My Journey with Depression and Anxiety
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen the short version of this story that I recently shared. But, I wanted to share the more in depth version because there’s only so much one can say in an Instagram post before it strays into the tl;dr category. My friend Theodora is such an inspiration to me for how open she has been about her journey. Her openness is, in large part, what led me to talk about my story. As scary and uncomfortable as it may be to talk about something so deeply personal, if it helps even one person, it will feel worthwhile. In hindsight, this is not the first time I’ve struggled in my journey with depression and anxiety; it is, however, the first time I’ve asked for help.
Last April, my grandma passed away. I’ve written about my grief considerably, to the point that I fear that people get sick of reading about it. But, I continue to share because that loss is a significant part of my story right now. She played a major role in my life, almost acting as another parent after my parents divorced. Although I knew the day would come, having to say goodbye was one of the hardest things I have experienced. I avoided dealing with my emotions for a long time after her death because grief is hard, so much harder than I’d ever anticipated. What I also didn’t anticipate was the depression and anxiety that would soon follow.
There are other factors playing into my mental health struggles, to be sure, but that undoubtably the trigger. I can’t say exactly when grief evolved into depression and anxiety. It doesn’t work that way. If only it were that easy. What I do know is that I haven’t felt like myself in a quite some time. There’s the obvious things I could point to, like how I haven’t felt motivated to exercise consistently (or, some weeks, at all) and my voracious reading habits became nearly nonexistent. It’s not that straightforward, though. Somewhere deep in my being, I just feel off, for lack of better words. I don’t even know that there are words to accurately explain the feelings. What I do know is that I fought against it for a long time.
Last fall, I had a panic attack at an event in Columbus. At the welcome party, it hit almost as soon as I walked in the door. The crowd, the dim lighting, the reverberation of the conversations. It was all too much. I found myself huddled in a corner, crouched down into fetal position, crying hysterically. I called one of my sisters, almost unable to catch my breath, and knowing I needed to leave. Just leaving the party wasn’t enough. I wanted to go home and I wanted to be there now. After a six hour drive to Columbus and only a few hours in the city, I was on the road back to Michigan. I knew in that moment something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what to do about it.
In January, I made an appointment with a grief counselor at a local Hospice facility. I talked through the story of her death and everything I felt – or, in some moments, wouldn’t allow myself to feel – in the months since. She reassured me that everything I was feeling was normal and expected. As our hour wrapped up, she gave me a few handouts and said her door was always open. It gave me a sense of comfort that I was on the right path. That was the story I told myself in the months ahead. Everything was normal. My feelings were to be expected.
I Need Help
In early August, I admitted to myself everything I felt was a bit more than I can handle on my own. I was enrolled in a four week online coaching course on self-love and during the first group call my coach talked about self-care activities. She challenged us to create a “trust jar” where, at the end of each day, we wrote down three things that fell into the categories of “feels good and is good for me” or “doesn’t feel good but is good for me.” Early in the week, I had a day where I couldn’t think of a single thing I did for myself in either of those categories. It was in that moment that I realized I needed help. I had struggled on my own long enough.
The next morning, I called my doctor and asked for help. I cried on the phone as I shared the condensed version of my story with the kind-hearted woman who answered the phone. The office squeezed me for an appointment two days later and I cried again, recanting it with my doctor. It was hard to pick up the phone and make that call, but so freeing that I don’t have to fight this battle on my own. Of course, I have an amazing support system, but that’s not always enough. My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant and short-term therapy with a social worker in the office. Both are helping me get back to myself, and although I am early in this chapter of the story, I am deeply grateful for these resources and hopeful for positive changes.
End the Stigma
I don’t share this looking for sympathy or attention but because mental health is still incredibly stigmatized and that has to change. It’s easy to share only the bright and shiny moments, the so-called highlight reel, but I think that only adds to the stigma. I’m guilty of it with the baseball games and delicious meals I share on social media. Moments of joy, but it’s not the whole story. Far from it. What you don’t see are the days I struggle to get off the couch and the number of work outs I’ve skipped because I just can’t do it. So, I’m using my voice and my story in hopes that it can help even just one person. If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone.
Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms, said it best in hist first book: “More than anything, my wish for you is this: That when your awful darkest days come, you will know you’re not alone. Pain will tell you to keep quiet, but that’s a lie. Life is fragile and we all break in different ways. I hope you know you can be honest. I hope you know that you can ask for help. Did you catch that? It is absolutely positively okay to ask for help. It simply means you’re human. Help is real and it is possible; people find it every day.”
Help, and hope, are indeed real. And for that, I am beyond grateful.