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I started writing this post on Monday, June 6, 2018, the day before Kate Spade took her own life and 4 days before Anthony Bourdain took his.
At the time I began writing this, I was paralyzed with anxiety, and completely weighed down by my depression. I confided in a good friend that I felt behind on everything in life, yet I couldn’t get myself to actually do anything. She suggested that I write it all down and share it on my blog. So, I sat down with my macbook and began typing out everything that I was feeling and thinking.
After 5 minutes of writing, I shut my macbook and walked away. I didn’t feel like writing, or anything else for that matter, but the post stayed with me in the back of mind, just dying to be finished. I ignored it.
The next day I saw a headline that Kate Spade had passed away at 56. She was young. I assumed it was cancer. I opened the article to discover that she had committed suicide, and it took my breath away. I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t know her obviously, but I felt so sad. I know how alone and hopeless she must have felt when she decided to end her life. I know because I’ve been there.
Social media is now flooded with kind thoughts and prayers for Kate, Anthony, and their families. People are sharing their personal experiences with anxiety, depression, and suicide. We’re rallying behind the truth that mental illness really is an illness and we need to stop stigmatizing it. It’s encouraging to see, but I know that once the news of their suicides are replaced with the news of another tragedy, many people will forget this conversation and slip back into their old thought patterns.
It is now Sunday night and I am finally prepared to finish this post. The attention towards mental health and the stigma it carries with it has already started to die down.
However, there are a handful of people that will continue to fight to keep this issue at the forefront of society’s mind, either because they personally struggle with a mental illness, have a loved one who does, have lost someone to suicide, or they are concerned that US suicide rates have increased by 25% over the last 20 years. They realize how painful and misunderstood mental illness is.
I want this to be more than just this one post. I am going to make it a series because I want to give mental health the attention that it deserves. I want to give it a face and a name and a story because it is so much more than what many people think it is.
Although reluctant, I’ll start with my most recent episode of anxiety and depression. I hope to share the stories of others as well.
The Volcanoes: Anxiety & Depression
Anxiety and depression are like 2 dormant volcanoes that I carry around within me. Usually, I do not remember that I carry them, and even when I do remember, I am able to hide them from other people. That is, until they erupt.
Life is almost always busy. My mind is filled with things that need to be done every day, and many times it is manageable. It is during these times that my volcanoes are quiet. Sometimes I even begin to believe that they are gone. Over the years, I have put a lot of effort into tackling them, and I wonder if I’ve finally beaten them.
Maybe, I think, I can now handle any stressor that life throws my way, no matter how big or scary it is. And maybe I’m a happy person who is able to always see the bright side of things.
Inevitably, though, the eruption comes. Sometimes it’s not triggered by anything. Back in March at my younger son’s first birthday party, I was surrounded by some of the people I love most in this world. The sun was shining through the many windows of our house, lighting up the open floor plan and highlighting the laughs and smiles of our gracious guests. As I stood at the kitchen island, observing the happy scene, I felt content. Then, out of nowhere, a heavy feeling took over me. I felt my smile melt away and my face drop. Everything appeared a bit darker, emptier. After 10 minutes, it left.
That’s the depression. When I feel it coming on, I’m instantly afraid that it will never leave; That it will linger like it used to a decade ago, leaving me feeling completely hopeless. Depression not only sneak attacks like it did at my son’s party, but it also slowly builds over time. Winter in general, too many gloomy, rainy days in a row, not enough sleep, a poor diet, the game of comparison – all of these roads, among many others, trigger my depression.
The second volcano, anxiety, is much more intense. It comes on like a bat out of hell. The jittery, nauseating feelings fill me up internally, from the pit of my stomach up to my throat. My heart pounds and my palms sweat. I become completely and utterly paralyzed. I stiffen like a board, I can’t hold a straight thought in my mind, and my sense of fear is so overwhelming that I can’t take action on anything.
Just Be Happy, Will You?
If you are close to me, you know that when these volcanoes act up I become irritable, angry, lethargic, tense, irrational, fearful, pessimistic. I do and say things that are out of my character. You may often wonder why I can’t just snap out of it. After all, I have a lot to be thankful for; at the very least, my health, my job, my children, my husband, our supportive family, and the fact that our basic necessities are covered and then some.
I get it. And I feel guilty that I can’t overcome these feelings when I know that I have nothing to be depressed about. I wish I could. I wish it were as easy as deciding ,“Hey, I don’t want to be sad anymore. I don’t want to obsess over my worries. I’ll just get over it!” and turn it off like a light switch. I don’t enjoy feeling this way and I’m certainly not looking for sympathy, so what do I gain by “allowing” myself to be in this state?
Ironically, I AM a happy person. I really, sincerely am. I’m very fortunate to have a fulfilling life. Yes, I go through bouts of depression and experience anxiety, but I am still happy at my core. My mental illness is not a result of the life I lead. It is an illness that I inherited. It is a result of my brain chemistry.
More Than Mindset
I’ll be honest though – I understand why many people think someone can just snap out of depression and anxiety. Even though I struggle with these illnesses, I find myself thinking the same thing when one of my loved ones is in the middle of an “eruption” and I’m not. How quickly I forget the loss of power one experiences when anxiety and depression take over.
In those moments, I fall into the mainstream thinking that it’s all about mindset. Just change your mindset! You’re feeling this way because you’re not thinking about it correctly. You’ve lost perspective. There is always someone worse off than you – remember that! Be thankful for what you have.
Yes, that is all true. But it doesn’t apply to mental illness. Just like telling someone struggling with one form of cancer that there are people struggling with worse forms of cancer isn’t going to heal them or make them any less scared.
For far too long we’ve been quiet about mental health. It’s time we start sharing our personal stories and experiences, and listening to each other without judgement. It’s time to view seeing a therapist as just as important, ok, and even encouraged, as seeing a primary care physician.
Let’s keep the conversation going.
More to come…