Stop Giving Yourself Away: On Millennials, Depression, and Personal Growth

depressed black woman, depressedI give myself away all the time. To my children. To my partner. To mom. To my friends. To my job. My boss. My peers. My couch. My studies. My television. The world. I give away a lot more than I keep.

A few weeks ago, after a morning of chasing kids to school, editing articles, of not eating when I was hungry, not drinking when I was thirsty, and not listening to my body, I fainted. I had given so much of myself away that day that there was literally nothing left for me.

I’m noticing a trend, too.

I have been giving myself away since I was a child. I had a single mother who needed more help with the household than I should have had to give but I did nonetheless. It was my job to do so.

I always joke about how I was scrambling eggs at 4 years old and baking chickens at 8 or 9. I was washing laundry by first grade and dishes and trash around the same time. While those experiences have turned me into an incredibly industrious adult, they have also acculturated me into caretaking behaviors that I often prioritize before taking care of myself.

This has had lasting effects on my personal development.

Depression and Anxiety in Millennials

Numerous studies have reported that millennials are experiencing record increases in depression and anxiety. Due to “helicopter parenting“, high academic achievement expectation, and a host of other experiences unique to millennial life, these young people are finding themselves struggling with suicidal ideation, depressive episodes, and anxiety about their futures. While my generation is often characterized as lazy or aloof, these statistics suggest that there is something deeper happening here.

For me, I think I just grew up too fast.

Now, with three children, many jobs, and countless items on my to-do list, I often find myself overwhelmed by the weight of things. Inside, everything wants to burst but it can’t because it is packed so tightly. I want to cry but tears don’t always come. I sometimes refer to it as feeling like I am in a room full of people, screaming, but no one hears me.

Yes, that is the anxiety and depression talking but it is also me. It’s me talking about me.

Therapy, ya’ll

I started seeing a therapist in late 2016 after not seeing anyone since before high school. After an episode of depression that left me wanting to drop out of grad school, I knew I needed to see someone to help me cope with the stress and inconsistencies of academic life. Not only that, I realized that I was giving too much of my time to campus life and peers but never leaving anything for myself.

In working with her, I learned that I was constantly forsaking my own worth and responsibilities because I felt obligated to take care of others. Stemming from childhood experiences of having to be the responsible one or the “role model,” I had been diminishing my own needs and prioritizing others.

It took an objective person to get this through to me. And, I have been better for it.

Saying “No”

Another practice that has contributed to me giving myself away all the time is that I am constantly under pressure to say “yes” to things that are beyond my capacity. I take on new roles when I have little time to complete my current ones. Sometimes, I go out with friends when I should really be home studying. Or, I push myself to stay awake to answer emails or check and reply to text messages when I can barely keep my eyes open.

I am working on just saying “no.” Rather than telling myself that I just have to get that one thing done today, I am going to save it for another time. A time when I actually have time to get it done.

Setting People (and Myself) Free

I used to worry about how my anxiety and depression would cause me to “lose friends.” I obsessed over saying the right things, extending myself to their needs, answering every call, and always seeming like I was happy. The more I would make relationships, the more stress and anxiety I would feel. I’d work so hard keeping them comfortable¬†that I was forgoing myself in the process.

Now, I have taken to letting people go when my relationship begins to look like this. Rather than hold us both to unrealistic obligations for a¬†burdensome relationship, I step away, giving them and myself time to breathe. It’s a relief.

Instead of holding onto people who don’t make space for my imperfect coping mechanisms, I have been focusing on those relationships and people who consistently show up. This has made a remarkable difference in my ability to cope with stress and anxiety.

In the words of my mother and my therapist, I know that giving myself away too much will leave me with nothing at all. And I am learning that it isn’t selfish to be healthy and whole.

It’s a process. A difficult one. But one that I am facing every single day.


Photo via Adobe Stock Photos

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

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