Battling The Anti-Me
Guest Author: Shannon Clanton
Depression didn’t creep up on me because of one specific person or situation, but gradually through a series of events that occurred over a very long season– and it happened during the most inopportune time of my life.
Writing my story has been a challenge, and an emotional one at that, but I hope that through these words you can find some kind of significant parallel in your life.
My aim in this is to help you gain a grip on hope again, reclaim your identity, and to help you navigate through the fog so you can get back on the road toward your dreams.
To make things clear, the subject of this article doesn’t define me. It doesn’t define you either. First and foremost,
it is important to understand the contrast between who you are, and who depression makes you think you are (the "anti-you").
Who I really am is a positive, very loving, nurturing, happy-go-lucky, social butterfly. My husband, Nathanael, calls me sunshine; my friends and family call me smiley and giggly. I am an extrovert. I absolutely love to be around people – I prefer company over being alone. This brings me joy and and actually gives me rest.
Depression stole this from me.
It dimmed my light. It damaged my smile. And it turned me into a relentless introvert, which was more painful than I’d ever imagined. While depression begged to have me alone and isolated, it wasn't a comfort to hide in a cave, instead it felt like a thorn in my side – a thorn I couldn’t reach or get out if I tried. Depression was a menace, a life-sucking leech, that warped my personality. It depleted my energy, weakened my strength and sapped my characteristic joy.
An Old Enemy.
I had experienced little waves of depression a handful of times before in life. Though this most recent time – of all seasons it could have barged into my life and knocked me out hard and crushed my spirit – it just had to be one of the most precious seasons of my life: the beginning of my marriage.
I'd worked hard on myself after the last bout I had 3 and a half years ago. I set off to grow and heal, and put days and hours into becoming the woman I was made to be. I did this for myself, for my future babies, and most relevantly to that time: my future husband, knowing that healing from depression would be a gift to him. I believed that the man of my dreams would notice me not only by my appearance, but more importantly by the joy and confidence I had bursting from within.
Thankfully, that actually happened! Nathanael saw all of that that from his first glance. He got to fall in love with the real me and experience dating my true, full-blown, joyful self.
Around the same time we got engaged, things in our world happened that caused wound after wound in my heart – never from Nathanael, but from other people. Normally I am a very hopeful person and I can persevere through those kind of things; however, without realizing it, I experienced more than I could handle for much longer than I was used to.
It started about a year before our engagement when painful events happened in my life and in my family. During that time I also experienced betrayal in both new and old friendships simultaneously. Despite this, I kept my chin up, made an effort to give them the benefit of the doubt, and stayed true to myself, which comes pretty naturally.
However, by the time we were engaged (a really valuable and vulnerable time), the crack in my heart had been weakened enough to cause a break.
I didn’t know it yet, but I had begun to fall into an emotional trap. Because I always worked to carry strength and hope no matter what, and because I wore the invisible mask of “everything is okay”, I couldn’t see the cracks. In fact, I didn’t catch it until a year and a half later when my heartbreak was already at it’s dangerous peak.
Before I discovered this thorn called depression, I only noticed the pain and discomfort. That pain confused me –
It hit me so hard, beyond what I could handle, and began to manifest itself in my physical health. Not just aches and pains and illness, but in my appearance too. Seeing this really struck me – it made everything so much worse.
It drained my self-esteem quicker than I could stop it.
I was crushed.
Every time I looked in the mirror, I was reminded of my failure to "stay strong". It felt like my physical appearance, something I worked so hard on for years and prepared as the best gift I could give to Nathanael, suddenly betrayed me in a matter of months. This fact alone made the depression worse than it had originally been, and sent me down a haunting spiral I'd never expected to be in at a time in my life that was meant to be happy.
I gained weight – more than I ever had before. My face constantly broke out. My hair lost it’s shine and healthy color. Countless times I would suddenly get sick. My stomach and guts had a painfully hard time handling anything I ate. My joints felt about 40 years older than me and caused me torment every morning and night. I would feel super drowsy way too early in the evening, and couldn’t get out of bed until close to noon.
Many times the achey sleepiness and lethargy kept me in bed all day.
It felt like our bed was strapping me in and sucking all of my energy and motivation out of me.
I constantly fought the battle of staying motivated to do anything:
cook, clean, do laundry, write, work-out, play music, get groceries, run errands, or try to move further in starting my blog and business… All of the things that I am so in love with doing, felt too far to reach.
My poor husband. He works from home, and most mornings he would have to take care of me. I am blessed that he was always such a good sport about it and continually lent me patience and grace. Every morning he would slowly help me to wake up, sit up, and eventually stand up, and encourage me that I can accomplish at least one thing in the day. I was so thankful for this, but so frustrated at the same time. "He shouldn’t have to worry about me and constantly care for me.”, were the words that were always on repeat in my head.
Under The Surface.
It wasn’t like there was something obviously wrong with me, like a broken leg. Depression was an invisible hindrance, constantly taunting me and sitting on me, telling me I was a failure and a terrible wife.
We had just got married, and I was so excited to show my husband how much I love him by being this incredible wife who constantly stays productive – on top of caring for both of our daily needs and always being my energetic, joyful, playful self. But it was too much to handle, and each day I felt more and more like I failed him – regardless of how much he encouraged me and praised me anyway.
Eventually I felt so beat to a pulp by this "depression-bully", that I began to lose emotion. I began to just exist, and almost forget how to even be a human.
I would constantly apologize to Nathanael about it, because I felt so helpless and unable to control any of it.
With all of this, one of the hardest things for me to do was be around other people.
This was a part of me that became shockingly nonexistent. Not only was my trust already deeply damaged, but more than that,
even just the thought of getting out of the house and being around people drained my energy.
Knowing that people were going to talk to me and ask me how I am doing and try to start a conversation with me exhausted me. Even with our family! There were times I begged Nathanael to cancel our plans and stay home with me. There were other times that I finally got ready to leave, walked out of the house with him, and half way there I would start bawling and tell him,
"I can’t do it."
The times that I actually did follow all the way through with going somewhere, I felt so uncontrollably disconnected that it freaked me out to encounter someone. A friend or family member would start talking to me and it felt like I completely forgot how to be social and hold a conversation. I felt like maybe it was obvious that I was awkwardly forcing a smile or a response and pretending that I am totally on the same page as them, because I honestly couldn’t keep up and register anything anyone was saying. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, it was just that I couldn’t be present. My listening skills abandoned me and kept me in a sound-proof cave wherever I went.
I began dreading the possibility that I was disappointing people and causing them to forget who I really was.
I was deeply afraid that my new in-laws weren’t getting a chance to know me, and were merely shaking hands with my dreadful Depression, who would continually mock me and keep me from talking. I even became insecure in my close friendships – thinking they’d gotten to the point of doubting that I would come around. I wasn’t even sure who my real friends actually were because of the depressed insecurity growing in me.
Needless to say, outside of Nathanael and myself, I became incredibly lonely.
Have I made it clear how awful this was?
I am not writing any of this to hold a pity party – in fact, I faced a huge challenge to even reveal all of this in the form of a blog post. The truth is,
I wrote this for you.
I know I am not the only one. I know that some of you, maybe a lot of you, have been nodding your heads through nearly every sentence I have written up to this point.
Maybe depression has created one of the biggest, if not the biggest, obstacles you have ever faced. You don’t know what to do about it anymore. You have tried pushing it out of the way and it won’t budge. You’ve tried walking around it, climbing over it, jumping over it, punching and fighting it- you’ve even tried pretending it’s not there. But none of that has had any effect, has it?
At this point, you have just been sitting behind it, maybe even leaning on it, and either do nothing but cry or just space out about it.
You may have begun to accept it as a part of you, even though it drives you crazy that you’re not moving forward.
That was me too. To be honest, every now and then I still have little reminiscent moments of that, but I can tell you that I have healed so much since the peak of it – and still getting better and better. I eventually had enough strength to push past it.
It's heavy on my heart to share my journey of healing with you so that you can overcome it too, and begin to move forward again.
This isn’t the only and absolute way to defeat depression, but it is what helped me chip away at that giant obstacle so I could finally move it out of the way and walk forward. At the very least, I hope it encourages you to try it for yourself.
I hope this can help you to get that one giant boulder out of your way so you can be on your way to reaching your dreams again –
and if you are married, to be a gift and best friend to your spouse again. As I have been relieved of depression, my husband has been relieved of the weight too.
1. The first step is to recognize it.
I realize this may sound cliche, and that you have probably heard someone else say it a time or two, but this proved to really be the beginning of my healing.
Let me elaborate:
I didn’t actually realize what was “wrong” with me at first.
I was in denial of my problem ever being depression because of the happy-go-lucky person that I naturally am. I would only constantly wonder why I always had some sort of physical ailment, I would just feel terrible about how much I was failing at being me, and I would blame all of my emotional turmoil on the hurts and offense committed against me (because that makes sense, right? Valid, but no.
Not one person has the power to keep you from being you.
Their actions may have been a trigger for something to happen in your heart, but they are not the sole reason for everything going mad inside of you.)
At the peak of all of these things going on inside me, so many trials and hurts were happening in our lives again on the outside, that I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I would break down and cry about anything and everything that would somewhat touch me, I would stay in my cave (a.k.a., our room) everyday and all day. I would rarely respond to any text, email, or call, and I would just “veg”.
One day, as I was “vegging”, someone online shared an article about depression.
Regardless of how hard it would be for me to read without dozing off in five minutes, something in me felt drawn to this specific article – so I opened it and read it. It was a very long article, but I read it. In fact, I began reading more similar articles that were linked to it. These authors were people who had experienced depression themselves, and through their words and drawings, they illustrated it so well that I thought they were reading my life and telling me all about what was happening to me. I was shocked, and at the same time, very strangely, relieved. I began bawling as I told Nathanael about it.
It relieved me – because for once I felt like it wasn’t because I failed, I finally knew what was happening to me, and that this thing I was experiencing was actually valid.
That was important. Having this invisible thorn validated was more freeing than I could have realized. Don’t get me wrong, I became very upset finding out that depression even existed inside of me, but finally knowing and recognizing that also started my journey of feeling better.
For once, something made sense.
It felt even better to tell Nathanael and to receive his full-on support of all of this, which leads me to step two:
2. Share it with people.
This was extremely difficult, to say the least. I have already expressed to you how painful it was for me to be around people, and how much being in a cave isolated me. So it goes without saying: I didn’t want to talk to anybody about this, let alone talk to people, period. But I knew I needed to.
The more depression is exposed to the light, the less darkness can hide it, and the less power it can have over you.
This rang true as I began to tell people, one at a time. As I encountered each person, I would share with them what I'd learned had been going on with me that whole past season. The more I shared, the more I noticed significant pieces of the thorn flaking away.
These people didn’t judge me either – they listened, validated, and supported me. I told them how they could help; and for me, that meant giving me words of affirmation. So each of them held on to that and made sure to show me some kind of affirmation on a regular basis. And with that understanding, they also knew what was going on with me when I was distant or disconnected.
Each person I shared with showed me a lot of appreciation for telling them. It helped clear the air that I wasn’t avoiding them because they had done something wrong, but instead helped them understand that I was going through something that was keeping me from being myself. They now know how to recognize it, and they know what to do if they catch it happening.
3. Put yourself around supportive people
Step two is sort of blended with step three, which is to make an effort to be around people. Even if this means you are literally just existing in the same room as them.
I understand it is incredibly uncomfortable to be near someone when you are depressed, let alone a group of people, but it is an important part of healing.
One thing a mentor of mine made clear to me about depression, is how important it is to not let depression isolate you.
The longer you isolate yourself, the more depression will eat you alive – and it will take your dreams in life with it.
The best people to be around at this time are the people you've already shared about it with. Those who already know you've been experiencing depression will be the ones to let you just be where you’re at while you are in the same room with them. If you don’t want to talk, they won’t make you. The most important thing is that you are there with them. Naturally, you will eventually begin to say a word or two, or more, and gradually become social again –
even at the smallest pace, being around people who care will grow and heal you.
4. Do the things that make you laugh or feel accomplished
- even the little things.
If you are at a state where you are still “vegging” then at least make sure it is something positive.
Funny movies were something my husband and I always made sure we were watching if it were movie night or chill night. Download a puzzle game or strategy game on your phone – might as well use those “veg” moments to build you up, right? I had a couple games that made me feel smart, even in the smallest way.
I can’t express enough to you how healthy it is to keep your brain active, especially when battling depression.
Let your spouse or friends take you somewhere that usually made you smile and laugh before. Try new things, open the windows, take advantage of the sun when it comes out and take a walk, or just sit somewhere outside. If you are able, buy a new clothing item or two. Another mentor of mine actually encouraged me to “reinvent” myself – in a positive way, folks.
It just means refresh yourself.
New clothes, new shoes, new haircut, play with make-up (ladies, you know what I mean), listen to new music, learn something new or pick up a new hobby.
There is a reason this is step four and not step one – this takes some much-needed strength; I know.
As soon as you notice a new ounce or two of energy, take advantage of that. This will begin to re-grease your wheels and help you to start to move forward again.
One more important part of step four:
affirm other people.
Reach out to others who you know are having a hard time and give them some kind of encouragement, or at the very least an acknowledgment.
The more you reach out to others about their life, the more your eyes will begin to lift off of yourself – which, believe me, takes the heaviest load of pressure off your back.
Your biggest judge is you. If you can remove that from the equation, and shift that to sharing a shoulder with others, you will begin to stand up straight again. Love casts out fear – fear of failure holds you back, but you have no time for that fear if you are loving others the way you hope to be loved. This too, will add so much grease to your wheels that you won’t even need to try to grease them yourself anymore.
5. Be Grateful.
Especially when you’re not “feeling” it.
A little story:
About three and a half years ago, one of my best friends found out she had thyroid cancer. This was right before she was about to compete in the Miss Oregon pageant. She had just gotten her second surgery to remove the rest of her thyroid gland, only to come out with a brand new scar she'd have to bear across her throat in her long-awaited pageant.
Needless to say, this was an incredibly heavy challenge to keep her head up. I was going through my own challenges at the same time, so we both decided to do something significant together to change our perspective –
a gratefulness challenge.
In the midst of scary trials, we knew that a positive, healthy mindset would water our strength just enough to get us through. It was fuel for each day, and provided peace we could hold on to.
The Gratefulness Challenge looked like this:
Each day, we had to contact each other through a call or text, and ask each other what we are grateful for. It could be anything big or small, it just had to be one thing.
She would say something like, “I am so thankful my mom is able to take care of me, I don’t know how I would do this alone, especially on hard days like today. What are you thankful for?” To which I would respond, “I am so thankful my car started today so that I could get to work, even if it made me late.”
This wasn’t easy. Both of us would start the phone call grumbling because, for a while, every day felt like a bad day from the start.
Saying something we are grateful for out loud, was an effort to shift our mindset into the right gear. Having a person to ask and return the question gave us accountability to always make an effort toward positive thinking.
The second part of the challenge was up to us to do on our own every day, especially in the most difficult moments:
We had to grab a pen and paper and write three little things we were grateful for.
I worked in a registration office at a hospital. After having just dealt with patient after patient being rude and disrespectful, I would have been frustrated and grumbling under my breath. As soon as I had a few minutes without patients, I would grab a piece of paper and force myself to write three things I am grateful for:
“1.) I am thankful I remembered to bring my lunch today. 2.) I am thankful I clocked in right before the clock changed to a minute late. 3.) I am thankful my boss isn’t here today…” (This is a real example BTW.)
Suddenly, by the time I would get to number three, I would have more things to write down:
“I am thankful my co-worker gave me a hug today. I am thankful I have friends I get to see after work. I am thankful I could buy groceries yesterday…”
This continued, filling up the paper front to back full of sentences just like these. My gratefulness grew to the point where when I was suddenly greeted by another patient – Our eyes would meet, and we would share a huge unexplained smile and happily exchange words, “Good afternoon how are you!” “I am so great, thank you!”, and I would go on with my day with a smile I couldn’t erase.
I will never forget how miraculously those moments I took to pause and be grateful changed not just my mindset but my whole season.
It changed my friend’s season for the better too – she gained enough strength to go for it and commit to the pageant anyway.
She won – and moved onto Nationals.
Not only that, but she impacted countless people along the way with her refreshed determination to press forward. (In case you are wondering, less than a year after her diagnosis, she became cancer-free!)
Never underestimate how important gratefulness is.
Start with saying one thing you are grateful for. Either write it down or share it with someone else. Even this little bit of effort will help guide your mind back toward the right track.
6. Make an effort toward being active again.
Taking care of yourself is more important than you may think in this process.
Go for a walk more often, or if you are feeling ambitious enough, start working out. However, you don’t have to go big right away if this terrifies you – standing up and cooking in the kitchen more counts too. Cleaning the house is just as active as walking. Anything that gets you on your feet and your blood pumping again will begin to put speed in your wheels and you will notice that you are actually gaining momentum again.
Along with affirming and encouraging others (Step 4), get active by helping others.
Chances are, someone you know needs help with moving between homes, or needs help with transportation, or may even need help with groceries.
If you are capable of giving, then give it.
Do not withhold it from someone in need of it. You are on the other side of this as much as they are, and giving someone a hand will help you as much as it is helping them.
On that note, it is important that you rebirth your compassion.
Without compassion, the “victim mindset” will continue to latch onto you and thrust you into a cycle that will keep you going through wave after wave of depression.
Without compassion, you won’t move past step six. Grow your compassion, and that victim mindset will flee from you.
7. Do the things you did at first.
The whole point is to break depression, kick it to the curb, and become yourself again, right?
Think about the things you loved doing before this silent torment struck you.
Did you love music? Sports? Creating? Traveling? Writing? Dancing? Baking? What were those things that added to your joy and made you feel like you were always moving closer to your dreams in life?
I know mine was all of the above. I am still working on a few of them, but as soon as I started picking up baking again, a rush of joy came through me as I mixed the ingredients together, made a mess in the kitchen, rolled out the dough, put the batch in the oven, smelled the delicious aroma, and handed out the freshly baked cookies to the people I would see. This brought me back to all of the other things I loved doing. It got me excited for the things I WANT to do too.
The more I started doing the things I love again, the more I started to see my real self again.
Not only that, but I started to have VISION again. I started remembering what I am passionate about, and discovering new things my heart beats for.
This is why I am writing.
Writing is heavily involved in the passions, dreams and visions in my life. It is a platform that helps my re-birthed compassion to reach out to each of you reading this. Writing is something that fuels me.
I’VE HAD WRITER’S BLOCK For 6 years now.
So when Nathanael asked me to be a guest writer for the launch of his blog, countless nerves struck me and made me freeze up. But I've known this was something I needed to do sooner than later. I took the plunge, and through the process I can see how far I’ve come. I realized I am not the only one who has fought this battle, and at that point the words began flooding through my head.
I can’t express enough to you how much writing this article has unlocked so much inside of me.
I implore you to begin gently pulling yourself through each of these seven steps, so that you too can reach a point of becoming you again.
Recognize and acknowledge your depression
Share about it with others
Put yourself around supportive people
Find ways to laugh, feel accomplished, and affirm others
Make an effort to be active again and look for opportunities to help others
Do the things you did at first
This is not a sprint, this is a crawl.
Treat it as such, and you will be able to gradually regain the strength you need to move forward.
An important point that helped me walk through these steps with determined confidence, was the fact that the effects of depression went beyond just me – it took my husband, friends, and family through a challenging loop as well.
You too have important relationships around you that are being continually tested by this thorn in your side. I promise you, it’s not stuck there. You can remove it. You can be free of it, release your loved ones from it, and storm toward your dreams like never before.
You haven’t lost who you are.
You are not doomed, and you are definitely not alone. If you can move this one big obstacle out of the way, all of the other obstacles in the future will feel like just another bump in the road.
Lastly, it is not your fault.
No one wants to be depressed. Depression is like a sneaker wave; one minute you’re standing there, and in an instant you’re under water. Just don’t let it tell you that you’ve failed. You haven’t failed. You are not a victim.
You are still the champion you were made to be.
Battle the "anti-you”.
The real you still exists inside, waiting for you, and will be found by you.