Tag Archives: depression

Rise II: It’s Time To Talk About Depression

Over a year ago, I published a blogpost about anxiety in which I wrote about the stigma surrounding mental illness and described what anxiety is like for those who might not understand it.

The response I got blew me away. For weeks afterward, friends, coworkers, volunteers, family, and even Internet strangers told me how they too managed to live with anxiety, that they felt like someone else understood their struggle. I had included tons of resources and – judging by the responses – they seemed to help my readers as much as they had helped me.

That blogpost and its subsequent reactions only furthered the thought I had when I first wrote it, which was that we as a society need to talk more about mental illness.

Mental illness – which the American Psychiatric Association defines as a health condition related to changes in thinking, behavior, and/or emotion – is stigmatized even today. One common misconception about mental illness is that it doesn’t really exist; people with one of the many illnesses are either making them up, trying to get attention, or not trying hard enough to be ‘normal.’

Without getting into scientific articles about psychiatric reviews or necessary diagnoses (which do exist, if you are so inclined to look them up), mental illness is real. Just as a physical disease affects the human body, mental illness affects arguably the most important part of our physical buildup: the mind. Most importantly, they are treatable.

One of those mental illnesses is depression.

This is probably a good place for me to post ***TRIGGER WARNING*** so those of you who don’t want to read about depression can go somewhere else.

It’s difficult to find a place to start. I wasn’t really sure what exactly I wanted to say when I began this, other than having a general desire to a) explain depression to those who might not understand it; and b) provide help and resources for those who live with it.

I initially kicked things off by writing the sentence: “Depression is an incredibly personal journey.” My intention was to dive a little bit into my experience with depression that occurred during a good portion of my teen years and arose again several months ago.

And that description didn’t seem right, because journey gives the idea that depression is a heroic quest, during which the hero is saddled with a task only he/she can accomplish through action and heartbreak and bravery and the triumph over evil in the end. Like depression is a means to finding one’s true self and going on the adventure of a lifetime.

Then I wrote: “Depression is an incredibly personal odyssey.” That gave the impression of a heavier, scarier, darker version of a journey, which seemed a bit more fitting.

But even that wasn’t right. An odyssey is a lot more complicated than a journey (especially in The odyssey, where complexity is usually synonymous with dumbassery), but it still gives the impression that things happen. Friend and foe are met. Battles are won and lost. Lessons are learned. Tasks are accomplished. Odysseus comes home to his family.

With depression, there is nothing.

 

 

 

 

Emptiness.

 

 

 

 

Darkness.

 

 

 

In the last post, I likened anxiety to a Something. Depression is a Nothing.

 

 

 

Sometimes, you get both. If you’re among the 50% of individuals with depression who also have anxiety (Morin, 2018), the Nothing is punctured only by the ebb and flow of the Something – a harrowing, terribly unpredictable path.

Depression alone is a mental illness that affects 300 million people all over the world (World, 2018). In the United States alone, 16.2 million people suffer from depression and every year, 44,000 of them commit suicide (Morin, 2018). Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for everyone in the U.S. (Morin, 2018).

And yet there’s still a stigma around depression. People feel the urge to hide it, to push it down, to put forth an image to the world that they’re fine, everything is fine. Only one in five people with depression receive treatment “consistent with current practice guidelines” while 37% receive none at all (Morin, 2018).

Some people wait years before getting help. Some people don’t know help exists. Some people don’t know what they have is treatable.

And then we get stories like this one.

Or a close friend or a relative or a neighbor or a coworker is gone without warning.

Or maybe – just maybe – one night, from the depths of the long-lived Nothing in your mind comes the thought that you would be better off dead.

Over the past few months I have seen a number of stories and posts about the seriousness of this disease, and we need to continue to bring depression into the limelight. Not so we can glamorize it, not so we can make #IHaveDepression a trend on Twitter.

So we can understand and combat it.

Not everyone understands what it is we’re understanding and combating here. That is why I’m writing this, a Part Two to my last post, if you will.

And as was the case with Part One, I don’t want to write this.

I need to.

I lived with depression for over three years, from the time I was fifteen to nearly eighteen years old.

Then, several months ago, my mental health once again spiraled almost completely out of control.

Some days, all I could do was curl up in my bed and stare at the wall.

Functioning as a human being became a nightmare. Every day I could barely do my job or keep my little household running. Saying words to people in a way that made sense, walking around on my own damn feet, even getting out of bed in the morning became suffocatingly, painfully difficult.

And those were the days that thoughts I’d had when I was sixteen came billowing back, unwanted, unannounced, into my brain:

There’s no point to any of this.

Nothing matters.

I don’t matter.

When my alarm went off in the morning, I would wake up feeling heavy. After days, weeks, a month, I couldn’t feel anything but that weight. Honestly, some mornings the only thing that got me out of bed was knowing my two cats and my horses relied on me.

I spiraled for many reasons, none of which need to be writen here.

And one night six, seven weeks ago ago, the whisper returned.

The whisper that came from the Nothing that took over my life then and was creeping back now.

The whisper that I’d heard when I was sixteen, when I’d Googled where to buy guns and at what part of the head one should aim.

And that night, I knew I needed help.

Part of the way I deal with things is by pondering them and then writing about them, preferably in storytelling-format with lists and charts and figures and references and color coordinated bullet points. That’s the type-A perfectionist in me. My professors loved my papers in college almost as much as I loved writing them.

And so this post is just as much about compiling a detailed explanation of depression from the point of view of someone who is currently fighting it as it is about offering some resources for those who might want them. (Spoiler alert, to rid you of any concern right away, I am getting professional help in addition to sitting over here making my lists.)

I’m not the only one who has gone through this, far from it. And before I went through it, I certainly didn’t understand it.

And so, we go to the part of this post where – hopefully – I pass on some facts about depression that will better explain its seriousness and complexity, sans color coordination. There are charts and references, though.

~

1. Depression and sadness are not synonyms.

In the same mindset that stress and anxiety are not synonyms, it is important to understand that sadness is not one and the same with depression.

Depression does not mean extreme misery all the time. At least, not after a while.

See, when you’re falling into a depression, at first you feel things too much and all at once. You have too many feelings and processing them is a challenge, if not an impossibility.

And suddenly, at the peak of when you should be feeling all the feelings, you don’t.

You shut down.

You lose your ability to feel. To care.

You feel hollow, empty, void of any direction or purpose.

I wish I could make that sound less melodramatic, but there’s no other way to explain that depression is the true essence of Nothing.

Sadness is a temporary feeling that is a normal reaction to a situation. Depression is not normal. It is longer-lasting, deeper, and accompanied by feelings of poor self-image, being overwhelmed, or feeling a general hopelessness – all of which is hidden behind a mask.

~

2. There are several causes – and signs – of depression.

I won’t get into details of brain chemistry here or anything like that. Suffice to say that depression strikes people in different ways and for different reasons, and sometimes that reason is – seemingly – no reason. Certainly some people are more susceptible to it than others based on their experiences or genetics. But it is important to understand that anyone can experience the following:

Anyone can also experience any of the following known factors that can contribute to depression (taken from PowerofPositivity.com)

  • substance abuse
  • poor self-image
  • isolation or rejection
  • being overworked
  • compassion fatigue
  • trauma or grief
  • physical health conditions

The point here is that – similar to other diseases – depression manifests itself for different reasons, and in different ways, for everyone.

More on this later, but I find it important to note here that it can be extraordinarily difficult to detect signs of depression in other people.

At the end of this blogpost are tons of resources and among them is an article or two about how to catch signs of depression from friends or family. I encourage you to read them.

~

3. I don’t want to write this one.

*** Trigger warning: suicide ***

Skip down to number four if you need to.

I’m just going to say it. Suicide is a card that’s either in your hand or facedown on the table when you have depression.

In the past few months, suicides have struck the news with alarming proximity. Everybody knows someone – or knows of someone – who is deceased due to suicide.

And I always hear the same question from everybody left to pick up the pieces after they are gone: “Why??”

Here’s my answer to that question. And I’m sorry to go here, really. But it needs to be said.

People suffering from deep depression don’t want to kill themselves. They just don’t want to be alive anymore.

A drug addict doesn’t want to shoot up heroin. An alcoholic doesn’t want to take another gulp of vodka. They want – need – to fuel their body’s craving.

It’s a means to an end.

If depression gets bad enough, suicide might be viewed in a similar way.

It’s not that we want to die.

It’s that if we don’t get help, if we don’t pull ourselves back or get pulled back from the Nothing, we don’t want to live.

As George Washington says to Alexander in Hamilton: “Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

~

4. Your “just be happy!” attitude is insulting and hurtful.

I get it. People mean well. They want to help and not comprehending how depression works can lead to some ill-placed advice or insensitive comments.

I’m here to say, any insistence on us turning a magic switch to become sunshine and rainbows is about as tactful as dangling a piece of candy over the head of a five-year-old and insisting he reach up to grab it.

Of course the five-year-old is going to jump up as high as he can with his arms in the air. He wants the candy. But like the child, those with depression are physically incapable of accomplishing a task at hand, be that eating a Snickers bar or suddenly becoming joyous and cheerful.

When I was a teenager, back before I knew what I had was depression, I remember getting so frustrated for not being able to turn a dial in my brain at the request of my family and be happy. “What’s the matter with you?” I heard. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

If I was ever pressed for more detail about what was wrong – be it from my family or others – I could only come up with the description of feeling empty. And the number of times I’ve been told – then and now – that maybe I just need to try essential oils, or do yoga, or meditate, or eat clean, or exercise, or start a gratitude journal, or smile (just smile!), or volunteer at a food bank, or take a bath, or focus on the positive….

Yes, all of those are great contributors to a healthy, positive lifestyle. I’m not denying that. But – depending on the cause – depression requires more aggressive treatment that can range from many types of therapy to many types of medication. You wouldn’t tell a diabetic to go smell flowers rather than take her insulin. You wouldn’t tell someone in a coma to snap out of it.

Please don’t tell us to just be happy. Trust us, we would if we could.

~

5. We feel like a burden on others.

This is as straightforward as it gets here. Because we feel like our mess of non-emotions is a burden on others, we feel the need to hide depression from our loved ones, strangers, the world.

For me, part of that desperation to hide depression was denial. See, if I admitted something was wrong, then I would have to face it head on.

Also, because parts of society are lacking of understanding about depression, it is a hell of a lot easier sometimes to just swallow back the Nothing. Sometimes it’s a hell of a lot easier to let someone think they’ve helped, when in reality all they’ve done is cheerfully informed you that you just need to see the sunshine and rainbows.

Here’s the main takeaway: don’t assume. Ever. You’d be surprised what lurks beneath the surface in a lot of people.

And I’ve found that usually, those who seem like they have it all together are the ones falling apart.

~

6. Asking for help isn’t just hard, sometimes it feels impossible.

In June, on the same night I admitted to my husband that I didn’t want to be alive anymore (which took more out of me than I could describe), I agreed that I needed help and promised him on the spot that I would make a call to an EMDR therapist, one my boss had recomended.

I didn’t call for almost a week after that night. Every day my husband asked if I’d done it and I made excuses.

Finally, one late afternoon he came into our room where I was laying in bed, staring at the wall, and asked if I’d called.

“No,” I said.

“You should call her now.”

“It’s a quarter to five. She’ll be in a session or on her way home.”

“Why don’t you leave a voicemail?”

“I’d rather call during her regular hours.”

“She’ll get back to you if you leave a voicemail.”

“I’ll call tomorrow.”

Silence. Then, gently, lovingly, from him:

“You said you would call.”

He wouldn’t call for me. He could support me, he could encourage me to do it, but if I wanted to get help, I had to be the one to ask for it.

My hands shook and my heart rate rose as I finally picked up my phone and dialed. I swallowed the lump out of my throat and tried to steady my voice as I left a voicemail for the therapist. She called back half an hour later and after talking for a long time, we scheduled my first appointment for within the week.

And when I sat down in the waiting room to fill out the paperwork on the morning of my first session, blinking back tears, it took all my courage to not run out the door as fast as I could.

Here’s why it’s hard to ask for help: the only way out is through.

Getting help means we have to wade through the darkness and confront it. The way out is painful and terrifying.

We don’t know how long it’s going to take. We don’t know what we’re going to face.

Help us get help. Be understanding. Be insistent. Be gentle. Help us be brave.

Which leads me to this:

~

7. Please don’t give up on us.

We are doing the best we can.

~

The hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life is live when I’ve wanted to die.

I wish I could soften that, somehow make it less shocking or upsetting.

But I want you to know – yes, you – that if you have ever felt this way, you are not alone.

Since the end of June, I’ve been going to an EMDR therapist weekly as well as making some changes in my daily life that are turning the consuming Nothing into a manageable Nothing.

But help looks like a number of things. Because depression is different for everybody, as you can imagine, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan available.

The first thing – the most important thing – is this number.

1 (800) 273 – 8255

It’s easy for me to say please call this number if you are having thoughts of suicide. It’s easy for me to say that is the first step towards recovery.

I know it’s hard.

Be brave.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

If therapy is an option for you, please know there are many types available. This is a great infographic that breaks them all down. To repeat what they say, please consult a trained professional to determine what therapeutic route would be best for you.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

Help also looks like self care. One little change in your day that makes something easier, or brings in a little bit of brightness. Maybe it’s telling someone no. Maybe it’s canceling plans. Maybe it’s eating a piece of chocolate cake.

Whatever it is, as long as it’s not physically or mentally harmful to you, do it.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

And while I can’t find an infographic on medication, please know that antidepressants help millions of people around the world. If it is an option for you, contact a mental health professional or your doctor to better discuss what is available.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

~

In the same fashion that I didn’t know how to start this, now I don’t know how to end it.

I titled Part One to this “Rise” after this song. I was surprised by how much I loved it, given I’m not a fan of the artist’s usual work (sorry, Katy!). But the song holds a great deal of personal meaning to me as I heard it for the first time in August of 2016 when my anxiety worsened for the first time in years.

I listened to it all through those hard months. I hummed it while I powered through the last semester of my master’s degree. I sang it to my mare in her dying days. I think it to myself now as I struggle to found her legacy.

I listen to it again now – with a new challenge in front of me – and find such power in the chorus. Maybe you will, too.

When the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling

They’re whispering, you’re out of time

But, still I rise.

This is no mistake, no accident

When you think the final nail is in, think again

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

If you’re been reading this, and have thought to yourself you relate to something I’ve written, please know you are not alone. Please know that someone is here for you to stand in your corner while you fight. Whether we’ve met in person or only know each other via the Internet, whether we are good friends or acquaintances, I care about you.

Rise. Keep going.

One of my favorite books has a quote by which I live:

“The weakest step toward the top of the hill, toward sunrise, toward hope, is stronger than the fiercest storm.” ~ Joseph Marshall III.

Sometimes it’s easy to consider one step in the right direction a measly, useless little effort. That’s what the Nothing wants you to think.

But the truth is, you don’t have to be looking at the top of the hill. You don’t have to make a heroic charge towards sunrise. You don’t even have to have an abundance of hope. Only a scrap will do.

Just take one more step. Just a little one.

That step is stronger than you know. You are stronger than you know.

Rise. Keep going.

Remember, you are a worthwhile investment.

You are enough.

You are always enough.

Rise.

And keep going.

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

~

SOURCES

HERE are facts and statistics (used in part for this blogpost) from The Anxiety and Depression Association in America.

The American Psychiatric Association breaks down what mental illness is HERE.

For those looking for easier reads, my personal favorite post about depression is from Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half. Her comics are so articulate and acurate, with a little humor attached, and it is very informative. Here is both PART ONE and PART TWO.

THIS ARTICLE shares some ways you can help a loved one with depression. Similarly, here are 15 SIGNS SOMEONE IS SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION what NOT to say to someone with depression and what to SAY INSTEAD.

THIS ARTICLE discusses the important distinction between depression and sadness.

Finally, HERE is the website for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

CITED WORKS

Morin, A. (2018, March). How Many People Are Actually Affected by Depression Every Year? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/depression-statistics-everyone-should-know-4159056

World Health Organization. (2018, March). Depression. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression


Advertisements

Rise: It’s Time To Talk About Anxiety

I won’t just survive 

Oh, you will see me thrive 

Can’t write my story 

I’m beyond the archetype 

[I heard Katy Perry’s song “Rise” around August of last year and it about blew my soul wide open. Every now and then, a song just gets under my skin and become self-defining. To me, “Rise” defines my battle with – and continuous defeat of – anxiety. I hope its lyrics speak to you, too.]

***

***

***

This blogpost has gone through something close to six months of revising, editing, deleting, and rewriting as I figured out what I wanted to say.

The original title was “What No One Told Me About Getting Engaged.” I intended to write about how odd it was to be scared after getting a ring on my finger and contemplate the seemingly (hopefully?) normal pre-wedding jitters every bride-to-be experiences.

But over the days and weeks and months, I realized that my nerves were rooted in something far deeper than post-engagement flutters. The dizzying, uncontrollable trepidation that seeped into my head fueled negative feelings (mainly about my own self-worth) that I’d rejected before but wildly seemed completely legitimate.

Basically, this stark, sudden, and bizarre fear took control of every aspect of my life.

For several months after I got engaged, getting out of bed in the morning was a nightmare. Tasks I’d managed to do for months became overwhelmingly difficult. I couldn’t eat without throwing up, and I was constantly shaking, sweating, trying to swallow the dry lump out of my throat, or trying to reteach myself how to breathe.

I tried to cling to any bit of sanity or sense of understanding, like a drowning man clutching at a life raft.

Why on earth would I have any negative thoughts or feelings about marrying my best friend? Why would I have such a fearful reaction to marrying the person I’ve known all along was meant to be my husband?

Nothing seemed rational. Nothing made sense.

I won’t just conform

No matter how you shake my core

‘Cause my roots, they run deep

It took me no time at all to conclude that I was being pulled back into the depths of a deep, dark, out-of-control Something I had beaten down to a manageable Something several years ago.

It took me no time at all to conclude that t­he time at last had come for me to acknowledge that Something for what it was. And over the months it’s taken me to write this, I’ve unearthed a great deal that I want to share about anxiety and mental illness as a whole.

Well, no.

I’ll be honest.

I don’t necessarily want to share. My heart is beating as I write this, thinking of the idea of those I know and love reading these words.

But a few months ago, when I posted the link to a blogpost about anxiety on my Facebook timeline, I did so in the off chance that someone found it as powerful and relieving as I did.

The response I got astonished me.

Several of my friends called, messaged, texted, and told me in person how glad they were that I’d shared that post. They too were impacted by its message. They too dealt with anxiety. They dealt with other mental illnesses. They no longer felt alone. And speaking as someone who has felt alone in this battle against anxiety and silently struggled with deep depression and suicidal thoughts in the past… those words from my friends hit me harder than I could have imagined possible.

Then, last month, I stumbled upon End The Stigma, a Facebook group dedicated to opening dialogue about mental illness and other struggles that have often been stigmatized as shameful.

16142740_1852175581738492_2994517247635162702_n

People were sharing the badges to which they felt connected, writing their stories of abuse and survival or self-harm and recovery or medical challenges and overcoming obstacles in public for the world to see. Living their pasts. Sharing their stories. It overwhelmed me. It awed me. And as I sat connecting to people I’d never met, it made me realize how powerful dialogue can be.

How powerful it needs to be.

So, friends, it’s not that I have wanted to write and share all this.

I need to.

 Oh, ye of so little faith

Victory is in my veins

And I will not negotiate

I will transform….

I have anxiety. And it’s okay that I have it.

I don’t even know how long it has lived with me, a swelling, billowing and consuming force during some parts of my life and a shriveled, almost-forgotten speck during others.

Its roots probably began when I was 12, when my life fell apart for a time until I was 17, but this post isn’t about that. Through years of therapy and self-reflection, I understand why I have it. I understand why it reared its ugly head when I got engaged. Suffice it to say that such a monumental event – exciting but not necessarily threatening in perhaps any other person’s life – brought up a lot of suppressed memories of my teen years, the years my brain literally had been unable to process so it coped by making me forget all the trauma.

Now, that is my journey with anxiety. Understanding its source for me was part of finding my method of coping. But, it is important to understand that anxiety or depression or any other mental illness does not need to be justified with a reason. In other words, oftentimes it can exist for – seemingly – no reason at all.

types

Every pathway is different.

For me, my anxiety had crawled out of the dark hole into which I had pushed it several years ago, and it gradually slipped its long, clawed fingers back around me before I could even comprehend what was happening.

But there was one big difference this time than from all the other times.

Like the time I was 14, and my stomach problems began because it was forever twisted in a knot of fear any time I was home.

Like the time I was 16, and I missed the first day of school because I couldn’t leave my room without having panic attacks.

Like the time I was 18, and started therapy because I wanted to normal again.

Like the time I was 20, and went through a year of perpetual anxiety so aggressive I quit my job, took online classes, and was terrified to even venture out of my room or boyfriend’s apartment.

Like the time I was 22, and curled into a ball on my bed on my graduation day because I was so scared to leave my room and enter the adult world.

There was one difference this time around.

I didn’t hide it, like I’d tried to do before.

I didn’t deny it, like I’d always done in the past.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and told myself, my new fiancé, my family, my friends that I was suffering from anxiety.

When, when the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling

They’re whispering

“You’re out of time.”

But still, I rise

That might sound super cool and brave to you, but it wasn’t. Part of talking about it wasn’t really my choice. Full disclosure: when my anxiety reaches full throttle, I throw up.

Kinda hard to explain to your fiancé – the day you get engaged – that you’re throwing up in the bathroom in the hotel room just because, you know, it’s all new and you’re really happy, you really are, you promise, it’s just a big change and you’re just excited. No big deal.

Kinda hard to tell your friends you’d rather not go to a restaurant to eat because the last, oh, 47 times you did this you were running to the bathroom to puke or else locking yourself in a stall until you could focus on the world past your own two shaking hands and rattled breath again.

Kinda hard to explain to your new volunteers on orientation day at your job that you’re sick because you couldn’t eat that morning, and your head is screaming at you to just quit and go home and count your losses.

No, the time had come for me to be open. The time had come for me to be honest with those around me and say those words.

I have anxiety.

And… that’s okay.

This is no mistake, no accident 

When you think the final nail is in

Think again

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

These past few months, as I’ve been open with people about what I’ve been going through, I’ve mostly had wonderful and understanding responses. I’ve had several conversations with others who too struggle with anxiety or some form of mental illness, and they were so comforting and relieving. My world which had closed in on me in August started to open up again.

But there were a few comments from people that – while they were well-meaning – reflected a deep misunderstanding of anxiety and mental illness as a whole.

“Oh, yeah, I get stressed out, too! One time I was soooo nervous for a test! I totally understand!”

You?? I just can’t see you with anxiety, you’re so well put-together and accomplished!”

“Have you tried essential oils?”

“Do you do yoga? Definitely look into yoga. And be sure to meditate every day – that’ll kick your anxiety to the curb!”

“Just don’t think about it, there’s nothing to worry about!”

I get it. I really do. People care. They want to help. I got a lot of the same comments when I was 16 and suffering from depression.

“Just think positive thoughts!”

“Snap out of it!”

I think the problem is people don’t know. They don’t have anxiety, so they can’t relate to it.

That’s why I’m writing this. (Hi.)

I want people to understand. I want there to be dialogue. I want people to ask questions and receive answers and start to make connections. So this is just a little of what I want others to know and understand about anxiety as a whole:

~

1. There is a huge difference between stress and anxiety.

Stress and I aren’t just old friends. We go way back. We’re old flames with one of those dumpster fire relationships in a Taylor Swift song that usually ends in us returning to one another. I think I can count on one hand the number of days I haven’t had stress in my life. But, we get coffee together. We hook up. We have a complicated relationship, but the point is that I can function reasonably well with it.

That’s the point, though. It doesn’t dominate my life.

Anxiety is another beast entirely.

Stress comes from an outside force. Anxiety is an internal force that pulsates through every part of your body without warning or reason.

Stress makes you irritable. Anxiety has the power strong and swift enough to make you feel like you’re about to die.

One night I was trying to describe an anxiety attack to my fiancé and could really only come up with a description of a Dementor from Harry Potter.

dementor

(I found this picture too after Googling

(I found this picture too after Googling “Dementor” and I mean, come on. I had to post it.)

Anxiety is a hooded, creepy figure that sucks the good thoughts from your mind and leaves you with terror.

Your vision blurs and you break out in a sweat that makes you feel as though you’re on fire but icy too, in a completely bizarre way.

Your heart doesn’t beat; it contracts. You feel every pulse, every nerve working rapidly, the blood tingling and buzzing as it works its way through your veins.

Your throat dries and you usually can’t speak for trying to swallow and remember how to breathe. Your lungs feel empty and filling them takes every ounce of strength you have.

Usually, you get tunnel vision after a while. Nausea is inevitable.

And for me, if things get really bad, you’ll throw up.

And the thoughts cloud your brain – thoughts you’d normally laugh at and push away without hesitation but, during an attack, you clutch at them and ponder them with desperation.

Even today, sometimes I wake up and the Something is there hissing and spitting in my ear.

Just stay in bed. You’re a failure. You’ll never be good enough for anybody.

“Shut up.” 

It’s like he always said. You’re worthless and nobody ever loved you.

“Knock it off.”

What if you can’t eat again? Then you’ll be dizzy and sick and you won’t do your job right and everyone will know you for what you are: a failure.

“I said SHUT UP!”

But stress? Stress is like Draco Malfoy, who can be fabulously silenced with a swift punch to the face.

~

2. Anxiety prohibits you from exercising rational thought.

Let me say it louder for the people in the back.

ANXIETY PROHIBITS YOU FROM EXERCISING RATIONAL THOUGHT.

The best way to explain this is with a metaphor.

Imagine seeing a baseball enclosed in a glass cube just feet away from you. Somewhere far away, a voice tells you to reach out and pick up the ball.

So you reach out to grab the baseball, but your fingers can’t penetrate the glass.

“Just grab it,” your hear the voice say. “It’s right there.”

And all the while, you’re trying to move your fingers through the glass. “I’m trying,” you say.

The voice gets irritated.

“It’s literally RIGHT THERE!” the voice says. “Just grab the ball!”

You try. You push the glass.

And self-loathing rises inside of you.

You know how to grab that baseball. You know the motions your fingers need to make to pick up the ball enclosed in the glass. You know how to move your arm to raise your hand. You’re smart. You know this.

But you can’t. There’s a big fucking cube of glass in the way.

Trying to get your brain to understand that your fears are irrational is like trying to grab that enclosed ball.

“There’s nothing to worry about!” the terrified voice inside your head squeaks. “It’s all in your head!”

In other words? “It’s right THERE! The ball is right there! Just take it!”

You can recognize that your fears are unfounded. That doesn’t make them go away.

02-comics-that-capture-the-frustration

~

3. The foundation of anxiety strikes at random times, for no apparent reason.

I must stay conscious

Through the madness and chaos 

So I call on my angels

When my anxiety is bad, I can only focus on one thing at a time.

I remember one day, while my future in-laws were visiting, they sat with my fiancé at the kitchen table and I was trying to make a ham sandwich to take with me to class.

There was nothing going on that would have warranted a panic attack. But I was having one anyway.

There was no hope whatsoever of me participating in the conversation. I could only focus on navigating my shaking hands while voices dominated my mind:

*

Take a breath. Okay, good.

Grab the tinfoil. Put a slice of bread on top of it.

Steady your hands, Lex. 

Okay, get a piece of ham.

You’re not breathing. Take another breath.

Oh, God, that was too much of a breath. What if they heard at the table? What if they look over and realize I’m losing it?

Stop. Get another piece of ham.

Nod at something my fiancé said. Pray nobody wants me to speak.

Okay, take another breath. Exhale more slowly.

You can’t open the bag of cheese when your hands are shaking. Stop them.

I can’t.

I can’t do anything.

I don’t want to go to class. What if I get called on and I don’t have an answer?

Open the damn cheese.

I’m really going to throw up. Then they’ll know I’m a mess.

Maybe I should just go back to bed.

You can’t do anything.

*

Attacks happen randomly.

Even now, before I go to class, sometimes I have to lock myself in a bathroom stall for a few minutes and put my shaking hands over my eyes and give myself a pep talk.

Even now, when I get out of bed in the morning, sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s okay to have a sudden oncoming of fear. Accepting it and facing it head on is more effective than denying its existence at all.

4. If we say no to any social outing or commitment, a) it took every ounce of our courage to do so; and b) we just really, really need to take care of ourselves.

I can’t emphasize this enough and honestly can’t think of too much else to add here.

Medicine for anxiety-sufferers will differ from person to person. This is important. For some – at least, for me – that medicine often means being alone to self-reflect. And in the day-today business of work, school, chores, wedding planning… any free time I have to spare I need to selfishly take for myself. (That’s why I love traveling so much. In exploring other places I explore my mind.)

Please, don’t be hard on those with mental illnesses for doing what they need to do to get by. And on that note….

~

5. Give us time.

They say,

‘Oh, ye of so little faith

Victory is in your veins

And you will not negotiate 

And be transformed…

A few months went by after my first initial return of anxiety. With every day I survived, things started to get a little easier.

The more I got through difficult days and the more I talked about my anxiety to my friends and family, the better grip I got on it.

The Something, the huge, Dementor-esque figure in my life started to shrink again. I started to think more clearly most of the time.

The horses at my workplace, to whom I give credit for saving my life when I was 17, did wonders for me. My therapist started to help me get out of my own head, as did my boss who completely understands my struggle. My fiancé, who is the most patient and understanding man I’ve ever known, helped me work through some deeply personal fears which reduced my anxiety immensely.

Then, for whatever reason, I had a really bad day close to Christmastime. I could barely get through the day without having anxiety attack after anxiety attack.

And I forget if someone said this to me or if this was one of my own thoughts, but it came up nonetheless: “But I thought you were managing this really well!”

Well, I am managing this really well, came the other side of that statement. But it’s okay to have bad days.

It should be known that there’s no time frame on anxiety. It takes a long time to get to a place where you feel somewhat in control. And just as is the case with life… the journey will consist of good times and bad.

And I think the main takeaway is this: there are ways out.

Really.

There are ways out.

Deep down, we know this. We just need time to find those ways that work best for us.

How much time do we need? Well, it depends. A day. A week. A month. A year. Maybe even a lifetime.

Every day is a new battle. But, then again, even though this concept is sometimes impossible to grasp, every day is a new opportunity.

~

Now.

All of the above are words that have sat on my heart for some time, words about anxiety I wish for others to know and understand and relate to.

Everything else I want to say? Well, they’re words that have sat on my heart for some time, words for those with anxiety I wish them to know and understand and relate to.

Words for anyone with a mental illness.

Words for anyone feeling lost or misunderstood.

I spoke of needing time to find ways to cope, and I won’t ever presume to say there’s a universal fix-all for everyone, nor would I dare to assume that everyone is in a position to be looking for ways to cope.

Asking someone to get help can sometimes be the equivalent of telling someone who is drowning to sing an opera.

So first let me just say this: If you feel like you are in a position where you might need help, but don’t have the ability to seek it or ask for it or even really want it… please call this number. 1-800-273-8255.

It is the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the individual who answers the phone will pull you out of the water.

You will not be drowning anymore.

You will receive help.

And for those who are ready and willing to accept help, I thought I would share two of the things I personally have found incredibly helpful when things get really, really bad.

1. I talk to myself as though I’m a child.

I often talk myself out of my own head as though I’m a little girl. I imagine five-year-old me, with shoulder-length hair and big eyes, curiously looking around which clutching her favorite stuffed animal, a rabbit she named Rejoice. I have to do this, because only someone completely heartless would talk cruelly to a five-year-old little girl, and I tend to beat myself up a lot.

So, what are you a-scared of? Why are you scared of that? Well, take my hand and let’s explore it together. Let’s be a big, brave girl. Good job! Okay, now what else is scaring you? Oh, my goodness, yes, that’s very scary, isn’t it! And you have every right to be scared. What can you do to make yourself feel better?

2. I name things in a list. For me, it’s all the names of the horses at my ranch.

Don’t have horses? List fruits. List all the animals you know. List your relatives. Write them down on paper or say them out loud or go through them in your head.

The point in all this is to ground you. It’s to get you out of the prison that consists of anxiety-stricken thoughts. I have gone through a great deal in this life, and nothing compares to being trapped inside my own head. 

Everyone who struggles with some kind of disorder – be it medical or mental – has the ability to find a way to deal with their obstacles that works best for them. And here’s the really baffling and amazing thing: It can be done.

Against all odds, it can be done.

78e785ce711213b90bf2a1711388bf3c

When, when the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling

They’re whispering

“You’re out of time.”

But still, I rise

I don’t have all the answers.

I don’t know you. You. You, who are capable of anything and who are the writer of your own story.

I just say this to you as someone who – many years ago – once seriously contemplated different ways to end her life, as someone who once sunk to the depths of rock bottom from the weights of depression and continues to sense anxiety resting on her shoulder:

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You are NOT alone.

Rise.

Keep going.

Only you know what you need. Only you feels this way, the way you do. You have a right to take care of yourself.

You are doing the best you can, and that is more than enough.

You are you, and that is more than enough.

This is no mistake, no accident

When you think the final nail is in

Think again

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

Days will be good and days will be bad. Without darkness, there cannot be light.

Rise.

Keep going.

Sometimes you’ll fall. Sometimes you’ll get knocked down.

But as spoken by the main character in one of my favorite books, “The weakest step toward the top of the hill, toward sunrise, toward hope, is stronger than the fiercest storm.”

Walk on, warrior.

And always

always

keep going.

Don’t be surprised

I will still rise

***

***

FURTHER READING AND RESOURCES ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS

This article on anxiety offers some statistics on anxiety as well as a breakdown of the different types. It also discusses some of the physical side effects of anxiety and offers a list of ways individuals can cope.

One of my all-time favorite posts, What It’s Like to Have Anxiety Disorder Explained in 12 Self Portraits is a photo series by Katie Crawford that is incredibly eye-opening.

This comic explains the difficulty in fighting both anxiety and depression.

This blogpost covers eight things not to say to people with anxiety.

And perhaps the greatest comic of all time is Hyperbole and a Half’s Adventures in Depression.

Read more about mental illness at The National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Their helpline number is below:

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-3-13-53-pm