Healing Journey: Depression & the Fear of Fatigue

I have a complicated relationship with rest. For several years, I refused to let myself relax in bed and binge Netflix because this felt too akin to depression. During a major depressive episode in college, I binged 11 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in one summer sitting in alone in my bed in darkness from morning til night. So it is unsurprising that it took me a few years after that to disentangle depression from watching TV. As a college student, I wouldn’t let myself catch a break. I jumped from one project to the next, juggling high academic achievement, a vibrant social life, and leadership roles in my extracurricular activities. My calendar scarcely had space for my commute from one activity to the other, let alone time to pause, breathe, and sit with my thoughts. I was too afraid that if the motion stopped, the anxiety would be unbearable. It often was.

During college, my frenzied activity was often a product of hypomania, but this was a much preferable state to depression. At the time, I was not well acquainted with euthymia, the temporary stable state without symptoms of depression or mania. Desiring to avoid depression at all costs, I reasoned that the only way to feel good was to maintain my hypomania. So whenever fatigue started to settle in, I pushed past exhaustion and overexerted myself to stoke the flames that kept my mood elevated.

But now I know that hypomania cannot last forever; a crash into depression is inevitable. Now that I am sufficiently medicated, I rarely experience hypomania. I can only recall one day in 2021 where I was hypomanic. My mood stabilizer is really doing is job given that I am euthymic most of the time. However, the downside is that medicated Nadia functions more like a person with bipolar 2 (some hypomania and mostly depression) or major depression. I find that when I have a lot of deadlines, I push my body into overdrive to accomplish my goals. Since this effort is not fueled by hypomania, I feel the emotional and physical exertion.

A few days after a major accomplishment, I crash. I feel tired, unmotivated, and melancholic. It’s frustrating and frightening. I fear fatigue. When I cannot will myself to work, I resist rest. Due to chronic insomnia, I already have a difficult relationship with sleep, making naps unattainable at most attempts. Instead of leaning into relaxation, I drag myself to a group fitness class or I try pick up an unfinished creative project. I fear that if I lean into exhaustion, it will consume me. I’ll fall into a black hole and descend into a depression that I will not be able to climb out of.

This is why depression and anxiety usually go hand-in-hand. One feeds the other. When I feel down my anxious brain goes berserk. I panic: “I have a deadline! I can’t function like this! I am going to be stuck here forever and then I will have to bail on this commitment. I may have energy last minute, but I won’t have enough time to prepare and my presentation will be horrible…” And the self-defeating talk goes on and on dragging me further and further into a state of helplessness. But when I try to tune the anxiety out and just be with what is, I find that my situation changes sooner than I would have expected.

After some uncomfortable exposure therapy forcing myself to lie on the couch, I find that after 30 minutes to an hour I feel better. When I feel the fatigue and lean into it, I repeat the phrase, “This will not last forever.” I hold this mantra close to my chest because when I’m low, depression feels like an eternal state. It is easy to imagine that it is going to last a lifetime. But as soon as I surrender and give my body the rest that it needs, depression releases me.

For me, rest is a trust fall exercise. Although I fear falling, I’m learning to trust that I won’t hit the ground.

Image Description: A black-and-white photo of a dandelion and its seeds blowing away against the backdrop of a cloudy sky.

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