Starting something new is never easy. This piece, for example... I've re-written the first sentence twelve times now, and each time my anxiety kicks in, telling me "that doesn't sound right", or "that's not a good enough way to start". Such is my daily life.
I'm Melanie, I'm 28 years old, and I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, High Functioning Generalized and Social Anxiety, and Food Addiction. They all suck. But anyone with any one of these (or other) mental illnesses would probably agree. Let me give you the reader's digest version of my life until recently.
I started feeling depressed when I was in high school, the typical age when things start changing. I was always a happy kid up until that point, and even beyond that point no one ever suspected I was struggling so much. I didn't understand at the time why I was feeling like that... some days I still don't. I would find myself pinching my own skin to distract me from the feelings, or even just biting my lip extra hard. Soon enough, it turned into self-harm. After about a year, I managed to get my self-harm under control, based upon an ultimatum of "get my shit together or medication" from a psychologist I was seeing at the time for other reasons; my parents had no idea how much I struggled with depression until I was about 22 years old. I went back and forth with depressive episodes for years and years, somehow managing to cope on my own. Unfortunately, I also began to develop incredible social anxiety in college, and also unfortunately, it was high functioning anxiety. For those wondering, high functioning anxiety sucks the worst because you basically force yourself into uncomfortable situations that already make you anxious thinking about and then actually being in the situation makes you more anxious and then your anxiety piles on top of your anxiety and you just want to explode but you can't because that would be embarrassing and thinking about that makes you more anxious - oh man, I should stop there.
Now let's get to the happy stuff, eh?
It wasn’t until recently that I actually made an effort to find help for myself. I went through a long period of mild depression, which I was able to manage on my own, but more so within the last ~4 years I began to struggle quite a bit. I went through several dark depressive episodes that left me struggling to find a reason to get out of bed every morning. The main reason I did get out of bed? My dogs.
My dogs have been my saviors. I truthfully wonder if I’d still be here today if they weren’t in my life. Their need to be out and active forces me to get out of bed and be active with them. Through training, adventuring, hiking, exploring, mushing, and running, we’ve built an amazing bond that keeps me thinking about what else we can do together to further strengthen our bond, rather than constantly being stuck in my head with my depression. In addition, my passion for photography has grown so much, and they’re to thank for that as well. By combining my love for photography and my love for being active with the pups, I’ve been able to find the courage to admit that I need help. Those moments of happiness I feel when taking photos of them on our adventures, or that moment of pure bliss when I see how happy they are mushing and doing what they were bred to do keeps me grounded, and reminds me what happiness truly feels like. By finding those moments of calm and clarity, I was able to also find the strength I needed to seek help.
Even though I was ready, it was still incredibly hard and embarrassing to me to ask for a referral from my doctor to a therapist. There is such a huge stigma attached to mental illness still, which creates further problems for those struggling. What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s absolutely ok to not be ok.
Moral of the story? Starting something new is never easy, whether it’s starting a new class, adopting a new dog, getting married, or even starting on a journey to find your happiness. Finding help is never easy. But hang in there, try to find something that you love, that you have a passion and fire for, and allow it to engulf you in happiness. Relish in those moments each time, and allow them to give you the strength you need to do whatever you need to do to find your happy.
[All of our adventures are chronicled on Instagram and Facebook @expeditionhusky through my photography.]