As much as I’m an advocate for mental health awareness, for taking the stigma away from mental illness, for being open and honest about mental health issues….. I never considered myself to be mentally ill. Or if I did, I was mentally ill in a way that was socially acceptable. I don’t feel ill, I don’t wake up and think about my illness, I don’t classify myself as ill. I’m not bi-polar, I’m not schizophrenic, I don’t have any of the illnesses that you think of when you think of “mental illness.”
But the reality is, I’ve been medicated since I was eight years old for a combination of anxiety and depression. That’s twenty years of a steady stream of anti-depressants & anti-anxiety meds. Before anyone gets on their soapbox about medicating children– let me note that when I first started taking these meds, no one saw any reason to not medicate their children if it was going to help them. I’m going to leave the circumstances as to why I was probably depressed & anxious aside, but for all intents and purposes, I was an eight-year-old hot mess–and probably really did need some help.
But here were are, twenty years later. I still need help.
I don’t think most people would look at me and assume that I have either of these issues. The anxiety definitely comes through a bit, and I’ve generally been pretty open about my issues with that. It’s easy to be self- deprecating with anxiety, it goes along with being high-strung and type A, and unfortunately, most people think of it as a “woman’s” mental illness; picture the archetypal anxious mother fussing over her children (this is bullshit and a stereotype that harms men too, as over 100 million men in the US deal with anxiety, but I’ll leave that for another day.) Everyone does have some level of anxiety, the fight or flight phenomena is a real thing and can bleed through into your everyday life, but obviously, for some, it’s worse and can be crippling.
For me, it’s panic attacks, it’s hypochondria, it’s weirdly physical symptoms like heart palpitations & tics, its an underlying sense of doom, it’s thinking someone is dead when they don’t answer the phone (every single guy I’ve dated has had to deal with me thinking they’re dead at one point or another, don’t even get me started on family members).
But again, I’ve been open about my anxiety, and there are ways to manage it other than medication. Meditation has helped me a ton, and even though I’ve fallen off the bandwagon a bit with my daily practice, I know it’s there for me as a resource.
Depression is the issue I’ve kept hidden for the most part. I don’t look depressed. I don’t seem depressed, I’m not walking around bedraggled with sad eyes. Most of the time, I’m not depressed, because I’m medicated for it; but I still have depression. Depression has different connotations than anxiety, it makes people think you’re weak-willed, you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps… you’re just a bummer. I’m none of those things, but I am someone who suffers from depression, and in all honesty, I carry a lot of shame around it. People are not always kind when it comes to this issue.
Probably because of the age that I’m at, the biological changes that come with aging (I’m assuming my brain has evolved somewhat since I was eight) a few months ago I found that my regular medication wasn’t as effective. It didn’t stop working, I just had to work a lot harder to maintain my equilibrium.
I noticed mood changes that seemingly have nothing to do with my life circumstances, because to be honest, right now, and even at the point in time I went through this, I’m the happiest I’ve been in quite a long time. The changes were like feeling horribly overwhelmed by the idea of washing my hair, like whaaaaat? It sounds ridiculous, but I felt so deeply tired that I was brought to tears when I thought about the day ahead of me. I’m a 28-year-old, unmarried woman with no kids and a very cute dog…. my life isn’t hard, by any stretch of the imagination. But I’m telling you there are little things that just feel EXHAUSTING when you’re going through a depression period. It’s as if you’re moving through quicksand and every step, every sentence, every email, every trip to the grocery store and every human interaction takes an ungodly amount of energy. I know enough to know that feeling that way isn’t normal.
I spoke to my doctor, and she agreed I was probably developing a tolerance to the meds. So a few months ago we agreed to increase the dose. It was a nightmare. Headaches, worsened anxiety, super weird physical symptoms, like ringing in the ears, blurry vision, a feeling of my throat closing up, not being able to catch my breath. I stuck it out for two weeks and then decided I couldn’t handle any more of the adjustment period. My doctor said the symptoms would go away, and I’m sure they would have, but there is never a convenient time to feel like a complete basket case. I can’t put my life, my job and my relationships on hold until I’ve “adjusted.”It seemed like it was just a phase of depression, brought on by nothing I could remotely pinpoint, and about month later, it was gone.
So, I don’t know what the answer to this issue is, becuase I don’t think there is one. Maybe I just deal with random periods of feeling deeply exhausted & highly sensitive. Luckily for me, these episodes are just that, episodes. Maybe I workout more, meditate more, try this new medication thing again. There’s no right answer, and there’s no cure. This is something I’ll need to deal with for the rest of my life, and sometimes that freaks me out.
I’m going to be fine, but there are so many peoples who aren’t fine, and I’ve felt like a little bit of a coward for not being more honest about my struggle with anxiety & depression, especially when I share a decent amount of my life on social media & on this blog (mainly my clothes and make-up and my dog, but still). I really pride myself on being authentic and honest, and so I hope that for anyone who reads this and struggles with similar issues, this makes you feel a little bit less alone. At the very least, it makes me feel like less of a hypocrite.
Happy World Mental Health Day, take care of yourselves, everyone.