101 Self-Care Suggestions for When It All Feels Like Too Much

I think that, for most of us, there are times in life when it all just feel like Too Much.

There may be some days, weeks, months, maybe even years when – for whatever reason – just getting through the day, or going to work, or putting one foot in front of the other feels hard. Really, really hard.

Maybe it’s because you’re wrestling with anxiety, depression or some other mental illness. Maybe it’s because you’ve had your heart broken. Maybe you’ve gone through a physical or emotional trauma. Maybe you’re deeply grieving. Or maybe there’s no easily understood reason for why you’re feeling bad.

Whatever the case, I want you to know that it’s OK if you’re going through a tough time. This doesn’t make you any less lovable, worthy or capable. This just means you’re human.

Being a human can be a messy, hard, confusing, painful experience sometimes.2

So if you or someone you love is going through one of these tough times right now, a time where it all just feels like too much, I want to offer up 101 suggestions for self-care to help you or your loved one get through this time.

1. Have a good, long, body-shaking cry.

2. Call a trusted friend or family member and talk it out.

3. Call in sick. Take comp time if you can. Take a mental health day.

4. Say no to extra obligations, chores, or anything that pulls on your precious self-care time.

5. Book a session (or more!) with your therapist.

6. Dial down your expectations of yourself at this time. When you’re going through life’s tough times, I invite you to soften your expectations of yourself and others.2

7. Tuck yourself into bed early with a good book and clean sheets.

8. Watch a comforting/silly/funny/lighthearted TV show or movie. (“Parks and Recreation,” anyone?)

9. Reread your favorite picture and chapter books from childhood.

10. Ask for some love and tenderness from your friends on social media. Let them comment on your post and remind you that you’re loved.

11. Look at some some really gorgeous pieces of art.

12. Watch Youtube videos of Ellen DeGeneres and the adorable kids she has on her show.

13. Look at faith-in-humanity-restoring lists from Buzzfeed.

14. Ask for help. From whoever you need it – your boss, your doctor, your partner, your therapist, your mom. Let people know you need some help.

15. Wrap yourself up in a cozy fleece blanket and sip a cup of hot tea.

16. Breathe. Deeply. Slowly. Four counts in. Six counts out.

17. Hydrate. Have you had enough water today?

18. Eat. Have you eaten something healthy and nourishing today?

19. Sleep. Have you slept 7-9 hours? Is it time for some rest?

20. Shower. Then dry your hair and put on clothes that make you feel good.

21. Go outside and be in the sunshine.

22. Move your body gently in ways that feel good. Maybe aim for 30 minutes. Or 10 if 30 feels like too much.

23. Read a story (or stories) of people who overcame adversity or maybe dealt with mental illness, too. (I personally admire JK Rowling’s story.)

24. Go to a 12-Step meeting. Or any group meeting where support is offered. Check out church listings, hospital listings, school listings for examples.

25. If you suspect something may be physiologically off with you, go see your doctor and/or psychiatrist and talk to them. Medication might help you at this time and they can assist you in assessing this.

26. Take a long, hot bath, light a candle and pamper yourself.

27. Read these inspirational quotes.

28. Cuddle someone or something. Your partner. A pillow. Your friend’s dog.

29. Read past emails/postcards/letters etc. from friends and family reminding you of happier times.

30. Knit. Sculpt. Bake. Engage your hands.

31. Exhaust yourself physically – running, yoga, swimming, whatever helps you feel fatigued.

32. Write it out. Free form in a journal or a Google doc. Get it all out and vent.

33. Create a plan if you’re feeling overwhelmed. List out what you need to do next to tackle and address whatever you’re facing. Chunk it down into manageable and understandable pieces.

34. Remember: You only have to get through the next five minutes. Then the next five. And so on.

35. Take five minutes to meditate.

36. Write out a list of 25 Reasons Why You’ll Be OK.

37. Write out a list of 25 Examples of Things You’ve Overcome or Accomplished.

38. Write out a list of 25 Reasons Why You’re a Good, Lovable Person.

39. Write out a list of 25 Things That Make Your Life Beautiful.

40. Sniff some scents that bring you joy or remind you of happier times.

41. Ask for support from friends and family via text if voice-to-voice contact feels like too much. Ask them to check in with you via text daily/weekly. Whatever you need.

42. Lay down on the ground. Let the earth/floor hold you. You don’t have to hold it all on your own.

43. Clean up a corner of a room of your house. Sometimes tidying up can help calm our minds.

44. Ask yourself: What’s my next most immediate priority? Do that. Then ask the question again.

45. Read some poetry. Rumi, Hafiz, Mary Oliver are all excellent.

46. Take a tech break. Delete or deactivate social media if it feels too triggering right now.

47. Or maybe get on tech. If you’ve been isolating maybe even interacting with friends and family online might feel good.

48. Go out in public and be around others. You don’t have to engage. But maybe go sit in a coffee shop or on a bench at a museum and soak up the humanity around you.

49. Or if you’re feeling too saturated with contact, go home. Cancel plans and tend to the introverted parts of yourself.

50. Ask friends and family to remind you that things will be OK and that what you’re feeling is temporary.

51. Put up some Christmas lights in your bedroom. They often make things more magical.

52. Spend a little money and treat yourself to some self-care and comfort. Maybe take a taxi versus the bus. Buy your lunch instead of forcing yourself to pack it. Buy some flowers that delight you.

53. Make art. Scribble with crayons. Splash some watercolors. Paint a rock. Whatever. Just create something.

54. Go wander around outside in your neighborhood and take a look at all the lovely houses and the way people decorate their gardens. Delight in the diversity of design.

55. Go visit or volunteer at your local animal rescue. Pet some animals.

56. Look at photos of people you love. Set them as the wallpaper of your phone or laptop.

57. Create and listen to a playlist of songs that remind you of happier times.

58. Read some spiritual literature.

59. Scream, pound pillows, tear up paper, shake your body to move the energy out.

60. Eat your favorite, most comforting foods.

61. Watch old Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood videos online.

62. Turn off the lights, sit down, stare into space and do absolutely nothing.

63. Pick one or two things that feel like progress and do them. Make your bed. Put away the dishes. Return an email.

64. Go to a church or spiritual community service. Sit among others and absorb any guidance or grace that feels good to you.

65. Allow yourself to fantasize about what you’re hoping or longing for. There are clues and energy in your reveries and daydreams that are worth paying attention to.

66. Watch Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response videos to help you calm down and fall asleep at night.

67. Listen to monks chanting, singing Tibetan bowls or nature sounds to help soothe you.

68. Color in some adult coloring books.

69. Revisit an old hobby. Even if it feels a little forced, try your hand at things you used to enjoy and see what comes up for you.

70. Go to the ocean. Soak up the negative ions.

71. Go to the mountains. Absorb the strength and security of them.

72. Go to the forest. Drink in the shelter, life and sacredness of the trees.

73. Put down the personal help books and pick up some good old fashioned fiction.

74. Remember: Your only job right now is to put one foot in front of the other.

75. Allow and feel and express your feelings – all of them! – safely and appropriately. Seek out help if you need support in this.

76. Listen to sad songs or watch sad movies if you need a good cry. (“Steel Magnolias, anyone?)

77. Dance around wildly to your favorite, most cheesy songs from your high school years.

78. Put your hands in dirt. If you have a garden, go garden. If you have some indoor plants, tend to them. If you don’t have plants or a garden, go outside. Go to a local nursery and touch and smell all the gorgeous plants.

79. If you want to stay in bed all day watching Netflix, do it. Indulge.

80. Watch or listen to some comedy shows or goofy podcasts.

81. Look for and Google up examples of people who have gone through and made it through what you’re currently facing. Seek out models of inspiration.

82. Get expert help with whatever you need. Whether that’s through therapy, psychiatry, a lawyer, clergy, let those trained to support you do it.

83. Educate yourself about what you’re going through. Learn about what you’re facing, what you can expect to feel, and how you can support yourself in this place.

84. Establish a routine and stick to it. Routines can bring so much comfort and grounding in times of life that feel chaotic or out of control.

85. Do some hardcore nesting and make your home or bedroom as  cozy and beautiful and comforting as possible.

86. Get up early and watch a sunrise.

87. Go outside and set up a chair and watch the sunset.

88. Make your own list of self-soothing activities that engage all five of your senses.

89. Develop a supportive morning ritual for yourself.

90. Develop a relaxing evening ritual for yourself.

91. Join a support group for people who are going through what you’re going through. Check out the listings at local hospitals, libraries, churches, and universities to see what’s out there.

92. Volunteer at a local shelter or hospital or nursing home. Practice being of service to others who may also be going through a tough time.

93. Accompany a friend or family member to something. Even if it’s just keeping them company while they run errands, sometimes this kind of contact can feel like good self-care.

94. Take your dog for a walk. Or borrow a friend’s dog and take them for a walk.

95. Challenge your negative thinking.

96. Practice grounding, relaxation techniques.

97. Do something spontaneous. Walk or drive a different way to work. Order something new off the menu.Listen to a Spotify playlist of new songs.

98. Work with your doctor, naturopath or nutritionist to develop a physical exercise plan and food plan that will be supportive to whatever you’re facing right now.

99. Pray. Meditate. Write a letter to God/The Universe/Source/Your Higher Self, whatever you believe in.

100. As much as you can, please try and trust the process.

101. Finally, please remember, what you’re going through right now is temporary. It may not feel like that from inside the tough time you’re in, but this too shall pass and you will feel different again someday. If you can’t have faith in that, let me hold the hope for you.

I hope you found this list of self-care suggestions helpful in some way. But please remember, by no means is this list exhaustive nor will every item on this list possibly feel good and right for you. This list is not meant to be prescriptive, nor do I mean to imply you need to do all or any of these things to take good care of yourself. You are the expert of your own experience and I trust that you know what’s best for you.

Really, this list is really just a starting point meant to catalyze your own thinking about how you can best take care of yourself during life’s tough times and to spark your curiosity and interest in strengthening your self-care now and ongoing. Also, my hope is that in reading this you’re also hearing me say how normal and natural it is to struggle and to have these tough, hard times. It’s part of being human. You’re not alone in this. 

Until next time, take very good care of yourself.

Warmly, Annie


13 Reasons Why is an insult to anyone with mental health issues

You can’t remedy depression with ‘love’

13 Reasons Why, a Netflix original series based on the YA fiction novel by Jay Asher, details the events leading up to and following the suicide of 16-year-old Hannah Baker. It grossly trivialises mental health and romanticises suicide – and don’t tell me it doesn’t when her ‘suicide note’ comes in the form of god damn cassette tapes. Indie, right?

The show leaves you asking – whose story is this? Hannah’s? Clay’s? The dual narrative is spread so thin that it’s hard to sympathise with anyone. That aside, every character appears horribly selfish, overdramatic, and frankly unrealistic. It’s like its writer, Brian Yorkey, googled ‘Millenial trope’ and spat out a dozen whining brats. It turns into a ‘whodunnit’; a blame game where fingers are pointed and guilt is spread around a bunch of teenagers like a really, really shit version of The Secret History. Suicide isn’t caused by other people – it’s not murder.

The show even addresses this, but still its message is confused: ‘I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her’ Clay says – fundamentally fucked-up – to which Mr. Porter replies ‘You can’t love someone back to life’. True. This little exchange, however, ends with Clay saying, ‘You can try’. What kind of message is that? ‘We all killed Hannah Baker’ Tony tells Clay. No, you didn’t – she killed herself. That’s the point.


Suicide is caused by mental illness, not bullying; but is Hannah Baker portrayed as mentally ill? Everyone’s experience is different, but are there any symptoms of depression here? Where’s the numbing lethargy? Where’s her losing interest in her appearance? Where’s the self-harm? Speaking of which – Skye, the one character with scars, tells Clay ‘it’s what you do instead of killing yourself’. Where’s her recovery? What sort of message is this sending to the millions of young adults watching this show? Not everyone who commits suicides shows signs, granted. Almost all suicides are described as ‘shocking’. But is the word ‘depression’ ever uttered once in all 13 episodes?

It’s unrealistic. The mental health narrative is as pushed under the rug as ever and Hannah Baker is about as good a poster girl for the depressed as Kendall Jenner is for the oppressed. We never really tap into Hannah’s psyche: she’s just a narrator. The result is that she comes off as an over-dramatic snowflake. Yorkey’s way of addressing this seems to be making Hannah say ‘I’m not!’ whenever anyone accuses her of seeking attention or being a drama queen.

Give us a protagonist who physically can’t get out of bed; who ugly cries in the bath every night for months; who suffers with irrational thoughts of self-hatred. Just something – anything – to throw the focus on the day-to-day struggles of someone with a mental illness. A real-life Hannah Baker would not commit suicide – because Hannah Baker is not mentally ill. Or at least not the Hannah Baker we’re being shown.


I’m the Only One Who Can Save Myself From Drowning in Depression

My depression played a trick on me this week. It updated its operating system to keep things fresh.

I’m having quite a time trying to think of the right metaphor to describe my depression’s new iteration. Though this comparison is overused, it feels like I’m drowning.

To be more precise, it usually feels like I’ve just gone under water and it’s the moment before you drown when you’re panicking, gasping for breath, waving your arms and hoping somebody will see you and realize you’re in distress. You are flailing your arms, but there is no one to see you. You have a feeling there is no one to rescue you, but you’re hoping against all hope someone will pass by and throw you a life preserver.

But, depression changed things up this week, so it wasn’t quite like that. This depression was more like a slow gas leak, like you don’t even know it’s happening until it’s spread so far you smell it strong and then it’s everywhere and you question yourself, What is that smell? What is that feeling? You know you should run, but it’s like you’re locked in a room and you don’t know where to go. You’re looking all around you and you’re trapped and you know you’re going to die slowly. You will fall asleep and it’s a quiet death and you don’t want that.

That’s how I felt today.

In the background, a quiet evasive darkness.

Or maybe it is like drowning, but a different phase of the drowning—the end. When you’ve gone under and you’re no longer flailing your arms, but instead you realize what’s happening. You feel like you’re dying. You realize it. You know it. You’re dying.

That’s what it feels like.

So, I wonder if this is where I am, floating along helplessly, underwater, blinking my eyes, watching the fish float by, knowing these might be my last breaths.

But I realize I’m sitting here at my desk. I’m typing words into a laptop. I’m watching my experience now, so there has to be somebody to be the witness of this. So, if I’m the witness it means there is somebody left to save me.

And it’s me.

I am witnessing this. I am watching myself taking my last breath.

What does that feel like, Sheila?   

It makes me want to save myself. I want to dive into the water and bring myself up to the surface and bring my face to air. Bring my mouth to breath and freedom.

And if I do, I will breathe again and I will be thankful for the breath. I will be thankful for the life saved. I can feel a little bit of peace, a little bit of light. I can sense I can draw myself to the surface and I do it through my writing. I do it through my witnessing and seeing and understanding.

And then the final metaphor comes in—it’s a mirror. That’s it. A big mirror. I’m floating in the water now, but buoyed up by myself and I see myself reflected in the water. It’s me. I’m the one in the mirror. I’m the one who saves me.

When you’re underwater this long, this deep, the only one who can save you is you.

That’s my metaphor. What’s yours?

Finding a way to describe your depression just might help you to understand it in a new way when you really need it. There is a savior at the end of your metaphor. Search for it. Don’t allow the negative story in your mind to be the final one.

Remember you are witnessing your metaphor. You are witnessing it happening and you can make a difference.

Find your metaphor and then ask yourself—how can I save myself from this story?

And then get busy rewriting your ending.



23 Signs You Grew Up With Depression

Growing up, most of us aren’t taught to look out for signs of depression. So if you’re experiencing it, especially as a teenager, it’s easy to think there’s just something wrong with you — and it’s easy for parents and other adults to pass you off as another moody kid.

But young people do get depression — we just need to know the signs. To find out how people knew they were living with depression, we asked our mental health community to share, in hindsight, signs they had depression.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Looking back on it, I constantly felt guilt and had a hard a time fitting in with anyone. I was a very cautious and shy kid.” — Poppy W.

2. “I cried a lot and wasn’t as happy as the other kids. I was unmotivated and didn’t want to shower; my room was a mess and I would stay inside and play games all day. I had trouble making friends because I was super shy, and that turned into anxiety (these issues have some childhood trauma factors and environmental factors as well).” — Hannah F.

3. “For me it was never feeling good enough, like no matter how hard I tried I just wasn’t like everyone else, especially my two older sisters. Then the increased emotions came. I would get so upset or so mad so quickly and without reason. I didn’t realize I had depression until this year.” — Ashley G.

4. “Whenever I climbed a tree or somewhere up high looking down I thought how nice it would be if I was high enough to jump. Never knew that was a concerning thought.” — Brittany B.

5. “When I was really young, like grade-school, I never understood why all of the other children were so happy and carefree. Everyone else seemed great at making friends and enjoyed being a child, but I couldn’t enjoy anything. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness even at a young age. Nothing was enjoyable, I couldn’t make or keep friends, I was constantly doubting myself and worrying about every little thing. I questioned my existence on a daily basis, I just couldn’t be happy, but was too young to understand what depression was.” — Audrey L.

6. “For me, it was not being able to focus. My grades dropped from straight As to Fs from what seemed like out of nowhere. I didn’t feel the excitement of doing anything anymore. I got extremely detached from everyone, I no longer cared what happened to me. I just kind of stayed away from other kids, and it took more effort than I’d like to admit to even talk to anyone. I stopped taking care of myself. I got made fun of for it. I ended up extremely suicidal from everything and to hide the fact that I was suicidal, I ended up just faking a smile and not showing any other emotions.” — Athena C.

7. “Losing all your friends, sleeping all the time, never wanting to wake up, not wanting to eat, never wanting to hang out with the people you would normally hang out with, not bothering to do your normal routine, grades slipping because you just don’t care anymore, jealously and anger at anyone who seems to be happy.” — Danee C.

8. “Feeling more tired, losing interest in things I loved, being less outgoing, more shy. I used to not care what people thought of me until I became severely bullied and beaten. I then started worrying what people thought of me. I felt mentally drained and didn’t enjoy school and was distant from good friends.” — Karalyn G.

9. “In high school, I would wake up and cry because I had to go to school. I was afraid all of the time. I got overwhelmed by schoolwork that should have been easy for me. On one occasion, I seriously contemplated suicide because of an assignment due that I hadn’t started. Looking back, there are years that are very dim and hard to remember — a trait of my adult depressive episodes. I’m lucky I didn’t happen to know anyone who drank or used drugs, because I’m sure I would have used those things as an out.” — Genevieve O.

10. “Your brain will tell you worst possible scenarios. Intrusive thoughts will be mean to you and tell you that you don’t deserve to enjoy life. The thoughts will tell you to abstain from things you enjoy. Depression is a living being trying to always bring you down.” — Keith B.


11. “I quit my first university due to ‘home sickness.’ Now I’ve realized it was depression that caused the fatigue, social anxiety and loss of interest in everything I had been doing.” — Magdalena K.

12. “The psychosomatic parts of it that my family didn’t recognize or even know about. The headaches, the tummy aches, coming home from school with panic attacks, unable to sleep at night, or sleeping too much. I was so young. And looking back, the signs were always there.” — Jessica I.

13. “Longing for death and wanting to die since the tender age of 7. I still have my journals from back then. Perhaps it started even earlier, when I was even younger I played at the local graveyard a lot, laying down on graves and wishing to die. Ever since I was little I always felt unwanted, like I was a burden to everybody and nobody wanted to have me around. When I tried to open up they told me I was being dramatic, oversensitive, I was acting out and I was just weird and it was all in my head.  I had problems focussing, finishing schoolwork and my grades were terrible. I hated the world so I made my own world in my head. I still go there sometimes.” — Ezra P.

14. “I frequently felt frustrated that everyone thought it was funny that I was so unhappy all of the time. My teachers, especially in high school, would revel when I would crack a smile and laugh. Looking back on those moments makes me realize how I went about creating this mask/persona that embraces the comedy to hide the reality of my self-loathing and angry tragedy that rumbles on the inside.” — Sean C.

15. “I had really bad anger issues, and it was hard to control my emotions. I didn’t know what was wrong with me when I was a teenager, it was really hard. I was suicidal and self-harmed. I wish I had been diagnosed earlier, instead of having friends and teachers tell me I was faking it for attention.” — Kate W.

16. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel exhausted. In middle school and the beginning of high school, I begged my parents to be homeschooled because I always stayed up at night crying about having to go there the next day. Either that, or I would stay up to make sure my homework was perfect, because if it wasn’t, that meant I was stupid and worthless.” — Sarah K.

17. “I was constantly dwelling over every mistake. There were times where I wished I would be treated as less than family and that I didn’t deserve a bed. I was constantly feeling as less than my siblings and had a streak to be perfect. I was constantly overloading my schedule with extracurriculars to get more attention from teachers because I felt so incredibly alone.” — Aislinn G.

18. “I was scared of everything. I wet myself many times at school because I was frightened of getting locked in the toilets. I once walked out of school and went home by myself — aged about 5 — because I just couldn’t cope with being there. And I started to self-harm in a very minor way — hitting myself with my hairbrush until I bruised — at around 8 years of age. But I could never tell anyone how I felt, or let my guard down; I was the one who never cried, even when I broke my leg. I was officially diagnosed with depression aged 13.” — Lucy D.

19. “From a young age, I would fantasize about suicide. Stories about me or imagined characters I would think up while daydreaming. I remember either oversleeping or not being able to sleep for long periods. I would get nagged by my mom so I thought I was just lazy.” — Chelsea M.

20. “I remember writing in this diary I had when I was like 7 or 8 that I just wanted to ‘go away.’ Not to run away but disappear completely right there and then. It’s weird because I didn’t really know the concept of suicide back then, but I just remember not wanting to exist.” — Kate Lara Solomons

21. “Always feeling like there was a black cloud casting a shadow over me even when things were happy. Never feeling like I was enough — I always could have been better. Feeling ashamed of myself for no real reason… just feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere. Like I didn’t belong in this life. Thoughts and feelings I’ve had ever since I was little but didn’t realize it was depression and anxiety for many years.” — Jennifer L.

22. “I had no desire to be around my parents or friends. I would stay in my room and read constantly to avoid being around people. I couldn’t pay attention in school (but still made straight As so my parents weren’t concerned). I would chew on the hem of my shirt and pick at my lips almost constantly.” — Amanda M.

23. “For me, it was not being able to sleep, feeling guilty for no reason, that’s what got me. I was scared of things I’ve never been scared of before, and most of the time the world felt like it was crashing down around me. I’m thankful I had a nurse sister who caught the signs and told me to see a doctor, but not everyone is as lucky. Your feelings matter and are valid. If you feel like there’s something wrong, get checked! Because you never know.” — Devin W.



When a Doctor Laughed After Noticing I Take ‘Happy Medication’

I posted this status on my Facebook page at 4:18 a.m. on October 25, 2016:

“I’m going to be open and honest here, so bear with me. I usually don’t share things like this but I feel compelled to, at 4:18 a.m. thanks to my insomnia. My dad has been pushing me to get LASIK surgery for my eyes. To ease his voice in my head, I went for a second consultation yesterday. Upon entering the exam room with the assistant, I felt a little discriminated against and stereotyped. He first automatically assumed I go to one of those ‘smart schools’ and I was ‘too smart for us (whoever those people are).’ He then made a comment about how I only got a 35 and not a 36 on my ACT.

A little upset at this, I let it slide. However, he then proceeded to talk about my eye history and such. This is when he started throwing out terms like “myopia,” which I honestly don’t really know what that means. However, what frustrated me the most is when he said it was my ‘small, Asian eyes’ that caused vision problems.

I’ve had people make fun of my eye shape all my life. I squint. I have almond shaped eyes. It just frustrated me to hear this from a health care professional, especially as he joked about my eye shape. I don’t know why it bothered me, but I woke up thinking about this encounter.

I think what hurt the most though is the fact that as he went through my medical history and reached my medications list, with one look he laughed and said, ‘You take happy medications.’ This hurt the most. I already struggle deeply with taking my medication regimen each evening, but to hear this statement from a health care professional? It’s the 21st century. Can we not minimize the struggle that one in five of us have with mental illness? It’s not a ‘happy medication.’ It’s to help my brain so that on my worst days I can manage to get out of bed and walk the dog.

Example: You may or may not know from just meeting me, but I struggle with severe anxiety. I went to a Bottle and Bottega paint event last night to try and be in a social environment, to talk with strangers and to overcome my desire to be perfectionistic when it comes to all aspects of my life. Instead, I had anxiety leading up to the event, and as the event progressed, my anxiety worsened.

How do I know it’s not just the nerves? I became short of breath. My legs went numb. I almost passed out and became light-headed and dizzy. I threw up.

Getting myself into social situations is hard for me. I put myself out there last night only to have one of my worst fears come true, having such severe anxiety that I end up sick and unable to enjoy my night. I ended up sitting quietly at my end of the table hoping the night would move faster so I could curl up in bed. I avoid social situations for that reason.”

I am honored by the outpour of support I have received from my community of friends on my social media account. The comments and messages they have left me encourage me to continue to speak about my experiences and try to be one person in the world to try and start a conversation about mental illness.

My experience shook me to the core. I haven’t been criticized for my tiny, Asian eyes for many years now, nonetheless by a healthcare professional. It felt discriminatory and made me self-conscious and aware of my appearance. I already struggle with anorexia. I didn’t need somebody else to comment on my appearance and add to my ongoing battle with myself.

Yet, this isn’t about just the discrimination of my eye shape. It is about the fact that I was told outright by this healthcare professional I take “happy medications.” He said it in such a lighthearted, jovial manner that I was so taken aback. I didn’t know how to respond.

Why is it that when it comes to medication for mental illness, it is laughed about, minimized and stigmatized? Mental illness should be taken as seriously as any other illness. The brain is an organ. So let us treat it like one.

Just by looking at my medical history and jumping to the conclusion that I take “happy medications” has really put me in a sour mood. I feel judged by a complete stranger, and I am now even more hesitant to take my medication regimen than I already was. My father already tells me not to take medication and to not need it or rely on it.

I can’t help I am on four different psychiatric medications. I’m not happy about this. Yet, I have accepted it.

So how come such a simple statement shook me to the core? It’s because of the ignorance and stigma surrounding mental illness that this hits so close to home.

Please, don’t judge those of us struggling with mental illness by our medication list. Please, don’t jump to conclusions about our condition and who we are. Please, don’t judge a book by its cover. Please, don’t ever tell me again that I take “happy medications” because that minimizes the struggle and experiences I have had to get to where I am today.


What You Need to Know About ‘Smiling Depression’

How are you? Really?” This is my mom’s standard line of questioning any time I dye my hair darker. In her mind, darker hair equals darker mood. She’s on to something, but in my case, she has it backwards. She shouldn’t worry that I’ve “moved over to the dark side” when I, well, move over to the dark side. What’s really cause for concern is when I dye my hair blonde.

I’m best at hiding my depression when I’m blonde.

When I’m brunette, I feel authentic. I literally let a little more of my darker side show.

When I’m blonde, I’m a fraud. Trying too hard. I’m bubbly, social and easy to get along with. It’s an artificial light, in every sense. When I’m blonde, I’m the face of smiling depression.

What is smiling depression?

It’s appearing happy to others and smiling through the pain, keeping the inner
turmoil hidden. It’s a major depressive disorder with atypical symptoms, and as
a result, many don’t know they’re depressed or don’t seek help. Those who do would prefer to keep their struggle private.

People with smiling depression are often partnered or married, employed and are quite accomplished and educated. They’ve usually struggled with depression and/or debilitating anxiety for years and have had some experience with therapy or medication. Many who know they are depressed don’t disclose it due to fear of discrimination from loved ones or employers. Their public, professional and social lives are not suffering. Their façade is put together and accomplished. But behind the mask and behind closed doors, their minds are filled with thoughts of worthlessness, inadequacy and despair.

The image many of us have of depression is inaccurate and incomplete.

“Oftentimes, I am the only person in this individual’s immediate circle who is aware of how he or she is feeling on the inside,” said Dina Goldstein Silverman, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry.

Why is it dangerous?

According to Silverman, there’s a troubling connection between smiling depression and suicide. In contrast with a patient who has little energy to even get out of bed, chronically depressed patients who are suicidal and report a surge of energy might be more likely to initiate a suicide attempt.

Significant traumatic life changes, such as a recent job loss or divorce, are often predictors of suicide attempts, particularly in men. In some cases, having young children or being devoutly religious may serve as protective factors. But many of us know the exceptions to that statement.

One of the deaths that rocked my community the hardest was the suicide of a Sunday school teacher and youth counselor. Active in our church and several nonprofits, he mentored many and loved connecting people. Was he disheveled, withdrawn, and a downer to be around? Absolutely not. He was encouraging, thoughtful and went out of his way to attend and organize events. Often in a suit and always put together, he was who we aspired to be when we grew up. Did we ever ask him how he was doing, if he was hurting or if he needed someone to listen to him for once? No. We bought in to the façade and couldn’t see the pain hiding just under the surface.

His life was one-of-a-kind, but unfortunately his story is not. Many who’ve felt the impact of a friend’s suicide say the same thing: “I just had no idea he was suffering. He was the last person I would have expected to do this.”

How can we help?

Create awareness to de-stigmatize mental illness. Pay more attention to ourselves and our loved ones. Ask the hard questions. Specifically, notice if a loved one begins giving away possessions (often a symptom that someone is considering suicide), or begins to isolate and withdraw.

If you have a friend who suddenly stops responding to phone calls or texts or cancels plans, don’t hesitate to ask them what’s going on and if they’re feeling OK. Or offer a low-key activity you can do together where they know they can be heard and are not alone.

If you’re a physician, notice the co-morbidity rates for patients suffering from asthma, obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, and include a screening for depression and anxiety. And be prepared to make appropriate referrals to psychologists and psychiatrists.

Many people suffering from smiling depression are perfectionists, or they don’t want to appear weak or out of control. The more we can shift the conversation to show positive role models with depression – those who advocate for the tailored mix of therapy, exercise, medication, sleep, diet – the less shame will be associated with the depression.

“As a therapist, I try to encourage [my patients] to develop authentic social
relationships, so he or she can experience the relief of being heard, understood,
and validated by friends and loved ones, and build genuine connections,” Silverman said.

If you think you might be depressed:

On the days when your brain seems to be fighting you for your life, remember and know that you are enough, you are worthy, you are loved and you are not alone.

Find the activities and pursuits that are meaningful and make you feel productive and fruitful. Reach out to someone you trust, consider contacting a therapist and let both help you flip the script running through your mind.

Rather than become “submerged in a vortex of negative, self-defeating thoughts,” Silverman encourages her patients to learn self-compassion and be present and fully engaged.  “Mindfulness is the opposite of perfectionism in that it focuses on a balance without judgment, and it’s an important set of skills that someone can learn in therapy.”

Above all, please don’t give up. Please don’t let depression win. You are not alone.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”  — Viktor E. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”



24 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because of Your Social Anxiety

When people think of social anxiety, many imagine a shy introvert who doesn’t go out and doesn’t say much. While this version of social anxiety exists, living with it is more than just being “shy.” In fact, not everyone who has social anxiety is even quiet. Social anxiety manifests itself in many ways, some which might even surprise you.

To find out some of the different ways people are affected by social anxiety, we asked people in our community to share something they do because of their social anxiety that others might not realize.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Most people think I’m being rude when I’m not talkative in a group of people. In reality, I’m terrified because my mind constantly tells me I’ll say the wrong thing.” — Maegan B.

2. “I’m constantly glued to my phone. It’s just an excuse to not look directly at anybody! Constantly going over a sentence I want to say about 30 times in my head, then realizing it’s no longer relevant!” — Grace D.

3. “Being quiet – I’d rather listen to a conversation than be in one. I feel like whatever comes out of my mouth may seem stupid.” — Juliana G.

4. “Talking fast, rambling and joking around even though really I’ve zoned out and I’m pretty much not there… I run on autopilot and later when I’ve grounded again I go through and recollect what I’ve said or done… a bit like after being drunk! Of course I joke and talk fast anyway so nobody can tell the difference, including me usually until after I’ve come out of the fog.” — Suze A.

5. “I don’t think most people realize that when I’m out with friends and I suddenly leave, it’s because of anxiety. There’s always a moment when it’s just too overwhelming and I have to go home.” — Lucas Z.

6. “Constantly watching the body language of everyone to see if I’m offending them just by breathing.” — Jennifer L.

7. “I actually find myself talking a lot… in my mind I’m telling myself, be quiet, you’re talking to much, no one cares, everyone is judging you. But I get so anxious when I’m out with friends and there is an awkward silence or no one is talking. So I feel the need to talk more even though I’m dying of panic and anxiety inside. Sometimes after large events, it takes me days of no social interaction or staying in bed to recuperate.” — Jessica G.

8. “Actually talking on the phone can take days sometimes to muster up the courage. Texting is easier, but it’s still difficult to be the first one to start the conversation. I don’t like talking in groups. Will go somewhere, sit in my car for a half hour and decide not to go in.” — Tiffany A.

9. “Being loud, playing the joker, laughter. Anything that will draw away from the fact that I’m extremely agitated and struggling.” — Vikki M.

10. “I get upset before I have to go deal with people. This usually happens at home and is basically the adrenaline aggravating me, but I get snippy and can’t answer questions in any detail until I have to drive and therefore get distracted. Includes, ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘Why?’” — Myrlyn B.

11. “I’ll play with my hair, purse, or anything I’m holding to relieve my nervous energy. I won’t even notice it sometimes until I’m holding a torn up napkin.” — Katie M.

12. “I will always sit with my back to the wall, will even ask a friend to change seats with me. I sometimes miss pieces of conversation because I’m busy selecting and planning my exit routes and taking mental notes and descriptions of everyone in the room.” — Julz T.


13. “I will either shut down completely and not talk and people think I’m not sociable. Or if I try to convince myself to appear ‘normal’ I ramble and talk fast. It’s a lose, lose situation.” — Bryanna B.

14. “Practicing and practicing what I’m going to say on the phone and writing it down on a piece of paper before calling so if my anxiety becomes too much, I can just read my script.” — Leah O.

15. “Taking a long time to reply to emails, texts, etc., especially group messages, because I’m terrified of spelling something wrong or saying something that is incorrect or could come across as rude or mean. I’ve had misunderstandings in the past with these types of communication and and it scares me. I feel like everyone hates me already, and when I write something silly I feel like they hate me even more.”– Keira H.

16. “Not focusing on a conversation because I’m thinking about if I’ll miss my train or if my hair looks OK or if I look interested enough or if I’m allowing the person to speak enough or if I leave now I’ll get home at X time and have Y amount of sleep. It’s exhausting because my mind won’t stop, and I generally can’t remember anything anyone has said to me during said conversation.” — Stephanie T.

17. “Social anxiety is part of why I keep my hair long. It’s kind of a safety blanket for me, very comforting to be able to play with and soft. I feel less exposed with my hair there like a curtain I can disappear behind every so often.” — Opal S.

18. “Resting bitch face… not that I’m not happy; I’m uncomfortable and can’t really show my emotion. When I zone out I’m deep in my own destroying thoughts. Constantly finding an excuse to leave a room because I’m uncomfortable in a room of people, being glued to my phone or social media to escape myself and everyone around me. Being fidgety.” — Andrea M.

19. “I cancel plans, often last minute, not because I’m rude or necessarily don’t want to go, but because I’m afraid of going out in public sometimes, afraid of what’s going to happen, who’s going to look at me, am I going to be embarrassed, etc. And afterwards, I feel bad for missing out.” — Jessica S.

20. “I start to sweat, ridiculously, no matter the temperature. The worst is the sweat that breaks out on my upper lip because there’s just no hiding that. Before every job interview, I have legitimately wondered if this time I should go through with trying an antiperspirant on my upper lip.” — Angela J.

21. “I always prefer to make plans at least one day ahead. Every morning I mentally prepare for the day. It helps soothe any anxiety and is a comfort to know what to expect. It is difficult to be spontaneous, but as long as a friend let’s me know they’d like to do something on a certain day, I can anticipate that social interaction yet be flexible about exactly what we do, where we go or when.” — Jessica D.

22. “Coming across as completely cold, blunt and uptight – when that’s in fact actually a direct result of the panic and sheer effort taken just to to engage with that person – ironically, in what’s intended to be in a ‘normal’ way.” — Cat S.

23. “I zone out sometimes when there are too many stimulants. I just kind of go somewhere else in my head and am physically just there, usually staring at something weird, like a garbage can.” — Elaine W.

24. “I just awkwardly smile and try so hard not to get in anyone’s way. All the while, I feel like I’m annoying them in some way. I just want to leave, even if everyone is nice. It sucks.” — Emily J.

How Depression Makes Your Body Feel

The image that we often get of a sad girl with tears on her face sitting in a dark corner is hardly the full story of depression. It is this very image that many people have that may limit their understanding of what it truly means to have depression. Do I cry more than I used to? Sure. Do I hide in a dark corner? I’d like to, or at least curl back into my bed. Am I sad? Not really; hopeless and desperate, but not sad.

To those who have not experienced depression, the question of “how depression makes your body feel” might be a strange one. What does a mental illness have to do with your body, anyway? Sure, some chemicals may be a bit out of whack, but that’s in the brain, right?

Depression can steal your physical, emotional and mental energy. Fatigue is actually one of the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder. When I get up in the morning, I wake up exhausted, even if I manage to get eight or nine hours of sleep. My body feels weak and my brain feels foggy. My brain tells me I’m too tired and it’s not worth the effort anyway. Getting out of bed is a monumental feat. I force myself up after pressing snooze a few times and get on with my day. By lunch, I feel like I’ve been up a full day already.

Depression can hurt. Research suggests depression can actually cause the brain to feel pain more intensely. Furthermore, depression as an illness frequently shows up with aches and pains. For me, a combination of stress and depression contribute to chronic pain in my neck, shoulders and upper back. When I don’t get at least eight hours of sleep, my localized pain becomes generalized pain. My whole body hurts, and I just want to curl into a ball. Cold weather and drafts make it worse. Depression plus the common cold can be a nasty combination.

Depression can feel physically heavy. It can feel like someone is constantly pushing your head down and your body towards the ground. Holding your head up and smiling can feel impossible. Sometimes, it feels like gravity is just working twice as hard on you. And, more often than not, anxiety — diagnosed or undiagnosed — can come with the depression. I feel a sensation of pressure weighing on my chest. I feel like I can’t breathe well or I’m not getting enough oxygen. It becomes very hard to focus on anything, because relieving that pressure becomes the only thing I can think about.

I’ve found depression can hold sleep captive and return it at the most inconvenient times. It can cause you to overeat, and it can cause you to have no appetite. Even though you’d like to do more, exercise more, eat better, these things can become the hardest things to do. When someone confides that they have depression, they are not revealing a weakness. Rather, they are demonstrating their strength despite a difficult, often chronic illness.

If you have depression, keep fighting. You are strong. Celebrate the small victories.


We Cannot Continue to Overlook ‘High-Functioning’ Depression

I first saw a psychiatrist for my anxiety and depression as a junior in high school. During her evaluation, she asked about my classes and grades. I told her that I had a 4.0 GPA and had filled my schedule with Pre-AP and AP classes. A puzzled look crossed her face. She asked about my involvement in extracurricular activities. As I rattled off the long list of groups and organizations I was a part of, her frown creased further.

Finally, she set down her pen and looked at me, saying something along the lines of, “You seem to be pretty high-functioning, but your anxiety and depression seem pretty severe. Actually, it’s teens like you who scare me a lot.”

Now I was confused. What was scary about my condition? From the outside, I was functioning like a perfectly “normal” teenager. In fact, I was somewhat of an overachiever. I was working through my mental illnesses and succeeding, so what was the problem?

I left that appointment with a prescription for Lexapro and a question that I would continue to think about for years. The answer didn’t hit me all at once; rather, it came to me every time I heard a suicide story on the news saying, “by all accounts, they were living the perfect life.” It came to me as I crumbled under pressure over and over again, doing the bare minimum I could to still meet my definition of success. It came to me as I began to share my story and my illness with others, and I was met with reactions of “I had no idea” and “I never would have known.”

It’s easy to put depression into a box of symptoms, and though we as a society are constantly told mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, we are stuck with a mental health stock image in our heads that many people don’t match. When we see depression and anxiety in adolescents, we see teens struggling to get by in their day-to-day lives. We see grades dropping. We see involvement replaced by isolation. People slip through the cracks.

We don’t see the student with the 4.0 GPA. We don’t see the student who’s active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society. We don’t see the student who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group. No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, we revert back to a narrow idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.

Recognizing that danger is what helped me find the answer to my question. Watching person after person, myself included, slip under the radar of the “depression detector” made me realize where that fear comes from. My psychiatrist knew the list of symptoms, and she knew I didn’t necessarily fit them. She understood it was the reason that, though my struggles with mental illness began at age 12, I didn’t come to see her until I was 16. Four years is a long time to deal with mental illness alone, and secondary school is a dangerous time to deal with it.

If we keep allowing our perception of what mental illness looks like to dictate how we go about recognizing and treating it, we will continue to overlook those who don’t fit the mold. We cannot keep forgetting that there are people out there who, though they may not be able to check off every symptom on the list, are heavily and negatively affected by their mental illness. If we forget, we allow their struggle to continue unnoticed, and that is pretty scary.


A Look Into the Head of Someone With Depression and Anxiety

I feel I need to write this for a mixed amount of reasons. Some good, some bad. My heart is telling me to let it out. To educate and make people aware of the everyday struggle. Something hard and embarrassing to talk about or tell anyone, but for some reason my heart is telling me to shout it out and to let people know.

Friends, family, co-workers, even random people I have never met: the struggle is real. So I will listen to my heart since my head does not cooperate like it used to.

I was diagnosed in April with severe depression and anxiety with panic attacks. Me? The strong one? The one who has been through hell and back in life but has never let it knock me down? I am strong and a fighter. There is no way this can happen to me. Why all of a sudden did it hit me? Why me? How do I tell people? Will they look at me different? Will they judge me? I can’t work. I can’t think even, though thinking is all my head keeps doing.

I am not a good writer on a good day. I jump all over the place, but to be honest that is what your mind is like with this illness. So bear with me as I try to explain how my head works. Will my head ever stop? It’s spinning, and I don’t know how to turn it off. It will not let me sleep. I am just so tired. I don’t like these thoughts. They scare me. They are not me. I want me back. I like the old me. She was not perfect, but she was so in control. So strong. I wish I could find her again. She was me. She is me. I know one day I will get her back.

It’s morning. My eyes open. I wish they hadn’t. I don’t want to wake up. I want today to go away. I wish I wasn’t here. I don’t like my life. I don’t like myself. I don’t like the way I look. I don’t like the way I feel. I wish I was gone; I don’t want to live like this. It’s too hard. How can I end this? The thoughts will go away. I won’t have to deal with this anymore. But it will hurt. I don’t like pain. I do not do pain very well. I need to survive this. I need to live. I need to fight. I close my eyes, shut them hard, sleep some more. I might wake up better. Take my meds. I hope these ones work. I need to get better. Changing meds really sucks. I don’t want to be on meds. I want the “normal” me back. I can’t talk to people about this. They will think I am “crazy.” How do I tell my work? I can’t call them and tell them I have a mental illness. They never will understand it. There is so much pressure. I used to be great at pressure. Now I just break. Will they fire me? Will they think I am too crazy and messed up to do my job? I am so dizzy. My body feels so weak. I just want to lay here in my bed. I am safe here. She will not let me though. She cares to much. She will make sure I live and fight. I like to think she is my guardian angel. She keeps me feeling real. I don’t always like her though. It’s so hard to get out of bed. I want to lay here. I don’t want to go out into the world. It’s a bad day. But she will not let me. Get up, get dressed we’re going out. Did you take your meds?

My body is so heavy. I need to shower. It’s been three days since I last showered. I drag myself to the shower. It feels so nice. I do like to be clean and fresh. It takes all my energy to finish though. And getting dressed. I don’t feel like makeup. It’s just too much work now. I am grateful that I accomplished the task of showering and getting dressed. She is here. She brings me coffee. That has not changed. I still love my coffee. I like that normal part of me. We go out. There are lots of people here. I just keep trying to breath and tell my legs to move. They are so heavy these days. I just want to go back to my bed. Are people are louder than they used to be? Or is it just me? I breathe and smile. I hope people can’t tell I am messed up. I feel like a zombie as I walk through the store. My brain will not stop. I worry people will see through my smile. I will mess up somehow. I will stutter or space out. Fall, and then they will know my secret. I have realized a new habit I do often: I rub my hands and fingers, which I know is a sign that I am anxious. And I am trying to get through it.

I did it. I made it in the outside world. But I am so relieved to be back home. Back to my bed. I hate this life. I want my old life back. I lay in bed and try to watch TV or knit. It helps a bit. My mind concentrates on these tasks. It stops the thoughts a little. I am shaking a lot lately so it’s hard to knit. Is it the meds? I wish it would stop.

I get a letter in the mail. I have been denied long-term disability. In the letter it states my condition is not a continues illness… what? I can turn this off? Please, please, please tell me how.

I have to go back to work. I, like everyone else, have bills piling up. That strong women in me I have always been tries to come through. I can do this, she says. I am a fighter. It’s hard. My thoughts do not stop this whole time. But I just breathe. The meds are not making a difference. It’s really all up to me. I put on my fake smile and get through the eight-hour days until I can once again get back to my bed where I feel safe and warm. It’s all just way too much to handle. I do not sleep. My body is getting weaker. My head hurts so much. I don’t want to move. I can’t move. I try. I really try so hard. It’s just too exhausting to smile today. I can’t find the strength to fake it anymore. I cry. Why me? I don’t want to live like this anymore. I once again am broken…

It’s so late again. No sleep. I am so tired. I just need to sleep. The thoughts of just ending my life are so strong. I fight it. It’s hard. Why fight it? Because I don’t want to die. I want to just be normal again. I just want me back. Is that too much to ask? I lay here with my thoughts. In the dark. As everyone is sleeping. Will tomorrow be a good day? Where I don’t have to fake it? Or a bad day? Why are there more bad days than good ones? I listen to the quiet. It’s so peaceful. I want peace. I look over at my husband. Does he still love me? I love him so much. I know he can never fully understand this illness.

Why? is what I keep asking myself. All my questions start with why? Why me? Why do I not want to be around anyone? Why does everyone annoy me? Why does everyone sound so loud? Why am I so stressed all the time? Why don’t I have patience anymore? Why am I going through all this? Why do I feel alone? Just why? Why? The last few months I have tried so hard to overcome this. I feel like no one understands me. They say, “She looks the same, she still smiles and laughs and jokes around. I know she is strong. I don’t see a difference?” But they cannot see the struggle on the inside. My demon, my monster that will not go away. What they see is me. But the truth is it’s not me. It’s a disguise. They can’t see me space out in my head while they are talking to me. They can’t see me wonder to myself, “Did I just say that? Or think it?” They cannot see my wonder if It has been five minutes or an hour that has passed since I asked a question or talked. They cannot see my heart beat so fast out of my chest that it hurts. They cannot see me breathing and counting as I breath to get my head to stop. They just can’t see the struggle every day that I have to live and deal with. Just to make it through that day.

I do not want to talk about it. I know family and friends think I ignore them and that I do not care. They just do not understand what it’s like. I try so hard to be normal. I go online, see posts about depression and anxiety. Maybe the more I post and share, the more they will understand this illness and then I will not have to explain it. It’s too hard. I don’t want to admit it. I do not want to have this illness. I know I am loved. But I feel so alone. I know other people struggle like I do, but I feel I am the only one. I know it’s an illness, but I feel like I am just crazy and fucked up. I know people are aware of mental illness, but they really do not understand the struggle and day-to-day challenges of this illness. It is real.

It may not happen overnight. It may take years. But I promise myself I will fight this. And win. I will because I want to live. I love my friends and my family. I want to educate people on this horrible disease. And I can only do that if I am here. I know that old me is in there somewhere. And I will get her back one day. But until then I will just have to try the best to live. With the good and the bad days. All I can do is Close my eyes and breathe.