February 22, 2017:
Confession- I read this article while sitting the waiting room at my psychiatrist’s/psychologist’s office. I have an appointment today with both. One to check on medication effectiveness and the other to talk about the thoughts in my head and how to appropriately manage them, release them, make peace with them. I sought help a few years ago, but when I moved to San Diego that help was not enough. I had to add more mental health appointments to my already full schedule. It was so overwhelming, and yet now it’s a WEEKLY thing for me and I can see the results-less time lying on my couch, more laughing, better sleeping. If anything in this article or my words resonate with you, please make today the day! And it is SERIOUSLY ok to do it scared and with a friend-I did. I hate making calls and so I went to a friend’s house and sat at her table with a cup of coffee and made my calls while she held my hand and encouraged me. It’s so much more than ok to need help and seek it.
Initially I posted the above confession in two closed Facebook groups. Groups that required membership approval and were not open to the outside world. I knew the people in the groups and had lived a lot of life with them. I was not afraid to share my words with them because, honestly, most of them knew my struggles anyway.
But this nudge, this feeling, this unshakeable awareness that I should share it openly on Facebook began, and would not subside until I did.
The response was overwhelming. I heard from people that I quite literally had not talked to in twenty years. I heard from people who were too afraid to tell anyone they struggled too. I heard from people were hurting and needed a bridge, a helping hand, a me too.
And I heard from people offering love and support to those who, like me, live with anxiety and depression.
Even now, three years later, I marvel at the response. It stands out as one of the defining moments in my life. It’s one of the moments that confirmed for me, living open handed and honest is the only way to live.
Being busted up, broken, and a bit messy is not a detriment, it’s an opportunity. It’s an open invitation for community.
Over the past several weeks my church gave a series of messages called, “Nobody Told Me.” It’s been a heavy hitter, covering topics like marriage, sex, parenting and most recently anxiety and depression. The premise behind the series is that many of us grew up not knowing the whole truth about these topics because nobody told us.
The latest talk was, “Nobody Told Me Anxiety and Depression is Real.” I sat in the auditorium listening to our pastor talk about the ways both mental health illnesses enter our lives and how we can heal from them. Notice he and I, didn’t say get rid of them.
I’m not rid of my anxiety and depression. Some days it still lurks in the shadows of my mind waiting for the right trigger to bring it front and center in my thoughts.
But what the message pointed out and what I know to be true is I have an arsenal of tools at my disposal for healing.
Similar to a physical injury, anxiety and depression don’t have a one-time fix. For me, the process of healing involves lots of people, appointments, and even a few medications.
I see both a counselor and a medical doctor for treatment. I journal almost every morning, pouring out my worries onto the paper. I read daily readings from both Christian and 12-Step texts. I surround myself with community. And I’ve given myself time. There is no quick fix.
Nobody told me what depression and anxiety really looked like.
Some days, I wish I had a head’s up on the distorted thinking both bring to life. But I’m not sure that a head’s up would have kept me from both mental illnesses, though it might have helped me know the signs.
In this time of extreme uncertainty and rapidly changing information, my depression and especially my anxiety are apt to ramp up at a moment’s notice. To come out of the shadows and overshadow the present moment.
One minute I’m painting rocks with my boys, and the next minute my whole body hurts and there is a crushing pressure on my chest, because I overheard a news clip full of fearful warnings and statistics.
Yesterday, I had big plans. Written on a hot pink sticky note were several “To-Dos” I wanted to check off. Checking things off makes me feel better, accomplished, less worrisome. Checking things off makes me feel like I am in control.
Instead, the thing I started with on my checklist went awry and it set the tone for the day. By three o’clock I was waking from a fitful nap and eating cookies as if they could soothe my soul. This is what the seesaw of depression and anxiety look like in my life.
I only checked off one “To-Do.” Not checking off more led me into a downward spiral. Because not crossing things off my list means I’ve lost control and not being in control feeds the teeter-totter of depression and anxiety.
I went to bed last night feeling pretty defeated by the day. The lack of checks on the list mocking me from their neon paper. I awoke this morning determined to do better, to accomplish, to check things off the list.
Instead, I’ve spent most of the morning journaling and talking with friends. Those things aren’t on my list, but those are two of the most powerful tools in my toolbox of mental health. Community and writing.
Nobody told me anxiety and depression are real, and sometimes real loud, but I’ve lived with them long enough now to know they won’t stick around forever, and a neon sticky note is not the determination of my worth.
Somebody once told me she would hold my hand as I made the calls I needed to make to quiet the loud voices of mental illness. Somebody once told me that going to therapy and taking medication would help. Somebody once told me that surrounding myself with community would give me a safe space to voice the anxiety spinning around in my brain. Somebody once told me that journaling would give the spiraling thoughts somewhere to go.
If nobody told you depression and anxiety are real. If nobody acknowledged your pain. If nobody held your hand, let this message be your somebody.
And, in case nobody told you that this weird season was going to your push buttons and test your mental health, I’m here to tell you that it is, and it’s okay. It’s testing mine too.