By guest blogger Alexandra Comeau, 19
Depression. Anxiety. Mental illness. Words that make some people back away, some people judgmental, and a lot of people confused.
By seventh grade I knew that what was going on in my head was different than my friends. Depression came first for me. It caused exhaustion, sadness, zero motivation. Anxiety arrived a few years later; racing heart, fear of so many things, panic all the time.
Although my depression and anxiety are individual illnesses, I found them feeding off of each other. Finding out that each disorder was caused by similar things in my life and feelings that I had, taught me that I could also use the same coping skills (or ways to deal) for both. Being hospitalized and in outpatient treatment programs with other teens struggling with depression and anxiety helped me to work out which coping skills helped me to get well and stay well. I discovered really simple things that helped me to feel better, and I also found new things I was passionate about, like poetry, which helped me the most by allowing me a place to express what I was feeling.
Self-care is one of the most important coping skills I developed. In response to both depression and anxiety, I stopped taking care of myself physically. This lowered my self-esteem more, leading to deeper depression. In a treatment program, someone suggested I do something nice, like take a hot bath, to take care of myself. I discovered that those simple things could really make a difference. Now if I notice I’m feeling bad and slipping, I paint my nails, do my hair, and try out new make-up to feel more positive and ready to participate in life.
A healthy amount of exercise is also a great way to cope. I chose walking as my exercise because it got me out of the house, and once I get back from a walk I feel great and motivated.
During my sophomore year of high school, I had an English teacher who absolutely loved poetry and had us spend a lot of class time on it. Up until this time, I thought I hated poetry, but it turns out I just hadn’t learned enough about it yet. I found free verse poetry that I loved and I started to write. I wrote every day — poems about how I was feeling, about how I wanted to feel, about anything. I shared my poetry with my teacher and he helped me to improve it and I later went on to put together a poetry book for my senior year project.
This experience with poetry brought me two helpful ways of coping. I found a way to express myself and release my feelings positively, and I also found support at school. Part of my support was a teacher I was comfortable with — someone I could go to when I needed help.
Positive coping skills are the most important tool for dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, because the disorders often come with very negative ways of coping. Finding good coping skills for myself allowed me to get to a much healthier place mentally, so that I can now work towards the goals I want to accomplish in my life.
A poem I wrote while dealing with my depression:
Stepping through the puddling rain,
Hoping to kill the degrading shame.
Lies that swallow, dreams that die,
Hope once lied in teenage eyes.
Do you know what it is you want?
Do you have faith in what you’ve got?
A silver lining to what’s left.
Hold together, collapsing girl.
Not everyone has the ability to feel.