As promised, here is the second part of my two-part post about depression and anxiety. As previously discussed, I have struggled with depression for the greater part of my life, and I am one of the lucky few who also gets to struggle with anxiety, hooray! If you're reading this, I can only assume that you read my last post about depression, which touched on the points that Kady Morrison presents in her article called 9 Secrets I've Uncovered About Depression. Accompanying this article is another piece Kady wrote called 9 Things I Wish People Understood About Anxiety, which is the subject matter of this blog post.
It does feel like the world is changing; more and more people know about depression and recognize it as a valid illness every single day. TV commercial breaks are littered with commercials about depression drugs and how they can help, but I feel that not enough light is shed on anxiety, which (at least in my eyes) is still seen as taboo and is discounted by those who have never felt its gripping terror. This is why I felt like sharing how I cope with my anxiety and share what it manifests itself as: to show that it is a very real condition and to go in depth with what I often feel, so that others can understand where my mind goes when it goes rogue and dives straight into fear.
Nine things that Kady wishes people understood about anxiety are as follows (bolded and italicized):
1) Anxiety does not move in a straight line
- Kady's example of "losing your car keys" is a great one, and one that I have found myself stressing about. For my example, I will touch on the reason I carry such a large purse. Lucky me, I also have a touch of OCD! Not nearly as severe as I've seen some people have (I used to have a friend who always needed me to turn off the bathroom light for them when they came out, shut the closet doors for them before they went to bed, and plug their phone in for them so that they wouldn't have to deal with the plugging and unplugging "until it felt right"), but I do have compulsive issues that usually manifest in the following "phobias": dirtiness, dryness, oiliness, and stickiness on my body. That's right, I have to have the exact right amount of moisture and cleanliness in my skin at all times, specifically my hands. If my hands are too dry, I will have to run them under water to moisten them, however this is counter productive because water dries out your hands. The obvious solution is lotion, however I am extremely picky about lotions because I cannot have too much oil, although I have found one single lotion that I can tolerate. In fact, my aversion to oils and greases is so bad that sometimes I will wash my hair wish dish soap (even two or three times) because I feel that there is too much oil in it. What does this have to do with my purse, you ask? Well, I have to have enough room in my bag at all times to have lotion, hand sanitizer, oil blotting papers (for face), lip balm, and deodorant. I say deodorant because I am actually afraid of antiperspirant, which dries things and prevents moisture, therefore I use a natural deodorant for smell, but not for sweat. However, these tend to not work as well, so I carry one with me at all times. But what does this have to do with anxiety? Say I've forgotten my purse at home, or temporarily down sized because we're only "going to one store." I start to panic. What happens if my hands start to feel dry? What if we can't stop somewhere to get lotion? What if the lotion at the place we stop isn't one that I can use because it is too greasy? And from there, I decide that downsizing to a smaller bag with no lotion is a terrible idea, hence the large purse.
2) Anxiety is not rational, and boy, do we know it
- One of the first anxieties I can remember developing is one that drives me (and others) up a wall: the fear that something terrible will happen to someone that I love. I always kiss Patrick and tell him I love him before he goes out on his own, because if something happens I want his last thoughts of me, or my last thoughts of him, to be positive. Any time I hang up the phone with a loved one, I make sure I tell them I love them before I do so. When I was younger, I had a boyfriend who would go to Canada often to visit his dad, and I can remember crying and begging him not to go every single time because I was terrified that something would happen to him and I wouldn't be able to get to him. Before Patrick and I got married in Las Vegas, I called my great grandmother, the most important person on this earth to me, to make sure that she was feeling okay that day. The reason behind this is because, at a very young age, I made her promise me that she would stay alive until my wedding day, and I feared that getting married would void that promise and she would be gone and it would be all my fault. Had she sounded at all sick, tired, or just generally not well, I would have called the entire thing off. Are any of these things rational? No. But do I still panic every time my phone is about to die because I'm afraid someone won't be able to reach me in case of an emergency? You bet. I have even gone as far as making Patrick email my mom from his phone when my phone has died so that she would know where to reach me in case of an emergency. It is why you will see me with my phone on me at all times, and I will panic if I cannot find it.
3) With anxiety, some days are good days, and some days are bad days
- I find that the hardest anxiety/fear of mine to explain to people is my aversion to dogs. Yes, I can find pictures of them cute. Yes, I can even find them cute in person. I even had a dog growing up, and I can sometimes go as far as petting a dog. However, that is not always the case, and the majority of the time I can't get away from them fast enough because they are unpredictable and that is what my anxiety chooses to latch on to. Are cats unpredictable? Yes. Do I love cats? Yes. Do I fear cats? Nope. My last job was one where I tackled angry cats with nothing but a large bath towel and a pair of heavy duty welding gloves. My arms are covered in scars from cats, but I am still not afraid of them. However, I am usually terrified of dogs about 90% of the time. As previously discussed, anxiety makes no sense. I'm very well aware, and repeating to me over and over again that I have nothing to be afraid of doesn't help. Actually, it can make it worse, because then I begin to think of exactly all of the reasons I have to be afraid (and believe me, I can come up with many). The worst part is that people don't take this specific anxiety seriously because there are good days and bad days. If someone with a dog sees me stand next to that dog one single time, it is suddenly assumed that I will always be okay with that dog, which isn't the case. It's also not helpful to say "But how can you be afraid of dogs, they just love you!" Yes, and that is one of many problems I have with them, along with your blatant disregard for how I feel for them because you think that your positive feelings outweigh my negative feelings. I don't need you to understand it or agree with it, I just need you to respect it.
4) Anxiety is physically painful
- Just a few nights ago I was awake in the living room when I found myself on YouTube watching videos. I watched one where one of my favorite Youtubers tested out a product. I got through the entire video with no problem, and then I scrolled down the comments, where I saw that apparently there had been some paranormal activity that I had missed. So, stupidly, I re-watched the video and heard the "voice" everyone had been describing, which even the girl in the video later admitted to not knowing where it came from. It was then that I realized several things: I was sitting in the semi-darkness, Patrick was asleep, and I was terrified. I was so freaked out that I had to get off of the couch at a run, turn on all of the lights in the house, go back to the couch, turn off the light that I had been sitting with, then proceed to try to get to our bedroom unscathed. Irrational? Yes. However, one of my worst fears is things grabbing at my ankles (one of the reasons I can't swim in bodies of water other than pools, and even then some pools are a little too adventurous for me), and I was convinced that something was hiding in the two inches between the couch and the floor, and it would get me if I got off of the couch. When I finally got to bed, my entire body ached from the tension that had built up in it during my anxiety attack. Similarly, anyone who has ever had a panic attack will tell you that not being able to breathe is one of the most terrifying, exhausting, and painful experiences that they have ever been through (obviously not counting severe trauma or childbirth).
- Even when my anxiety is not physically painful, I will get heart palpitations, the muscles in my neck will start to tighten (from my jaw to about where you would expect a choker necklace to sit, but sometimes all the way across my shoulder muscles and down to my collar bones), my hands will start to sweat, my limbs will start to shake, and my breathing will increase rapidly-- which sometimes leads to a panic attack. Panic attacks, for those of you who don't know, feel very much like someone has sucked all of the air out of the room. Even if you can get a deep breath, your lungs have been working very hard to get air. Much like you would feel after a long run, your breathing doesn't slow down immediately because your diaphragm is used to moving at a certain speed and your heart is used to pumping your blood faster than usual. For me, there is definitely a difference between having anxiety (feeling anxious about something but having a certain amount of control over it, which can be always, sometimes or occasionally), having an anxiety attack (feeling anxious about something and having no control over it, which leads to some of the symptoms I described and possibly more, depending on the person) and a panic attack (the mother of all symptoms, which can be avoided if you are able to calm your symptoms, but this is sometimes impossible). Regardless, if I have an anxiety or a panic attack, once I calm down I am immediately exhausted to the point of falling asleep wherever I am. Again, these are only my "stages" and symptoms, but I imagine they are similar for others as well.
5) Not all anxiety is created equal
- Some people are anxious about things that are completely different from my anxieties. Some peoples' symptoms are different from mine, and more or less severe. This is so important to understand, because just because it's not the same as something you've seen before does NOT mean that it isn't just as real and important. I actually see this sometimes in more than one persons who have anxiety but fail to understand each other's anxieties, resulting in disbelief of them even they know what it is like to have anxieties that don't make sense. It is imperative that you never discount what someone is feeling just because you don't understand it.
6) Anxiety and depression are linked
- Not for all, but for some, depression and anxiety are linked. This is true for me. When I am having a depressive episode, I will often find that the feelings that are all locked up inside of me will explode all at once, geared directly towards something I am feeling anxious about, and I will have an anxiety or panic attack. Similarly, when I am feeling anxious about something in particular, it will push me down into the pit of depression and I will not resurface until my anxiety is under control, which can take hours, days, or weeks.
7) Unless you've been given explicit permission, when it comes to someone else's anxiety, you should probably listen instead of talk
- Patrick is great about "humoring" me when I'm feeling anxious, however he and I have both figured out that is better for him to let me vent to him and freak out, rather than for him to make suggestions or comments about it, because my anxiety is something he cannot fully understand. It baffles him that I can't just go out and do things without preparation, and that's okay. As long as he is there for me when I need him, he doesn't have to understand, he just has to be supportive.
8) As frustrating, infuriating, agonizing, and exhausting as it can be, our experiences and struggles with anxiety are part of us, and we wouldn't be the people we are without them
- My utmost worst source of anxiety is the fear of being a disappointment. I was a fantastic child, and anyone who helped to raise me will tell you so. But why? Because I intentionally never got into trouble. I was, and still am, always so fearful of being yelled at or being a disappointment that I hold back in every single aspect of my life to make sure that I will never have to be in that situation. This is still true to this day; Patrick will just do things without thinking about them and I will freak out because "WHAT IF WE GET IN TROUBLE?!" Things like that don't bother him, but what kind of person would I be if I suddenly decided to fly off the handle? I don't believe I would still have the same relationships I have with people because that person is not the person they signed up for.
9) And, finally, the most important thing I wish everyone knew about anxiety, and about mental health issues in general: if you know someone with anxiety and you want to help them, ask them what would be helpful, ideally during a time when they are calm and non-panicked
- This is something that I have never actually thought about dealing with, however I have done it before and just hadn't realized it until now. When I first moved in with Patrick, we had a small talk about what to do if I ever had a panic attack, which is actually a method that I learned from my same OCD friend who also had severe anxiety. No one else, not even my several psychologists and psychiatrists, ever offered me a reasonable way to teach others how to calm me down when I was hyperventilating. We've also learned how to work together to ease my anxiety, and he knows that I need to be distracted in order for me to stop focusing on that one particular thing, whether it be watching a show together, playing a game, or going for a walk. I have to focus all of my energy on one thing so that there is no more room for the other thing. But if we hadn't had those talks, we would be in big trouble when it came down to it and I was in the middle of an anxiety/panic attack, because I can't exactly tell you what to do to help if I cannot think or breathe.
Anxiety is something I still struggle with, but I have learned some tips along the way that do help. Unlike depression, anxiety is something that has never engulfed me 24 hours a day, instead just in short bursts in different situations, and I have yet to learn how to control it. I take Xanax or Buspar if I can get my hands on it and my anxiety is too high (having no insurance, i.e. no prescriptions, is great), or I try to focus on something else so that I have no choice but to forget what I was anxious about. Although I was able to conquer my depression and I do know how to tackle it once it rears its ugly head, I haven't learned how to control my anxiety. It's possible that I never will, and I will only ever know what to do to fight it. Only time will tell.
I hope this two-part blog post helped to put depression and anxiety into perspective for those of you who don't understand it all that well, and I hope that it made those out there with the same issues feel not so alone :) Depression and anxiety are both a very long journey and require a lot of self discovery, but it can be done. Depression can be controlled and anxiety can be fought, it just takes time, and knowledge is power. Please just remember that both of these mental illnesses are just that-- illnesses, that sometimes we cannot control. Cold medicine cannot cure a cold, but it can help you ride the storm until you feel better... Until the next time you get a cold. Mental illness should never be discounted as "just a phase" or anything other than what it is: a battle that you cannot understand until you've been through it yourself.