When I sit down to write a blog post, I might touch on a tough topic or two, but overall I try to keep things light-hearted. I post recipes, I try to be funny and positive. But lately I have been thinking about tackling a much tougher, harder-to-deal with subject.
The other night I was chatting with my friend, A.D. in Montreal, and we got talking about my blog. She asked if I had considered writing about my experiences with Anxiety and Depression. I told her I had been, but wasn’t sure if anyone would really want to read about them. And then I realized what a load of utter bull crap that is. Because as someone who is dealing with both of these illnesses (and I’ve been suffering from them for years), one of my biggest struggles is that I feel so alone in all of it.
Attention Sufferers of Mental Illness: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
So before I begin, I want all of you suffering from either condition, or any other, to know: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I know that you probably feel that way (I really do, because I feel so alone most days). But know this: your brain is lying to you. Because that’s what your brain does. It’s what my brain does. It lies to me every single day. My brain tells me that I’m alone, that I’m a burden, that I’m a failure because I can’t function properly.
I have been dealing with my illness since 2002. At least, I was officially diagnosed in 2002. But I’m sure I was suffering for several years before that. It was in 2002, after I thought about swallowing a bottle of pills, that I went to see my doctor. At that point, I was diagnosed with Severe Clinical Depression and put on anti-depressants. I hated being on them. I hated how they made me feel: empty, hollow, like a shell of myself. While I didn’t feel quite as sad anymore, I also didn’t feel particularly happy. In fact, I didn’t feel much of anything. I constantly fought with my doctor to go off the medications. Against his wishes, I stopped taking them. I convinced myself that I was ok. That if I just learned to relax and breathe, that everything would work out.
I wish I could say that was what happened. Instead, I continually find myself on this roller coaster of ups and downs, of times when I feel great and others when I feel like I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up. In those extremely low times, I am certain that nobody would miss me if I was gone. Because I feel like I am a burden to everybody and I don’t matter to anyone. See what my brain is doing there? It’s lying to me again.
Depression AND Anxiety? Great…
As I’ve gotten older, my depression has evolved to include General Anxiety Disorder. I find it harder and harder to function. And it gets harder and harder to explain to people. People think I do this to gain attention or sympathy. The truth is actually the exact opposite. I end up in these episodes because I am trying to hide it. Because I don’t want people to know that I have these illnesses. I have been treated like an outcast because of my depression and anxiety. Employers don’t understand, and if I try hiding it, hoping that this will all just go away, I end up in a vicious cycle of crippling panic, fear, and dread. I constantly worry that I’m going to let everyone down. Which inevitably results in me letting everyone down. Because I hit my breaking my point and then I can no longer cope.
This latest episode has been really bad. And when I emailed my boss to explain, her response was “well, I’m going to go ahead and hire someone else, and maybe you should just think about whether you even want to bother coming back.” Which leads back to the thoughts of why bother. I wish people would understand that I don’t like feeling this way. I am, by nature, a very hard worker. I was always the person that would take on extra shifts at a moment’s notice. If a colleague was sick, I’d gladly cover for them. I like to help people. I like to be busy. I like to work. When I was at university, I went to school full-time and worked two part-time jobs. I’m not afraid of working hard.
But now, it’s like my brain and my body are conspiring against me. Depression and anxiety aren’t just illnesses of the mind. They affect a person’s physical well-being too. There are days when my body hurts so much I can barely move. Other days I am so gripped by nausea that even the thought of food makes me vomit. I deal with headaches on an almost daily basis. And don’t even get me started on the exhaustion and fatigue. If I manage to have the energy to be productive one day, I am completely wiped out the next.
I have tried all the usual techniques for dealing with these illnesses: meditation, writing in a journal, mindfulness, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, various anti-depressants, exercise, healthy eating, cutting out alcohol and caffeine. And while these techniques usually have limited, short-term success, eventually the GREAT BLACK BEAST comes storming back into my life. Chewing me up and tearing me apart.
The black dog will let you go eventually. You may be covered in gooey saliva, but you will be whole and stronger. – from my friend R.K.
For anyone going through their own struggles with the Black Beast, remember this (and I am totally including myself in this reminder): You can get through this. You most likely have made it through many episodes before. And while this one may seem like it’s the worst one ever, you can succeed. I have to believe that we all can.
If this blog post resonated with you at all, I’d love to hear from you. You can comment here, or email me: 161daysinparadise (at) gmail (dot) com.