to realize that I didn’t have what I needed for the following work day and I would have to drive across town at 1am to get it.
I was anxious all the time. I was constantly dealing with anxiety and panic attacks along with the depression. It was a rough time.
Then I got married and we bought our house and everything changed. Once I found stability I found happiness. No longer did I have to worry about where my belongings were or if I had everything I needed. No longer did I have to worry about where I would be sleeping on any given night or if I would have gas money to get to work.
Before we combined our incomes I was practically destitute. I worked 40 hours a week and at one point even had two jobs, yet I was constantly behind on bills and almost had my car repossessed two Christmases in a row. Once we put both incomes together I no longer had to worry about any of that.
It has been four and a half years since I got married and I can honestly say that I am no longer depressed. Although I had an episode earlier this year, I believe it was due to a medication I was taking at the time and nothing else.
Just like with the introversion, this obviously doesn’t apply to everyone and I’m not saying that you can cure your depression just by changing your environment, but I do believe that your circumstances can have a lot more to do with your mental health than most people think.
If you’re in a situation that is not conducive to good mental health, it will affect you. If you’re living somewhere that creates daily stress or anxiety, it’s going to hurt you. Without changing your environment, medication and therapy will only do so much to help.
It’s not something that can happen overnight, but it can get better. It took me years of pain and hurt to get to where I am today, but it’s worth it to keep pushing and fighting for a better life. Learn from my mistakes and take care of yourself. Don’t let your brain lie to you and convince you that you aren’t worth it because you are. Everyone deserves happiness.
If you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, please reach out to someone for help. I am not a mental health professional, but I would be happy to listen and help in any way I can. If you’re struggling and have no one to talk to, contact me. You can either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through my Contact page.
If you’re not comfortable with that but need help, please consider checking out the Suicide Hotline or finding a support group in your area or even online. You are worth it.