I have clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
Sometimes I have them all at once. Some days only one. There are certain days when I feel like I could conquer the world for a few hours. Then, inevitably, one of them shows up.
There are symptoms that they share—like difficulty concentrating and insomnia—and symptoms that are unique to each one.
I’ve lived with depression since I was a teenager, and the symptoms are so recognizable that I just ride it out like the flu. Physical exhaustion. A loss of interest in pretty much everything. A weight so heavy that even my mind struggles to function underneath it. Depression is a room without windows or doors—a place without even hope—but it is also a place I know well, so I just wait it out until time or medication or God opens it from the outside.
GAD is a younger sibling, inhabiting my life for maybe 15 years. It is my chest pounding, Pounding, POUNDING until I’m sure no human body could possibly survive it. I describe it as feeling like there’s a cobra three feet from me, weaving back and forth with its hood spread and ready to strike. It’s fight or flight every minute of every day and no relief, not even sleep. I often wonder how a human heart can stand that kind of pressure without exploding.
CPTSD is the newest member of my family. Unlike the other two, it was actually caused by a specific situation. I know what happened, got out, and now I can recognize the triggers. Although I’m over the worst of it (I’m not depersonalizing anymore), it was the CPTSD that almost destroyed me. I am forever grateful to “Criminal Minds” and Out of the Storm for helping me notice it, name it, and ask for help. Now when I recognize a trigger, I just leave, distancing myself from whatever brought on the emotional flashback, and soon I can breathe again.
But even as depression makes its cyclical appearance this winter, and even in the middle of one of my not-infrequent panic attacks, I can tell that something is different.
The voices telling me I’m worthless and stupid are saying the same thing they always have, but they aren’t resonating inside my head like they used to. I hear them, but I don’t believe them. It’s as if my emotional immune system is stronger now. I get the flu of depression, but it doesn’t knock me off my feet like it used to.
You see, something even older than depression used to live inside me—something that’s been my companion since childhood. Self-loathing. Separate from any mental illness, I’ve just hated myself for as long as I can remember.
But self-loathing doesn’t live here anymore, because I think the CPTSD “broke” it.
I don’t have the correct diagnostic verbiage, but I can describe what it felt like.
About two years ago, The CPTSD had destroyed my ability to function at all—to make even the tiniest decision—because I didn’t believe I had a right to have feelings. (Click here for the vlog post) But there must be a limit to how much a person can hate themselves, because at some point I just couldn’t do it anymore.
It felt—and feels—as if my CPTSD was just too much for my psyche to carry and something had to give. I didn’t do anything to affect the change. No positive thinking or self-affirmations. There was just no more self-hate left inside and no resources to make more.
I didn’t suddenly want to live; I was just tired of wanting to die. I didn’t feel any self-love; I just couldn’t muster up the energy to hate myself. The exhaustion came first.
I still have depression, GAD, and CPTSD—and some symptoms are worse now than they were a year ago—but even as my body tells me there’s a cobra three feet away, my mind and my heart are free, because the self-hatred is gone.
Most counseling professionals will say that self-loathing is a symptom of depression, but mine was deeper than that. It was part of who I am, like blue eyes. I think of it as the Balrog in the Mines of Moria—older than anything built on top of it but let loose because the trauma dug too deep.
Then Gandalf smote his ruin upon the mountainside. (although I’m not yet sure who Gandalf is in this scenario)
Maybe I’ll never love myself; it’s an idea too foreign to even consider, but for the first time in my life I don’t hate myself. A weight I used to carry is gone. My illnesses are now just that—illnesses. They are not a result of my deficiencies.
My self-hatred is gone. And that has made all the difference.