Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional or counselor, these are simply my experiences and opinions.
Anxiety. Depression. Mental health.
Some might say those are pretty taboo topics, and yet –
How many of you can raise a hand and say you’ve experienced some form of anxiety or depression?I’ll start. Me!
I’ll start. Me! I’m going to talk more about anxiety, because that’s what I still battle often.
Anxiety has the uncanny ability to manifest itself in so many different ways.
– The fear of wondering whether you said or did the wrong thing.
– If you might get a serious illness or die out of nowhere.
– Whether you’ll be alone forever.
– Will you get the job or did you screw up the interview?
– Whether your clothes make you look fat or stupid or young or old.
The list really goes on and on and can be about anything. Strangely (so it seems), not a lot of people talk openly about their anxiety either. I’ve always wondered why that is. Could it be because there’s so much stigma attached to it, making them ashamed? (There are, of course, many reasons people choose not to, and that’s okay.) Regardless, why is it such an issue for people to accept? New moms, for example. They are often “frowned upon” when they openly suffer from postpartum depression and anxiety (I was, twice), but why? It doesn’t make you less of a person, if anything, it makes you fairly average, considering nearly 46.6 million adults (1 in 5) live with a mental illness. (NIMH)
I’m going to share some of my story with you now. Maybe it will help you, maybe it won’t, but I’ve learned to be open and share it in the hopes that it does.
It started in 2013, about two years after my son was born, and I honestly had no idea something was “wrong” with me. I am a Navy wife and at that time I had two young children and my husband was in and out all the time. I naturally assumed that it was a combination of that, being far away from family and the general stresses of life causing my issues. No one around me really had any idea that something was wrong, and it wasn’t until one night when I was talking to my mom that anyone picked up on the possibility. I will never forget the moment, because it shook me to my core. I said to her “I just can’t do it anymore, I don’t think I want to be a mom, or wife, or just anything”. This was not normal for me, and I had never said (or thought) anything like that before. Something in my voice had my parents making a 15 hour drive and a panicked phone call to my husband (who had not been privy to this particular thought yet) encouraging him to do something. This moment would also be followed by days where I laid in bed and wouldn’t get up, not to take care of myself, or my children. I felt like I was nothing, not good enough to be their mom, to be his wife, to be a good friend, etc. Just not worth the life I had been given. The arrival of my parents would lead to a plethora of doctor visits and hospital trips before finding a diagnosis.
The end result? Doctors felt that I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. I should mention that a lot of the doctors and therapists I saw thought it might’ve originated after my son without being caught. So ladies, make sure you speak up after your children and push for yourselves. In any case, I had answers, and yet, I wanted to know what was wrong with me.
Why was this happening to me?
What did I do to cause this problem?
What was wrong with me?
Would I be this way forever?
Would people not like me now?
Although misguided (and anxiety riddled) thinking, that has always been my nemesis. Why? Now, my life circumstances at that time definitely lended to this problem. Between raising two kids on my own while my husband was on the ship, and having certain family members constantly belittling me and my parenting, treating me like I didn’t matter and generally acting as though I wasn’t enough of anything, I had begun to think negatively. If you’ve read my marriage story (go check it out if you haven’t) you’ll know that things have happened and were said that left me with some inadequate feelings for many years. Whether you realize it or not, the way you are treated and spoken to plays a role in what you think of yourself (and subsequently the way you treat others, of course).
So what did I do? I ended up moving back to my parents with the kids in order to take care of myself and have extra help while my husband deployed. I sought out therapy, did my research on what I had thought would work best, and I did everything I could to feel better. I desperately wanted to feel normal and happy again. But the thing I did the most was keep quiet. I was so ashamed to tell anyone outside my small circle what was going on. The few people that did know were split between being very supportive of me and also condemning me because I “should’ve been stronger and wanted to stay for my kids”. My husband was as supportive as possible while he was away, especially since he wasn’t well versed in the world of mental health/illnesses and didn’t know what to do for me. Those same circumstances I mentioned earlier made it harder for me to express what was going on to him.
I saw a therapist for nearly nine months, and I learned many great techniques from her, including the STOP technique (Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed) which quickly became a favorite and well used method. There were other holistic methods she gave me (she was strongly opposed to medication), including some herbs (St. John’s Wort, anyone?) and essential oils. I mostly stuck to the idea of journaling (write it all down, every nasty and sordid detail) and using the STOP technique when necessary. These methods worked well for me, combined with being surrounded by love and support, and I slowly pulled myself out of this deep abyss I had fallen into. I moved back home with my husband mid 2014 and life adjusted pretty well from that point on. We actually had a celebration one year from the day when I had hit what could only be described as “rock bottom”. We had a bonfire and I burned my journals full of all of that negativity and pain. It happened to be near New Year’s Eve and it was quite liberating, honestly. It was almost as though I had to fall down that hole to really pull myself up and into a life that meant something (I know it’s cliched, but it’s true).
Then in 2017, I had my youngest child, and round two struck. There was one large difference the second time around, I was educated and well-versed in the thoughts and feelings that anxiety brought upon me. I had the tools to know that I was developing it again while pregnant, so I knew I needed to be very mindful of that after having her as well. Once she was born I was hit with a pretty severe case of postpartum depression. I knew it within the first week and I was able to promptly tell my doctor who prescribed me medication (I hadn’t taken it the first time, but there’s no shame in it, to be clear) and sent me to a new therapist. I stayed on medication for nearly three years before weaning off, and I still talk to my therapist often, if I need to. It was easier the second time around because I knew that I never wanted to hit those depths again. I had also learned to share my story, speak my mind and not be ashamed, which does matter, IMO.
I have since learned that we are not the product of our mental health and it does not define who we are as people. Having anxiety doesn’t make me less of a person, and I shouldn’t be made to feel that way by anyone. I still battle anxiety – in case you thought I had returned to normal – only I do it far more openly and with no shame. I’m a firm believer that mental illness is not something that should be shut down and punished, but it is misunderstood and far too stigmatized in this world. This year has obviously been one for the record books and it is my belief that many people have experienced mental health issues because of it. After spending most of the year in a quarantined state, not being able to surround ourselves with family and friends, it makes perfect sense that this holiday season might especially be hard.
During this time of year especially (just not only) – when anxiety and depression often run higher – remember that you’re never alone (and trust me when I say I know it feels like you are). There are always people out there willing and able to listen and help. Not to mention there are resources everywhere, and anonymous ones that don’t require you to tell anyone who you are, if that’s what you choose. I have read some fabulous writing recently on mental health from a variety of viewpoints that I will link below as well. I personally have found it refreshing to see how many people have willingly opened up and shared their experiences as well as the techniques they use for help, and hopefully you will as well.
But above all else remember this: Be kind, smile, compliment strangers, and remember you really never know what a person is going through.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
National Institute of Mental Health –
The Mack Files
Jacob’s Recall: A film