How to make these good feelings last....forever
January 14, 2016 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Feeling a breakthrough in my depression. Damn, this feels good. I’m getting more actively engaged with life, and I feel happy about myself. To be honest, I don’t remember feeling this good. But there’s this underlying fear – how do I make it last? And how do I avoid the destructive thought patterns that got me here in the first place, especially during times that’ll inevitably be harder than being 23 with very little responsibility?

You guys know my story. I’m 23, have a history of feeling depressed, down and highly anxious. Extremely extroverted and come from some abuse. It’s cost me MANY friends, MANY happy times, lots of other things…I’ve missed out on a lot. At this time, my life is objectively the best it’s ever been. I’m the calmest I’ve ever been, to start. And at this moment at 6ish PM on a Thursday, I feel the most content, hopeful and happiest I’ve felt since I can remember. This is due to some combination of a few things from therapy, advice from my dear and beloved mother (who has grown with me over the last few years) as well as some specific actions I’ve taken on as well. Over the last month or so, it seems my brain has clicked into place, I’m finally accepting things now, I’m able to be present and happy more, and I’m able to slow down my thoughts and think easier as well. (and this is insane, because a couple months ago I was in the most gorgeous beautiful oasis of a place with a beer in my hand, hanging in an infinity pool in the most beautiful resort, no responsibility, and feeling UTTERLY miserable, depressed, anxious, sad.) Now I'm happy in a workshop. It's cool.

The truth is, it scares me that it’s taken so much work and effort to get to even this place. If I am able to toot my own horn, I am a good looking, healthy, intelligent young woman who has been brave enough to take on many scary things and has accomplished a few things as well. I live alone and independently, paid off huge debt, held down a job for almost 2 years and have developed some great business skills. Yet, my whole life I have felt so deeply insecure, so incredibly anxious and scared of people, and so ashamed of myself. I have been so self-destructive, seeking validation every single place except in myself. The things I’ve done have scarred me deeply, probably much more than the abuse that made me this way in the first place.

No matter, it’s all getting better now. I’ve enrolled for a few clubs, courses, activities and spent the last 3 weeks out of the house evening and every weekend ( a rarity for me.) I’m enjoying going to different workshops and meeting other people. I’m going about this in a gingered, careful way, avoiding alcohol and pot and just taking it slow. It’s all working. Making healthy choices feels good. And I finally feel it’s worth it and I deserve to be healthy, as well. I have more friends, real friends than I’ve ever had and I feel closer to them than I ever have felt before.

However, what really scares me is that I’ll slip back. If not now, what about when I have a kid and post partum? What about when other stresses come in? If life is objectively this good, and I’m still only getting a grip on happiness, how will I manage life’s problems? And, I still have depressed spells, they just last a lot shorter. The happiness has just been coming through over the last month or so, as I tried the “just get out of the house” advice that someone was kind enough to give me in my last question. However, what if this is just the new year new me BS, and I’m still susceptible?

In short, how do I ensure this happiness lasts? What do I do to avoid relapsing into the addictive anxiety-and-depression-causing thought patterns? If you’ve overcome depression, how do you ensure you keep it at bay for good? How do I continue on this positivity, even though the fear that doomsday is coming is still so real? How did you manage to build on creating happiness for yourself?
posted by rhythm_queen to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
being young and careless isn't all it's cracked up to be, tbh. i would put 23 at about the lowest point in my life, and i suspect i'm not alone.

what you're doing now - building social connections. building a life - a real one, that connects to people - is the best insurance i can think of. and look forwards to growing older. things really can just get better and better (the only thing that doesn't is your body, so try take care of that).
posted by andrewcooke at 4:20 PM on January 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

You're building coping skills right now. You've seen what it takes to move yourself out of depression, and those tools will serve you well for the rest of your life. You will have other stressors, and there will be times when you may fall into depression again. BUT. You will know then what you are finding out now -- that the bad times are not permanent. They can be overcome, by you, with the techniques you are learning now.

Life is not an even curve, building from bad to good and staying there. It fluctuates. No one is happy all the time. The next time things get hard (which they will) please, please remember this. What you are practicing right now is understanding what being happy and balanced feels like, so you have something to aim for if you get off-track. And getting back on track will be easier next time, because you will understand the process more clearly.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that if you backslide it means that all this work was for nothing. That there is something inherently flawed with you personally, that you are just a depressed person and that's it. Your ups and downs may be more extreme, but they represent a completely normal ebb and flow of mood and emotions. This work is worth doing. These tools will work again in the future when you need them to, I promise.
posted by ananci at 4:30 PM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Life will kick you and you'll fall again, for sure. The difference will be that you'll remember what it feels like to stand up, you'll know that it's possible to feel okay, and that will give you the courage to fight your way back. Congratulations on your tremendous achievements.

By the way... try not to think in terms of beating depression 'for good'. in my experience it's more like you have better skills at managing life, you're more in touch wih your emotions, and thus you have a richer life. It will include sadness and pain -- that's healthy and normal.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:39 PM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

As someone who's 20 years older than you, I know now that the important thing is understanding the sine-wave nature of depression and making plans for the worse times. Have a support system, understand what things are more likely to help, be proactive and internalize now while things are good that they will sometimes be crappier so it's not a surprise or a failure when that happens.

That's why you work hand-in-hand with your medical care team when you are planning to get pregnant so you can plan to begin treatment ahead of time, see a doctor (ideally the same one, but the system doesn't make that super easy anymore) regularly, get your routine physicals and bloodwork. Track your mood on paper or app or whatever works for you, learn more about the warning signs, triggers. Being on top of this with a doctor is often the difference between being able to go in and say "that thing we talked about is happening" and not being able to muster the energy to try to catch someone up from scratch.

It is possible that the real bad stretch you just came through is courtesy of the final throes of puberty, which on the plus side means you may not be so severely disadvantaged to cope for quite some time (barring pregnancy, which you will work with your care team on). Watch your health and intervene with yourself early when things downswing and this may very well be tidily manageable for life.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:46 PM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry to go Parentfilter on you, but reading through your question the first thing that came to mind is sleep training a baby.

I know, I'm sorry, bear with me.

A lot of parents, after much struggle and exhaustion and misery, FINALLY teach their baby to sleep through the night, and it's wonderful and blissful.

Then life happens (illness, development, tooth pain) and all of a sudden the kid stops sleeping again. And many of those parents think, "shit, I did the sleep training wrong. When the truth is, it's not something you do just once, it's something you have to do - not constantly, but at least repeatedly. And it's a little different each time and sometimes things that used to work don't anymore.

But you keep at it and over time you get a sense of what works best for your kid, and even though it's never easy it gets less intimidating.

Similarly, you'll likely have ups and downs throughout your life. When you slide down, you'll need to drag yourself back up. And as you grow and change over time, the exact ways you do that will evolve, but your confidence that you CAN do it will grow, as will your repertoire of things that help. You know what it feels like to feel good. That will be immensely helpful in finding your way back to that place when you need to.
posted by telepanda at 5:36 PM on January 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think the most valuable things you can do right now are to continue taking care of yourself -- plenty of sleep, exercise, social time, all that good stuff -- and to learn that life is cyclical. In Zen Buddhism, you're cautioned not to try to hang on to either good times or bad. Just experience it, appreciating that things are great now, but not expecting them to remain that way in the future. You don't have to fear that you won't always be this happy. In fact, you won't always be this happy. But that's okay because you know it's possible to go from great misery to great happiness in only a few months.

I have a small person in my life who's always fretting about what might happen -- in particular, sometimes he's scared that he might have nightmares. I tell him there's no point in being scared of being scared. Just try to feel what you feel right now. You can't predict or control how you will feel in the future.

I'm happy for you that you've broken out of a long depression, and I wish you happiness.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:10 PM on January 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

A super-boring analogy: you know how some people in the working world start out with low salaries, but keep socking it away little by little and advancing their income, and then years down the road the economy goes to shit but they can ride out the bumps with what they've built up for themselves until things get better? That's what you're doing now - you're investing in yourself by taking care of yourself, learning new coping skills, growing and maturing. Life is always going to throw something at you but you'll have better resources to deal with it when it happens because of all the right things you're doing now.

My very grounded, happy-go-lucky friend had the worst possible pregnancy where she dove into a deep depression, because hormones. She was able to work with someone to get on the lowest, safest regimen of drugs to help her through it - she was able to stop the regimen pretty quickly after birth, hasn't needed it since, and although everyone's mileage will vary her kids are fine and ridiculously adorable. So there are options, please don't let that be a source of dread for you right now.

I am so happy to hear you are doing better and wish you the best of luck.
posted by wheek wheek wheek at 6:27 PM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing Chickenmagazine. Zen says that everything is impermanent, even impermanence. A large part of maturing is learning how to live fully in that impermanence.
I too have had depression, among other things, for most of my adult life. I clearly remember thinking every time it went in remission I would think "wow, thank God that is over. I will never have to feel that again" And then life happens....
But through all that, as you are doing right now, I learn. I learn more effective tools and wisdom for dealing not only with depression, but life. And little by little it gets better.
Like others have said, just keep socking away these lessons. You never know when or how they will come in handy as you go through life. But I promise you they will.

In peace
posted by jtexman1 at 6:35 AM on January 15, 2016

A huge part of depression management is learning to stay in the moment. When you felt depressed before, you weren't a depressed person. You were a person experiencing depression. And now that you are feeling better, you are not a happy or contented person. You are a person experiencing contentment and happiness.

Our culture does a terrible job of confusing and misleading people about this. We are not our emotional states of mind. Feeling bad about feeling bad is common and reasonable given our culture's way of approaching this problem and assigning some sort of morality to these states that is all hogwash, but you don't have to do it!

You sound afraid that you'll fall in a hole again and will have to work just as hard to get out. Plainly: You will struggle with this. I would challenge you to think of this like working out. It gets much easier and even enjoyable. The first time you start exercising, it's awful. You sweat, you turn purple, you're sore for days, maybe your heart rate gets so high that you barf. Nobody would keep working out if it was like that every time. After a while, you start to notice that things that were hard and painful come easier. You start to see a physical change in yourself that makes you want to keep at it. And you start to notice how bad you feel when you don't do it. You track your progress and see how things that were definitely impossible for you are within reach now. You hit a stride. Athletic people will tell you though that you will eventually plateau. Gains will stop. Progress will slow. You might even backslide, and worse, what worked before will not work. This is when you change up your routine and try something else.

The same goes for depression. But the more times you go through this cycle, the easier it gets. You feel your own agency, you learn to trust yourself, and you gain confidence about the multitude of ways in which you can manage your condition.

I also want to say, too, that at 23, I felt much like you. My launch into independence was abrupt and brutal. I was scrambling to survive emotionally and financially. I felt I'd squandered my "fun" years, that I missed out on the good parts of life, that I hid out (or was kept, due to poverty and chaos) from too many opportunities, and my whole life was just going to be adulthood sorrow, a miserable rat race, with no wistfully remembered "good old days" to soldier me through. Nobody would admire me, seek out my stories, or see me as anything but sad, probably for the rest of my life.

Straight up? My life at 38 is SO MUCH COOLER than anything I could have imagined missing out on when I was in my early 20s. If I had to trade the imaginary life I thought I'd missed out on for this? I made a great trade. I have everything I want, and more: a cool job, an artistic outlet, a fulfilling relationship, a lifetime of stories to tell, interesting and supportive friends. I can't even begin to tell you how different my future is now from what I saw at the earliest vantage point.

I say this to you because you can't "keep" this feeling. That is the bad news. I mean, it's really bad! It's like getting a puppy and someone reminding you that one day that puppy will die. But. You can remember how it felt to be at the top of a mountain you climbed, and even in your deepest valleys, remember that you were there, and that you got yourself there, and that you will again. You can practice mindfulness. You can practice examining the effects of your emotions on your behavior like a scientist, and make changes as you learn. You can use those techniques to build a deep well of love and trust for yourself. And you can draw on that well when you need it. It's actually a beautiful thing!
posted by pazazygeek at 7:46 AM on January 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I signed up just to answer you, so I hope you see this! I'm a woman over the age of 30 now, but I would have given anything to have someone tell me what I'm about to tell you (though I know people have commented to tell you this in the past, but I didn't see you respond.)

I stumbled onto one of your 2013 threads during a google search this morning, and I read through several of your other posts, hoping you'd figured it out. It's hurting me reading your threads, because I've been through it. All of it. I've spent years hating myself for the laziness, for the social problems, for the lack of follow through... over and over and over I've pulled myself back up, made big plans to change my habits, only to fall back down. And every time I'd FINALLY do well, I'd live in fear it was all about to end... that I couldn't trust myself. And I was right. Every single time, I failed. Nothing ever lasted and my depression and anxiety always came back. I had big dreams for myself after I graduated high school, and I got so close, only to fail because of this stupid *thing* - an invisible wall that always sabotaged me and had no name.

I didn't struggle with drug or alcohol addiction, because I was afraid to go near the stuff... I knew I had an addictive personality in some ways, and I struggled with food addiction, excessive coffee drinking, and an eating disorder instead, in addition to binging on anything else that could stimulate dopamine in my brain. (TV, fiction books, saying the wrong thing during a boring social interaction just to liven things up...) Then I did have a child and everything got way worse. My house has been a catastrophe... I've been late to every job (until I quit working for someone else altogether). My poor husband has had to pick up my slack for most of our marriage so far, and I'm blessed I even found him. I never did date much before I met him.

I saw some familiar things in my daughter that sent me searching for answers... and there it was. The thing haunting my entire life, the thing holding me back, the invisible brick wall I ran into over and over again and could never get past. All around me people seemed to do daily tasks effortlessly, and I continued to struggle to even consistently get out of bed or go to sleep on time... and there was a reason.

I had ADHD. Or something that looked and acted EXACTLY like ADHD. (It doesn't matter what you call it -- the untreated symptoms are debilitating.) The only problem was... I didn't believe ADHD existed. My husband and I had literally laughed off the idea that ADHD was REAL. I thought it was just a label slapped on smart kids who were bored in school. I never thought I could have it. I got good grades when I was younger, I'd tested borderline gifted, and I could read books for hours. My own sister got diagnosed in college, but I thought she just wanted the meds for studying. Ah, such denial. It's genetic. My dad has every sign of it, too, and when I lived with my sister our entire house was regularly in piles on our floor.

So I started reading books on ADHD (Delivered from Distraction is the one I recommend for you... it will be a huge relief when you read it!) and I realized I'd had it for my entire life. When I looked back, all the signs were there and no one noticed. (I was very extroverted, too, as a child, but my enthusiasm never went over in quite the right way, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not fit in. I was bullied badly.)

At first, I didn't have an official diagnosis or meds yet, but it was me in those pages, so I immediately started trying things that helped ADHDers... I figured even if I had something else, some other reason for all the failure, maybe ADHD strategies would still help where all others had failed before. So instead of trying harder, like everyone has been telling me my whole life, I did everything differently. (I see a ton of advice on your threads telling you to try harder and just think differently, and I'm willing to bet what works for "normal" people doesn't work for you for long. Telling someone with untreated ADHD to "try harder" is the equivalent of telling someone with poor vision to just "squint harder".)

I purged most of what I owned last year because I had piles all over my house and nothing put away. So after discovering the ADHD, I hired a personal organizer to help me organize what was left, and now I've hired cleaners, I have meal boxes delivered to us, and I use personal grocery shoppers. For the first time in my entire life, my house has been clean for months and my family is eating at least one healthy meal a day... every day. I was very stubborn about "fixing" myself, and I didn't want to spend any money on things I should be able to do myself... but I can't do them myself. And admitting something was different with my brain allowed me to finally get real help beyond general talk therapy (which I have done and not a single doctor or therapist ever once mentioned ADHD. All they ever did was ask if I wanted an antidepressant.)

When I went to see the doctor (armed with a mile long list of why I believed I might have this), I got the adult ADHD diagnosis and was given a prescription for Adderall. The first time I took a small dose, I made myself a healthy breakfast effortlessly, ate it all, and cleaned everything up. Then I sobbed, because it was so easy. I had NO IDEA how hard that simple task had been for me before I did it with enough dopamine in my brain... like a regular person. I used my Adderall hours to set up everything I mentioned above. I don't have to be ashamed anymore. We can invite people over! And I'm losing weight because I'm not binging on junk food anymore in a desperate bid to increase the dopamine in my brain and help me concentrate. Seriously, a huge number of the things I used to struggle with, including my anxiety and some sensory issues, just vanish on Adderall. It's thrown me for a loop, honestly, because things I believed were a core part of my personality are apparently just symptoms of low dopamine.

I'm in no way okay with being this way... I don't have the perfect dose of medication, I still can't sleep, and I still wish I could be more normal, for my family's sake. But there's a silver lining I've left out... a few years ago, I became an entrepreneur because I couldn't really keep a job, and I'm making a (more than) full-time living in a creative field. I desperately need the meds to help me consistently finish my work, but the point is--the brain issues that make life so hard with ADHD are the exact same things that have become my strengths in my career. My brain doesn't filter out details the same way a normal brain does. I can see the big picture, notice connections no one else sees, and I can plan better than anyone, since I've had a lot of practice doing that in my lifelong quest to fix myself. My results have just been spotty before this because I was so inconsistent about sticking to my plans. I used my Adderall hours last month to plan and execute something big that everyone in my particular niche thought *couldn't be done*. And I did it.

It's baffling that I can be so successful in one area and struggle so hard to meal plan or be on time anywhere ever or remember my appointments... yet that's exactly what has happened. I'm going to need help and meds for the rest of my life, probably, but I finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. I'll keep searching for answers and try diets and all of that, but for now I have a way to lift the fog from my brain for a few hours each day, and that means everything.

There are a few other things that can look like ADHD, but you sound intelligent, like you want nothing more than to change things and have been struggling for years and years... but you can't change permanently, because your executive functioning is impaired (due to low dopamine). Also, I don't know for sure yet, but I think I may have a fairly severe case of ADHD.... your symptoms may not be as debilitating as mine.

Maybe you'll read this and decide you don't have it, or maybe a doctor has told you you don't already (I haven't read every comment on all your threads.) If that is the case, I hope this is at least helpful to anyone else who might stumble upon your thread with similar problems.
posted by chaos_theory at 7:41 AM on February 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

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