I have suffered from depression and anxiety my entire life. Learning to recognize my mental illness and manage it has been a lifelong journey, in and of itself. My story’s chapters are bookmarked by the ups and downs of the depression roller coaster. I remember when I first was confronted by the notion that I had a problem. I was in high school and had been a Type A, overachiever since forever, but in my sophomore year I experienced a total crash and burn. I didn’t want to do anything, I couldn’t sleep, I withdrew from everyone around me, and my grades absolutely suffered. I had gone from all “A” grades to barely passing my classes in less than a year.
Therapy and the adoption of healthier mindsets and habits got me on the right track, but depression is still a very real crutch in my life and, as I inch deeper into the Abyss of Adulthood, I find a whole new crop of anxieties springing up.
It’s funny to put into words, but it is true that now may be the “best” time in history to be suffering from a mental illness. What I mean by this is that discussion of mental health is more open. It is more recognized. As a society, we appreciate the scope and are actively seeking to improve the condition and the lives of those who suffer. There are more resources than ever.
But there’s still a long way to go. My dad comes to mind. As an adult, I look at my dad and see the root of my anxiety. My dad has it, too, though he would never give it that name. I see the same neurotic habits, the high stress and extreme moods, and everything down to the physical manifestations, like migraines. One of the big “loss of innocence” periods in my life was having a conversation with my father, expressing my concern, and offering up some of the tools that I have used to make my life better. He said, “Your generation embraces your weaknesses. It doesn’t bother you. I would never be able to say I have anxiety out loud. Much less to an employer.”
Herein lies the problem. Mental illness isn’t like the common cold, where it runs its course in a predictable amount of time with the same garden variety symptoms. Sometimes it sneaks up on you and knocks you on your ass for a week. Sometimes it’s just a little current, trickling through everything you do. Sometimes you’re just drowning, no end in sight.
I’m categorized as one with High Functioning Anxiety, meaning that when I’m not under the weight of a “blue period,” I’m on my fucking game. Not to brag, but I’m a damn good employee. I have enjoyed a lot of success, thus far, because I work hard and have good instincts and professional skills. The other edge of this particular sword is that my superiors and teammates have high expectations of me, and I often have the good fortune of being trusted with more meaningful (read: higher volume) work projects. I am very aware of my own potential for professional growth, and that both thrills and scares the hell out of me.
Because what happens when I’m zooming by, the office hotshot, and suddenly hit a brick wall? On those mornings that I just can’t get out of bed; or maybe I do, anyway, but I’m barely keeping my head up at work? I suffer. My productivity suffers. I don’t meet the expectation. The working world is getting better, generally, for those suffering from mental health issues, but it’s also true that in many industries the bosses are people like my dad, who perhaps have trouble acknowledging mental health or have the expectation that it should be brushed aside and dealt with after working hours.
In my current situation, I’m mild-mannered law clerk by day and renegade law student by night. Work-life balance, to me, means “You haven’t died yet, so that’s going for you.” As a result, I’m fighting like hell against my depression and am in the vicious cycle of being afraid to take time off (lest I let down those who depend on me) and knowing that by pushing myself so hard, I’m only making things worse. I’m staring down the barrel of my future, and while I recognize that right now, I’m all Clark Kent without the Superman and still trying to lead a double life (bad analogy, but I’ve been on a kick lately), I can’t help but worry if this problem will persist once I’m out from under my education and in that 9-to-5 swing.
Caitlin is a 1L year survivor and coffee shop haunt who splits her time between Los Angeles, CA and Austin, TX. When she’s not writing, Caitlin enjoys movies, yoga, and indulging her INTJ/Capricorn bend with research on her many academic passions.
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