(Day 8: Share something you struggle with)
One of the many positive things I’ve seen come out of this ongoing pandemic is that many people—including several of my personal friends—have opened up about their struggles with mental health. Suddenly, talking about anxiety and depression is okay for those who are living with it. And some people are feeling it for the first time. And even those lucky enough to have no idea what it’s like first-hand seem to have a good understanding of that now’s the time to check in with the people. To ask how they’re doing. To offer moments of levity. To spread cheer. To make sure friends know that they’re there to listen if anyone needs to talk. And that’s a powerful thing.
I’ve always been pretty open about describing myself as “an anxious person.” But I’ve never really owned the title. So here goes. I struggle with anxiety and depression.
What’s that mean, though? Well, it means that at any given moment, I am consciously working at keeping my thoughts and emotions in check. Picture it like the Whack-a-Mole carnival game. An ugly thought pops up? BAM! Not today. A niggling worry rears its head? POW! Not today. I wield my mallet and keep all the negativity at bay. And most days, I’m successful at that. I’m able to live what others would call a “normal” life. Yes, on the good days, I can make myself believe that I’m a good mom, a good wife, a good person in general. I do the right things, say the right things, and blend in.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for a good day to turn bad. It often doesn’t even take any outside influence. Sometimes it’s as simple as forgetting to constantly remind myself that life is good, that I don’t need to worry so much, that I’m a good person. Other times, I don’t forget but rather am just too exhausted from constantly battling my own thoughts and simply can’t anymore. I put my mallet down and watch the moles pop up all over the place, feeling overwhelmed. And that’s when I snap or cry or stress out for what seems like no reason. Times like these, I withdraw. If I can isolate myself physically, I do. If I can’t, I try to “stay in my own bubble” by avoiding conversation and personal interactions. When this happens, I worry what “they” are thinking. I convince myself of what “normal” me knows are lies. They think I’m rude. They think I’m stupid. They don’t want to be around me.
In the really bad moments, those lies about what others are thinking spiral out of control until they have solidified into facts. I’m a terrible mom. My husband should leave me. I can’t do anything right. Getting out of bed is a chore. Carrying out everyday tasks feels insurmountable. I don’t want to even try. I think life for everyone would be better if I weren’t in it.
Living with anxiety and depression has taught me a ton, not only about myself but about the world (and people!) around me. First, I’ve learned that these feelings are part of what makes me ME. It wasn’t until my first panic attack that it even occurred to me that not everyone feels like I do. It happened a little over ten years ago and landed me in the ER with uncontrollable shaking, an abnormally low body temperature, and the overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t warm up. They checked my vitals, ran their tests, and referred me back to my primary care physician for a follow-up. Nothing was physically wrong. I’d had an anxiety attack.
My doctor, in turn, referred me to a psychiatrist who, I was told, I’d have to meet with in order to obtain a prescription for anxiety medication. I told her I didn’t want medication. I just wanted to never feel that way again. She handed me a script and told me to bring it to the pharmacy to be filled, that it would tide me over until I could meet with the psychiatrist. Numbly, I followed her directions and when the pharmacist handed me that paper bag holding that amber bottle, she asked if I had any questions. And I did. I explained that my doctor had handed the script to me with no directions or explanation. What is it? When do I take it? The pharmacist read the label and told me, “Says here, three times per day by mouth.” And I was sent on my way. I took one in the car on the way home and within minutes was high as a kite. My husband read the bottle and gave me a shocked look. She had prescribed me a controlled substance intended to be taken “as needed.” But her instructions were to take it three times daily. And she had given me three refills. All before I even met with a psychiatrist.
My meeting with the psychiatrist came about a month later. He asked lots of questions, starting with the medication my doctor had given me and whether or not I felt it was working. I admitted that I had only taken a few of the pills; certainly not three times daily and I hadn’t had any need to order a refill. He asked about my life and how I’ve been feeling. We chatted for about a half hour during which time he offered me a prescription for a daily medication that would “take the edge off.” I declined. How I felt was normal to me. I didn’t want to not feel like me.
I’ve learned to cope with the feelings, to stay on top of them most times. And I’ve learned what to expect when I need a break from all the coping. I’ve learned how best to care for myself without negatively impacting those around me. I’ve learned who I can count on, to call at any hour of day or night to talk me off the ledge. I’ve learned how to fill my cup with the things that bring “good” with them and how to shield myself from the factors that most often lead to the “bad.” I’ve learned that I’m one of millions of people who live this way. I’ve learned that even at my lowest, I’m never alone.