By Julia Washington
“I’ve been feeling less motivated in the mornings,” Tiffany, 39, said. For nearly a year, she’s been finding it difficult to do her everyday activities. Between running her own business, raising her son, and maintaining family and social relationships, she’s experiencing a new level of her already existing chronic depression.
Since being diagnosed over a decade ago, Tiffany is used to life under a cloud of depression, but lately, with this new wave, she feels more apathetic, and because of this, she knew it was time to check in with her mental health support. Most people aren’t like Tiffany; the self-awareness of understanding one’s mental state can take years to understand.
Invisible ailments like clinical depression or anxiety disorders don’t get the same emphasis for care as physical health issues. The need to care for one’s mental state is often dismissed or seen as selfish. Everyone’s capacity to handle what life gives them is unique to each person, and as Tami Hackbarth pointed out in How to Cope with Stress When You Can’t Afford Therapy, it is not selfish to care for yourself deeply. Especially where mental health is concerned.
“One of the ways I manage my mental health, especially because my therapist emphasizes it, is exercise,” Tiffany continues, “and even though it’s not an end-all answer, it does help me clear my head.”
Tiffany’s lifelong journey with clinical depression, which the Mayo Clinic describes as a more severe form of depression, has changed since the first stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the shutdown, she could mask her symptoms more easily and would push through the impending burnout. Because she was able to create a support network of friends for her son, she could rely on them if she was experiencing down days.
Once everyone was sent home with the advice the stay-at-home order would last only two weeks, she felt she could handle that. Two weeks was not nearly as long as summer or winter vacation at her son’s school.
But Tiffany began to struggle once the stay-at-home order was extended, and it became unclear when life as she knew it could resume. She stopped opening the curtains in her home and only turned on the lights that she needed, keeping the house dark all day and all night. “Because we couldn’t really go anywhere, it was easy to curl into myself. My son was nine at the time and he knew where the snack drawer was, and my husband always handles breakfast,” She said, “I found the depression side of TikTok and that didn’t help either.” [sic]
TikTok, the video-sharing social media app, saw an increase in use during the shutdown. While other people were learning and sharing new dances and making funny videos, Tiffany was watching other depressed people share about their depression. At first, it felt comforting to know she wasn’t alone, but then she realized it added to her depressed emotional state.
“It was so subtle at first. Like I found all these people who had similar feelings, but then it started getting real dark and I just got scared.” Tiffany’s husband intervened after some time passed. He reached out to Tiffany’s therapist and made an appointment for her. “I wasn’t in a space where I could do that myself,” Tiffany said, “I’m really glad my husband did.”
The two have been married since 2014 but have known each other since high school. Tiffany’s husband, who requested we didn’t use his name, has known about Tiffany’s clinical depression since the beginning.
Depression is one of the many invisible ailments that, according to the World Health Organization, roughly 280 million people live with and is more common in women than men. Some of the most common mental health disorders include Bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety disorders, depression, mood disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or eating disorders.
It is suggested that one in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness.
When Tiffany connected with her therapist, they talked through Tiffany’s symptoms and made adjustments to her medication. “In college, I would drink to make things better, but not in the way of an addict, more in the way of I was a kid who was struggling to understand,” Tiffany said, “Because it was college and there were parties every weekend and no one really telling you what to do, I didn’t think about why it was hard to get out of bed some days. I just assumed that was part of college life.”
“I was always a highly motivated kid. Advanced classes all the way, I get things done,” She said. “I just assumed I wasn’t a morning person and shifted my schedule around so I could wake up later.” But that trick only worked for a month or so as she started experiencing difficulties getting out of bed in general.
When Tiffany finished college, she moved to Southern California, where she took a highly stressful job as a project manager on a construction site. In her new job, she brought the same tenacity to get things done, but under the surface, she was fighting against the lack of motivation. In her life, it was expected that she and her siblings achieve and achieve well. Hyper-achievement was the only goal, and despite her natural inclination to curl up and slow down, Tiffany continued to power through and assumed her continued low mood, feelings of guilt, irritability, and little interest in anything was a byproduct of the constant go-go attitude she was raised with.
When the difficulty of getting out of bed and feeling unmotivated to work persisted, she started wondering if it was her or her environment. Deciding it was her, she found a therapist and made an appointment. At first, she was nervous about meeting with the therapist. She grew up in a family that didn’t believe in or trust therapy. She initially didn’t share with her family what her plans were for fear they would discourage her and offer her reassurance that the way she was feeling was just a phase.
“It’s not a phase when you’ve been experiencing these feelings for nearly a decade,” Tiffany said.
After several sessions with her clinical therapist over several months, Tiffany was diagnosed with Clinical Depression. “There was a sense of relief that came,” Tiffany said. Now knowing there was a name for how she was experiencing life made her feel less like a failure and more human. She decided to move back home to be closer to her family. Once back, she saw her therapist regularly and established a fitness routine. She cut out fast food and increased her fruit and vegetable intake. Creating an entire lifestyle change felt necessary now that she knew she was prone to clinical depression.
Through her career change, having her son, and getting married, depressive episodes became few and far between, though she admits to having experienced post-partum depression. So when March 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic came around, she wasn’t too worried, but things turned quickly.
In late Spring of 2020, Tiffany’s medication was updated, and she began weekly talk therapy sessions as well as a new plan to navigate the upcoming summer break. She reincorporated physical exercise by walking every day. She included her son, who sometimes rode his bike or skateboard. She and a friend with similar-aged children decided to pod together so they could have some support, and Tiffany’s mental health started improving.
But then, in December of 2022, Tiffany started feeling unmotivated, writing it off as typical gray weather blues. No stranger to the gray days of winter, Tiffany powered through until a few weeks ago she realized she was back in the dark again.
“I don’t know what it is,” Tiffany said, “Things will go well for a while, and then BAM, back in a depressive state.” She continues, “I had to stop watching the news, and I pulled back on TikTok.” She realized, with the help of her therapist, that constantly taking in information about events that are tragic and out of her control are negatively impacting her mental health.
She admitted that she is lucky to have support and understands the warning signs. In the beginning, navigating the system was difficult. In the early 2000s, when Tiffany first sought help, discussions around mental health and wellness were few and far between. Too embarrassed to ask her friends for recommendations, she talked with her doctor at an annual check-up. Even then, Tiffany struggled with getting the support she needed. “There were many times I wanted to give up trying to find help because it was so hard. And honestly, it felt like that’s what they wanted.” She said, “But I was so curious about what was wrong with me. I had to know.”
Tiffany is now acutely aware of her warning signs, allowing her to take action before the situation becomes dire. As noted in our The Most Common Signs of Depression blog, written by VirtuALZ Care Navigation Social Worker Elizabeth Stolte, they are:
Persistent feelings of sadness
Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness
Loss of interest in usual activities
Change in eating habits
Thoughts of death or suicide.
In Tiffany’s case, losing interest in activities translates into difficulty getting out of bed. She has since learned the difference between when her body needs rest and the lack of desire for days or weeks in a row to get up and start the day.
“It’s not an easy journey, and I know I’m lucky to have a therapist and support,“ Tiffany says, “but it is so important to keep trying for help and to stick with it. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit and just stay in bed forever.”
If you are experiencing thoughts of death or suicide, it is essential to contact support immediately. Resources like 988 or the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline (800-950-6264) exist to help anyone experiencing these feelings and get the support they need as soon as possible.
Members of VirtuALZ have access to the Care Navigation Team, which consists of a Social Worker and a Care Navigator. When needing assistance with finding resources, members can call in and learn about what’s available in their area.
Note: The VirtuALZ blog (FYI) is strictly a news and information website about chronic Diseases. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The VirtuALZ Blog (FYI) is intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic disease.