Warnings: expletives, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety
Dearest Person reading this,
I've been dealing with mental health crap my entire life, I just didn't know it. When I got "antsy" about things (read: anxious) and/or couldn't stop myself from dwelling and overthinking, I was told that I wasn't good with managing my emotions and that was a label I held on to, started assigning to myself.
Someone else told me this was the case, so it had to be true, right? I have to subscribe to this identity of myself that someone else gave me, right? I didn't question that maybe there was something wrong with the way my brain chemicals or connections or something worked. Something I couldn't control.
I read books, I went to my gynecologist to test my hormones, I did everything... until I realized I didn't do everything. I didn't go see a mental health professional.
In 2017, I started trying to see mental health pros in my area. One of the worst experiences: I went to an NP (nurse practitioner) who was going to "see me instead of the doctor". I told her that I was having suicidal thoughts, racing thoughts, couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, in short I couldn't manage my shit and it was affecting my day-to-day. She listened to me, nodded occasionally, but I felt like I wasn't being heard. At the end of the session, she prescribed me an anti-depressant.
"Are you sure I should take this? Shouldn't I try talking to someone first and see if I can manage this stuff? Aren't there, like, ways to train your brain or something?" I asked cautiously.
"Yeah, and you should see someone and talk to a therapist. We have plenty here," she replied.
I was taken aback by this comment because that was the entire reason I was there: to talk to someone. To THIS person.
I told her this. "Well, I'm here talking to you. So how can you help me? I'm really struggling here. When can I see someone?" The NP looks at me with some strange, almost forced sense of drama and says "It will take some time to get you in to see a therapist. But I don't want you to hurt yourself in the mean time."
EXCUSE ME. What the absolute fuck? How is that comment supposed to help?!
YES. I had been experiencing sucidal thoughts.
YES. I had been concerned about those things getting worse.
YES. I hadn't eaten or slept well in three to four days prior to that meeting.
But NO she didn't understand me or make the attempt to understand me, because if she had been listening, I didn't ask for drugs! I specifically stated my desire to learn coping skills first, stating that I would use prescriptions if things didn't progress positively. If she really thought I was that much at risk, wouldn't she "commit me" or whatever it is they do in movies? Instead, she was pushing drugs then pushing me out of the door.
After that encounter, I kind of gave up for a while. I started therapy a few months later on a tele-health platform called Teladoc, and it helped for a while. Eventually I was feeling better and stopped seeing that therapist.
Then in January 2019, I had my first panic attack and that ended me up in the hospital.
To be transparent, I had been drinking a lot prior to the panic attack. I'm not quite sure why it happened or what caused it: I think it may have been a snowball effect of sorts of underlying stress and anxiety that came out while I was very much under the influence. This panic attack felt like I was dying, my brain convinced my body I was dying. It felt like my stomach is wrapped around my spine and was crushing it. It was hard to breathe. I couldn't think straight. My vision was a blur. I definetly hasn't been eating or sleeping enough before, during, or after that time.
It was scary.
But I didn't do the work after that experience to figure out what had happened. I honestly didn't know that I needed to dig deeper into my mind and swim through the muck to figure out the root of the problem.
In April 2021, I had another panic attack, this time while at work (and not alcohol induced).
"Huh," I thought to myself while in bed after the incident. "I wonder what's going on that makes me feel this way?"
Yes! I made a small breakthrough! I was able to pull myself together for one fleeting but extremely effective moment and question why this was happening.
I realized that I was having issues with feeling secure in my financials, putting a lot of pressure on myself, and feeling safe and trusting in my decisions and my ability to handle whatever was coming. My contract was coming to an end, I was moving, and I was feeling all of those transitions and not being able to regulate my emotions. In short, I had a panic attack because I was overwhelmed and I couldn't manage all of the things I was feeling.
I started medications right after that, because now these occurances were messing with my day to day life. It was also putting a lot of pressure on my partner. It wasn't just one night in the hospital; now this was taking me out of work and life for a couple of days. I wasn't able to compartmentalize and say "I'll think about this later and feel what I'm feeling later", it was "You're feeling all of this now and it's going to hit you all at once and there's nothing you can do to stop it. By the way, this might last multiple days or weeks. Maybe even months!"
How do I describe this to you, if you've never been in this position? Let me try.
Having chronic anxiety is like putting a bunch of things on the stove, things you've put on a million times before, things you've done a million times before, but THIS TIME you fully believe you can't take care of it all. Most people shrug, can push things to the back burner and come back to it later if they're feeling overwhelmed. But my back burners aren't always working. Maybe they are, but I can't be sure. Sometimes I can't push things to the back burner or turn off the stove for whatever reason. Or maybe everything on the stove is fine, but if I'm anxious I'll just watch that pasta boil, believing that it's going to blow up in my face, even if it's just behaving normally.
Perhaps to the average person, they would have had a funk for a week or so and then pop right back up. Normally, that's how I am too. But having GAD makes me more susceptible to changes and when things start to pile up one on top of the other on top of the other, and I'm not in a positive head space to deal with those emotions, I'm... fucked. My anxiety takes over, and I stress and worry and freak out so much so that I can't eat, sleep, or fucntion normally. In extreme cases, the emotions, the false belief that I can't handle this, that I'm worthless, that I'm guilty of something, are so strong... I want to end my life so it can just be over.
In October 2021, I had another anxious period. I didn't have a panic attack, but anxiety kept me in bed for a few days. You can read a bit more about it here, but it got so bad that when I booked work away from my partner, they were visibly eager to get some space from me and my toxic energy (their words, not mine).
They weren't wrong: what was happening was toxic.
I was angry, sad, frustrated, and lost. And I couldn't manage it: it was seeping out of every pore and into the air around me and everyone else.
After that anxious period, I fell into a depression. It took every fiber of my being to get up and get out and go to work. And each depression I have experienced has been like that.
By acknowledging these patterns though, it makes my anxiety less unknowable. It may be strange that I treat my anxiety and depression with such respect, but in doing so, I shed light on something that felt hidden in the dark, that felt so myseterious I couldn't hope to one day harness it.
So let me break down my pattern for you.
1. Something happens/is happening to me in the outside world that knocks my ego and/or makes me feel insecure. This could be a move, messing up at work, getting criticized and taking it poorly, etc.
2. I start to stress out, and if I am unable to work through this in a timely fashion, I try to create space for it. This could mean pushing things off, such as deadlines, engagements with people, skipping classes I've signed up for.
3. I start to feel guilty about missing those things I've pushed off, and I add that to my emotional stress load, which is growing by the day. I become overwhelmed, and begin to feel helpless.
4. I usually become very upset during this time. It's getting hard to hide the fact that I am not doing well. I take greater effort to maintain a facade of normalcy even though I'm feeling anything but. It takes more energy to maintain that demeanor.
5. Spending energy on things that aren't useful is taking its toll. I'm overthinking everything, insecure about everything, can't seem to find ground and am starting to break down. I may be spending more time in bed or isolating and eating less because I am distracted.
6. If not stopped by now, I'm usually not sleeping or eating much. It is hard for me to communicate my needs, and any misunderstanding causes frustration, leading me to push others away. I begin to believe no one understands me, or that I am not good enough, adding more unecessary guilt.
7. All of the "symptoms" I'm having renders me completely overwhelmed and unable to function normally. This is where panic attacks happen, and I'm pretty much incapacitated until I either A) tire myself out so much by not eating, sleeping and overthinking that I become numb and it essentially starts me out at emotional zero, or B) take some time to isolate and detach in a healthy way and deal with my emotions. B is better than A, because this means I am learning from the experience, and trying to grow my self-compassion.
Seeing this pattern, I decided to name this Depression, Post-Anxious Period. I call it such because if I can't manage my anxiety during this time, it leads into a depressive episode. I don't believe I am depressed normally; I have anxiety but I don't experience depression without those first steps of being unable to manage my GAD.
Naming this has helped me understand my habits. While I'm still learning to put a stop to them before they lead to a Depression, I know I will get there eventually where I can start putting preventative measures in place. Being flexible and adaptable will help: I'm not always able to just take time off and deal with these strong emotions. But I know I am able to develop coping and releasing mechanisms.
I hope this helped you understand that pattern identification can be an incredibly helpful tool in dealing with mental health struggles, whether it be for yourself or someone else, whether it is chronic or temporary. While I am still learning how to use these lessons, I hae no doubt that this can only be a positive step forward in my self-compassion journey.
For more learning resources, please take a look at the following links: - https://www.clinical-depression.co.uk/depression-learning-path/ - https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/january-2019/self-help-techniques-for-coping-with-mental-illness
For free crisis assistance (immediate and/or ongoing), please look at these links/resources: - If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, dial 988 or go to https://988lifeline.org - Text HOME to 741741 to speak with a volunteer crisis counselor ASAP - https://www.nami.org/help - https://www.chipublib.org/news/stressed-out-call-or-text-these-resources-for-support/ - https://www.apa.org/topics/crisis-hotlines - https://www.7cups.com