Here we are at the start of a new year and my first blog for 2017. I’m am finding this a difficult one to write because I am going to tell you something. I’m going to tell you my secret, well one of them anyway.
Back in October, I went to a writing conference in Los Angeles. A group of us were sitting together talking about, what else, writing. The topic came up about blogging. Most of us had a blog.
One gentleman asked, “How many of you are posting on a schedule?” Most of us had to admit, we weren’t good at that. Then he asked our reasons: “too busy,” “working on other things,” and “family” were the most common explanations given. Then he turned to me.
I took a deep breath and pushed down the fear telling me they really don’t want to know.
“I sometimes get swallowed by my own darkness.”
All eyes were on me, I was either going to get told that I was being silly, or they were going to quickly move on.
They did neither.
“Go on,” said the man who now seemed to be leading the discussion.
“Some days it’s hard to write when the anxiety or depression or both are controlling my thoughts.” I blinked hard, tears were threatening.
“Have you ever thought to write about it?”
“Too close to home?” He had an understanding look in his eyes.
“That, and no one really wants to hear about it.”
“Maybe someone needs to hear it, you never know.” This from the older woman who reminded me of my grandmother.
That conversation was about two months ago, and I shoved it to the back of my mind. Then Carrie Fisher died.
Carrie Fisher, who played the feisty Princess Leia, a damsel not-so in distress and who could also be the hero. Who fought her own battles with depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorders. She faced them bravely and unashamedly wrote about her experiences.
Her death caused me physical pain. I was surprised by the depth of my emotions at the news. Someone my age (she was only five years older than me) shouldn’t die suddenly. It felt like I’d had lost my sister. I never met her, but I felt I knew her, and that if we had met she would understand me.
Now it’s time to tell my secret: Some days, I am fighting twin dragons, named Anxiety and Depression.
I am one of the forty million Americans suffering from anxiety and depression.
Officially my diagnosis is “mixed depressive disorder.” That means I suffer from both depression and anxiety.
I’m also considered “high functioning,” which means I can still function on my own without intervention, most of the time, without anyone noticing there is a problem. In other words, I’m really good at hiding it.
Depression, for me, shifts and changes. I can feel like I’m being forced to wear a heavy, lead-lined suit of armor all day and my whole self feels painful and exhausted. Sometimes, it feels like I’m hung over, my brain hurts, my body aches, light and sounds hurt. At other times, I feel like my soul has been pulled from my body and I feel numb.
Then the anxiety kicks in. It can be just a small paranoid voice saying I’m not good enough and other people are judging me, leading me to think I will lose my job or all my friends. It can be I’m worried or afraid for no reason. Or it can be full panic mode, especially if in large crowds like Comic-Con or Disneyland: I’m going to get trampled. I’m going to get lost and never find my husband/friend again. The world is coming to an end.
When both happen at the same time the conversation in my head goes something like this:
Anxiety says, “The house is on fire! Run! Escape! Get the heck out of here!”
Depression responds, “So? It doesn’t matter. No, I don’t want to move. Who cares?”
How do I deal with it all?
For me, it’s a matter of diet, exercise, sunshine, and meditation. I do better when I eat a diet free of processed foods – no white flour, no sweeteners, nothing artificial. The exercise activities I find most helpful are walking and Tai Chi. Being outside enjoying my desert sunshine helps by body produce not just vitamin D but also brain chemicals I need to help my mood (really, I don’t understand how this works, but it does.)
You’ll notice there are no medications listed. Currently, I am not on any. I have been on some in the past but found two problems. The first was it sucked the creativity out of me. I didn’t write. I didn’t make music. I didn’t paint. And yes, I wasn’t “sad,” but I was never truly happy either. The second reason is, I developed an allergy to one of the anti-anxiety meds, and trust me, a head-to-toe rash isn’t fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying medication is a bad thing. For some, it is the only reason they can function. I say bless you doctors for helping develop those drugs. It is that, for right now, they are not the right path for me. The situation may change in the future, and I’m okay with that.
I take it one day at a time. Some days are better than others, but I move forward.
What can you do to help someone dealing with a mental illness?
First and foremost – listen. If they want to talk, just listen. No questions. No judgments. Just be there.
Second, encourage them to follow their treatment plan. Sometimes when things are going well the person with mental health issues may be tempted to stop taking their medications, going to counseling, or eat off plan.
Third, ask them what they need. Don’t assume to know what is needed.
And finally, don’t ask they why they feel this way. When I’m feeling anxious, I truly have no idea why. I just feel nervous and worried.
As I write this, I feel anxious. Tears are forcing their way to the surface. My heart is pounding. I want to delete this. Keep my secret to myself.
But I won’t. I need to say this publicly. There is no shame in my diagnosis and if I’ve let someone out there in the blogosphere know they are not alone, all the better. . . just as Carrie had.
This is my path, with all its good and bad. I will walk it with my head held high and will hold the hand of any who want to walk it with me. And if I leave the path for a while, I may be off fighting my dragons again, but I’ll be back. I promise.
Remember, the door is always open, and the kettle is on the burner.