1. Highs and Lows
A wonderful thing about your twenties is that, in many ways, it’s a time of trial and error: You can still get away with dyeing your hair green or learning something new just because you feel like it. Your twenties are a decade of first times, but on the downside, with every new start it seems like you’re saying goodbye to something else. Because of this, your twenties are also characterised by loss, whether it’s losing your first job or your first love. You’re also expected to move out, away from your family and childhood friends, and suddenly it feels like you’re treading water, not quite knowing where to go next.
When you suffer from depression, that treading-water moment seems to last forever. Sometimes, when the depression is especially strong, all you seem to want to do is give in to the water and sink to the bottom.
2. Pressure and Isolation
There’s a tremendous amount of pressure put on you when you’re in your twenties. You want to succeed in your relationships, your jobs, your finances, all before you hit 30. With depression, this pressure becomes impenetrable, a thick fog that hovers over your head, telling you not to bother – you won’t ever achieve anything anyway.
When this fog comes rolling in, isolation seems like the logical next step: “Everyone is better than me anyway. I deserve to be alone.” And so you slowly shut down. I spent most of my time at university in my room, trying to figure out why everyone else was ahead of me, why they were enjoying life, why they were achieving things, why they were happy.
While isolation can be healthy, it can also completely suffocate you. When there’s no one to interrupt your thoughts, you get caught in a negative cycle. That’s why it’s important to reach out to someone to get another perspective.
3. Irrational Anger
Depression and anxiety can lead to irritation with small everyday things that somehow manage to dominate your entire daily routine. There were times I’d run out of shampoo and scold myself for not foreseeing this extreme failure, then retreat back to bed and declare that the day was doomed: “Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.”
This isn’t an ideal way to be when you’re trying to graduate and become a fully fledged adult.
4. Feeling Like a Fraud
Depression often comes with a voice that tells you you’re worthless, that everything you achieve is meaningless – which is why, when you do achieve something, instead of praising yourself, you get a sinking feeling that you’ve somehow manipulated your way into this achievement, that you don’t deserve it, you’re a fraud.
When I was offered my current job I felt an intense joy for about two minutes, and then the crippling fear kicked in that it was all going to go terribly wrong. I refreshed my inbox 488,934 times to see if the offer hadn’t evaporated, and when I was convinced that I really did get the job I felt terribly annoyed at myself: I’d somehow tricked these people into hiring me, and surely within one day they’d realise how shit I was.
Because of this, I can’t remember my first day, or my first week. I went to the toilet on the hour to splash water on my face and keep it together, reminding myself, “You haven’t done anything wrong, you’re doing OK,” and as the days went by I was able to breathe easier and not worry so much.
The cheat sheet to being overwhelmed by these kind of negative thoughts, the kind that swarm your head like angry bees, is to isolate them, and more importantly counter them, one by one, so you can dig yourself out of the negative spiral.
5. Comparing Yourself
Because everything that happens to you in your twenties seems important and momentous, everyone documents all their milestones online. Of course it’s great that milestones are celebrated, but seeing everyone’s engagements, holidays, and successes on Instagram makes it very easy to compare yourself with everyone else in your age group.
They all seem to have better jobs and more friends and are in better shape, while you’re just trying to figure out how to get through the day without crying inexplicably, or how you’re going to get on the bus without having to run off because it’s crowded and you’re terrified you’ll pass out.
6. The Fishbowl
Sometimes, I imagine depression to take the shape of a fishbowl surrounding you, especially when it’s mixed with the anxiety of social situations. Let’s say you’re having dinner with friends in a restaurant: You want to be present, but your head feels heavy and suddenly it’s like you’re looking at everyone else through a fishbowl. The social anxiety has caused a disconnection between you and everyone else.
If you’re like me and you’ve lived with this for as long as you can remember, it can be all the more frustrating. You know how your brain works, you’re used to this feeling of disassociation, but annoyingly, you can’t seem to prevent it.
You start to have a battle with yourself: “I want to be present, but I can’t.” Part of you wants to burst out of your aquarium and thrust yourself into the moment, but another part wants to lift your whole body inside of that fishbowl, curl up, hug your knees, and wait for it all to be over.
Many people who suffer from depression in their twenties will have experienced depression at an earlier stage in life. After my first depressive episode I went through the motions of recovery, which involved counseling, group therapy, medication, a ton of peppermint tea, and a new love for photography. I've included my photos in this post. I think it was the act of going outside and documenting the world that helped make me feel that I was part of it, and not just a bystander.
I wasn’t naïve enough to think that that would be it, but when the symptoms came back again I did feel a sense of shame, and that going back to my medication was somehow a defeat.
On the flipside, being able to recognise that it was depression knocking on my door meant I could speed the process up a bit. In the past, I’d spent a lot of time going back to the doctor for things like “chronic fatigue” and “low blood sugar”. I’ve had many needles poked into me, especially when I insisted that I must have diabetes, because why else did I pass out in public all the time?
It’s very important to accept yourself, your body, and your mental health. Depression isn’t your fault, it doesn’t make you crazy, and, more important, it’s nothing to be ashamed about.
Sex and depression are often incompatible, because how can you love someone when you can’t love yourself? How can you get undressed in front of someone or lose yourself in the moment? On top of that, many antidepressants and SSRIs are associated with a decrease in libido and an inability to orgasm.
I spoke to sex blogger Crista Anne, who began to detail her #OrgasmQuest after finding she was unable to climax due to her antidepressants. Anne’s goal is to achieve one self-induced orgasm a day, and because she knows she’s not the only one with her experience, she decided to share her plight with the public. Her story is inspiring, and one a lot of people can relate to.
Okan Caliyurt writes in Sleep and Quality of Life in Clinical Medicine that the most common sleep disturbance associated with depression is insomnia. The relationship between insomnia and depression is bidirectional, meaning it’s one of the symptoms of depression as well as a risk factor for depression. Not being able to sleep is a incredibly frustrating. Sleep, like breathing, is something that should come to you naturally. When it stops happening effortlessly, and you start trying too hard, things become problematic.
Everyone has different ways to cope with their insomnia; luckily, there’s the internet, a place that truly never sleeps. Just do a quick search and you’ll find tons of forums and communities of people who are similar to you, and perhaps they also suffer from depression and share your struggle. The problem with these forums is that well-intentioned support can lead to the wrong type of support. When self-destructive behaviour is normalised, it’s easy to continue and not seek help. If insomnia is taking over your life, ask your GP for help.
Depression is boring. Staying at home because you just don’t have it in you to leave the house is boring. Lying in bed for weeks in the same clothes is boring.
There’s a stereotypical image of a twentysomething slacker bingeing their life away on Netflix and takeaway pizzas. That image isn’t someone with depression. Depression ruins your favourite movies, let alone your relationship with food.
When your self-worth is at an all-time low, it seems futile to take care of yourself, go outside, or indulge in your favourite activities. However, it’s precisely the small things – such as showering, brushing your hair, and making breakfast – that are important for recovery. Set yourself little goals you can tick off, no matter how small they seem.
11. "Just Get on With It"
While the dialogue about mental health is improving by the day, there’s still a lot of obscurity around the subject. Some people have a kind of “snap out of it” outlook when it comes to mental illness. Other people think that because they can’t SEE what’s happening to you, then, surely it can’t be that bad.
Because of this, you might feel that you’re completely alone, but you’re not. According to Rethink Mental Illness, 1 in 4 people in the UK are affected by mental illness.
You will come out of your depression. Yes, it may return, but even when it seems completely all-consuming, remember that it won’t keep you locked in forever. This is a pretty brilliant quote by Stephen Fry, taken from a letter he wrote to a fan struggling with depression:
You can't change it by wishing it away.
If it's dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy and you can't alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.
It will be sunny one day.
It isn't under one's control as to when the sun comes out, but come out it will.
If you need information on depression or want to talk about your depression, you can call the Rethink advice and information service on 0300 5000 927 (10am–1pm), if you’re in the UK.
The Depression Alliance, a charity for sufferers of depression, has a network of self-help groups.
You can call the Samaritans for confidential support if you’re experiencing feelings of distress or despair on 08457 90 90 90 (24-hour helpline).
And you can call the Crisis Call Center on 1-800-273-8255 at any time of the day if you’re based in the US.