Sometimes, You Just Need to Accept that Your Feelings Aren’t Real
The best advice anyone has ever given me was three simple words:
“This isn’t real.”
I was with a close friend, walking around town and chatting about life. I was hungover at the time and feeling upset and insecure about some drama which was heartwrenching at the time, but that I now can’t remember at all. “You have to remember, this isn’t real,” she told me. “Nothing that you think or feel for the next 24 hours is real. Take care of yourself. Get through it. Then you will be able to see clearly.”
She didn’t say it didn't matter. She didn’t dismiss my feelings — she didn’t say that I was wrong to be feeling them. She just reminded me that in that moment, my feelings and thoughts were unreliable, and that, very soon, when I was back in my normal, rested, sober state, everything would look very different.
She was right. She walked me home, and I went to bed, slept for twelve hours, and woke up realizing that the world wasn’t over, I wasn’t a terrible person, and that whatever (probably romance-related) issue I was having, it was totally manageable.
Our brains are smart and incredible things. But they aren’t always the most reliable. Not everything that we feel or think actually represents reality, especially in times when we are anxious or depressed.
It’s a piece of advice I’m thinking about a lot at the moment. I’ve started taking anti-depressants again, and the first couple of weeks of SSRIs are challenging to say the least. Your brain takes a while to adjust to its new chemical balance.
It felt even worse because I was so disappointed about having to take medication again. I had come off Prozac just a few months before, and gradually all my depressive symptoms had come back, the worst being a mean little voice in my head that whispers “I hate you” into my ear at least 20 times a day. Whenever I am a little too myself, or a little too human, she gives me a kick in the stomach. It’s living life accompanied by a spiteful grouch who wants to share their misery and destroy every good feeling.
I want to break up with that person, and so, reluctantly, I turned to Prozac, just as I did five years ago, the first time I was depressed, with a feeling of being back at square 1.
Last time I had been depressed, I listened to a lot of the podcast The Hilarious World of Depression, and one of the take-aways, the one I found the most ominous and terrifying, was that depression is something you live with forever. It is a chronic illness, of which there are flare-ups and reprieves, but that will, ultimately, always come back.
I really hoped this wasn’t true, but now it seems like it is.
And so I returned to anti-depressants with the shame and secrecy of a drug addict. I was filled with regret and frustration and sadness, and that ever-present self-loathing, of course.
I’m now on day 4 of my Prozac, and it has been rough. I’ve been tearful and filled with despair, suffering from nausea and headaches. I had Xanax to help me, last time, and I remember spending two weeks blissfully floating on a worry-free cloud, where nothing could penetrate my cotton wool bubble. This time I couldn’t get a prescription for benzos to help me out, so I feel the full turbulent mess of taking a brain-altering medication.
Everything I experience feels unbearable. I feel like an open wound being prodded and poked. My emotions are so extreme, so out of proportion with everyday incidents, so misleading.
So right now, I’m letting myself feel. I’m letting myself cry. I’m trying to take care of myself, and I’m counting down the days until my anti-depressants kick in, and I can feel normal again. Whatever that means.
Sometimes, all you can do is accept that your brain isn’t reliable, that you just need to survive the emotions you are feeling (and you can survive them) and make it to the other side. Make it through the fog until you come out into the sun, until you can see clearly once again.