Living with Anxiety + Depression
The first time I experienced a panic attack, I didn’t know what was happening, or that it had a name. I just knew I was experiencing an intense sense of overwhelming emotion, in one single moment. My throat felt like it was closing and it seemed as though my heart was going to burst. I had developed cold sweats and truly believed I was going to pass out. I’ve had a handful of them in my life. Each one worse than the last, wiping clean how awful each previous attack felt with the fresh terror of a new one.
But here’s the thing, when you live every day with a baseline at anxious, you don’t want to believe that it can get worse. And that’s what anxiety is like for me. It’s living in a constant state of unnecessary worry that fluctuates depending on the day. It’s not that there’s a specific trigger that can setoff my compulsively apprehensive thought process, it’s just how I’m wired. And I only explain it like that because I was clinically diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression several years ago. In medical terms, I experience a disturbance in activity within the emotional processing area of my brain. Basically, I have irrational thinking that is not intentional, or at that time in my life, I was just known as a moody, hormonal teenager. And since that’s what others believed, I tried convincing myself that’s what it was, too. And since I was going through puberty, I was clinging to the hope that once it was done, I would feel better. But that’s not how mental illness works.
How did it Happen?
Anxiety and depression do not just appear out of the blue, or over night. There can be experiences, substances, or the culmination of instances that assist in its development. That’s not to say that a chemical disruption, or the malfunction of synaptic connections within the emotional regulation area of the brain, is not to blame. Some individuals are also more vulnerable to anxiety and depression. For me, I can easily say that my anxiety and depression can be directly linked to a childhood trauma and a predisposition to mental health issues due to family medical history. But it took me awhile to reach this conclusion and to seek help from a professional.
It Got Worse Before it Got Better
So what happened during that time before I decided to get help? I slowly and steadily began to pull away from my friends. It progressively became more and more difficult to get out of bed in the morning and to fall asleep at night. I began to have noticeable and frequent stomach problems. I was exhausted all of the time, which prompted me to nap more frequently. Eventually I kind of just went through the motions of my daily routine. I would be on autopilot until something would make me feel uncomfortable or sad, in which case, I’d get an overwhelming urge to either be alone as quickly as possible or cry, or both. Every time I had a conversation with someone, I would replay the conversation in my head, and reinterpret the other person’s response, convincing myself that I said something stupid or acted foolishly. I would compulsively overthink every encounter and every experience. And then finally, everything felt like it was too much. Knowing that I had to get myself together for a day at school, then participate in either soccer or track practice (depending on the season), then come home to shower and eat dinner, and then finally get myself into bed just to wake up and do it all over again, was grueling. Living just felt intolerable. And at the time, it wasn’t really living. It felt like I was barely surviving and that it was my fault that I had gotten there. So it was my responsibility to get myself out.
Therapy, Pills and Psychiatrists, OH MY!
It took me a while to convince myself that I should seek out a professional. When I mentioned earlier that I experienced a childhood trauma, my parents took me to see a therapist closely after said trauma. Let’s just say that my time was not a positive one. This early experience pushed me away from seeking professional help later on in life, but mostly because therapists and psychologists became linked to dealing with the aftermath of the trauma. But when I finally fought my apprehensions, I started going to a therapist every week for two years. It was difficult at first. The difficulty didn’t come from discussing the things that made me anxious or depressed, but what to do with that information. It was decided after a few months that I would see a psychiatrist who could prescribe me with antidepressants and antianxiety medication. It didn’t work. The pills made me feel numb. They worked in the sense that I no longer felt sad, but then again, I no longer felt happy either. I could get up and go about my routine better than before, but I didn’t feel anything. After many sessions with my therapist, we decided to wean me off the medications. It felt like the first time in a long time that I could breathe again. I didn’t feel sad every day. I didn’t feel as anxious all the time. And I think it was because I could feel happiness again. It wasn’t like I was cured and felt 100% better, but it was different. A good different. There were also many positive changes that were happening in my life that boosted my new sense of self.
And now several years later, I don’t feel hopeless. I have good days and I have bad days, and my days are no longer consumed with persistent negative thoughts but with figuring out what makes me happy. Figuring out which direction my life is heading and learning not to take it to heart when things don’t turn out as planned.
It’s been an interesting journey coping with my anxiety and depression. And it has never been as bad as when I was first diagnosed. There were also many changes and occurrences in my life during that time, which I now understand as causes that opened the floodgates for my anxiety and depression and not reasons for it. My experience with mental illness may come off as a simplification, I just don’t want to exaggerate it, or go into something that you can Google and further explore through the DSMV. If you’re reading this and want to know more about my experience, let me know. I just wanted to provide a face to the social issue of mental health because it still has its stigmas and misunderstandings that will only be resolved if we first recognize that there’s indeed a problem. Millennial’s are at higher risk for mental health problems, which tend to be anxiety and depression, but can also include eating disorders, ADHD and bipolar disorder. Maybe it’s a generational thing? Maybe it’s an American thing? But it’s a thing that is a factor within everyone’s life and should be recognized whether you personally suffer from it or not.