Living with Depression and Anxiety

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety back in 2012 by a psychiatrist at my university and subsequently began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist at that time and began treatment, including prescriptions. At first, the primary issue was my depression. Back then, I was in a dark, dark place. Even reflecting on how I felt then now makes me feel sick. I didn’t think a person could ever feel so low. I didn’t know that the depths of despair could run so deep. I knew nothing about mental illness and had very little experience with it. It took me probably too long to get help. I wasn’t handling things in my life well, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, it got to the point that my parents believed that this was out of our hands or knowledge (they were right) and it was time to get professional help.

I am lucky in not only having supportive parents but also by attending a university that offered mental health services. I was also very fortunate in having professors who did not just shrug me off when I spoke to them about it – primarily my work study bosses who were also my professors that semester and one of the toughest (and fairest and probably best) professors in my English program who I had for two classes that semester. I have found it best to be open about it from the beginning.

There is really nothing you can do to prepare for an “invisible illness,” especially one with a stigma like mental illness. How do you tell your friends that you’re suicidal? We were 20 years old. How do you even respond to that? We were young and dumb. I definitely lost some friends during this time – and have lost other friends since due to my mental illnesses, but I have also strengthened friendships and realized who is really there for me. Regardless of what they might say, you cannot really repay that sort of debt; when someone who was there for you at your lowest. The ones who gave you hope when you had none. The ones who helped you realize that you needed to stay. No matter what after that, there will always be a certain level of gratitude.

Mental illness is not easy for anyone involved. I was overwhelmed dealing with one. Not long after my initial diagnosis of severe depression, I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. Living with multiple mental illnesses just complicates things even more, including treatment. My brain was telling me on a regular basis that life wasn’t worth living while also informing me that I needed to keep going, going, going with no end in sight. Everything had to be perfect and complete. It was exhausting; and depression on its own was exhausting enough. Combined with the conflicting nature of anxiety, it was indescribable. It is a nervous energy, like a negative buzz, coupled with the weight of depression pulling you down as if it weighs a ton.

For a long time, depression was what kept me down the most and was the primary concern of my treatment. However, depression was easier to pinpoint and treat in some ways with more effective methods than just medication.* But the problem was that depression is a heavily layered disease. There was a lot to get through in order to fully treat it. I am pretty confident in saying that right now I am not depressed, but recognize that i am prone to bouts of it from time to time.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a whole different disaster. I still don’t have a handle on anxiety and I don’t know when or if I ever will. And yeah, I recognize the irony in feeling depressed over the fact that I can’t control my anxiety. I haven’t had the best luck with therapy. I don’t have the best level of patience to get into meditation, although I really would like to. I’ve also thought about trying to go to yoga at least once a week for a workout so that I can work my mind as well. It’s just a mess.

There are so many things that I never realized were actually symptoms of anxiety. I didn’t know until recently that it takes the average person less than ten minutes to fall asleep. It’s always taken me much longer than that. My biggest issue with anxiety is probably how it effects me test taking. I don’t think I realized it so much in college because I was an English major and wrote so many papers not like a traditional test. But I’ve noticed it definitely with firefighting and, of course, trying to get my driver’s license which is the bane of my existence, embarrassing that I can’t, and the most frustrating thing in the world. It makes me even more anxious when people make comments about the fact I don’t have my license. It’s not by choice. It is because my brain essentially goes on overload and I feel as if I am in fog and going 100 miles per hour at the same time. I feel nauseous just thinking about it. Of all the comments I get about my mental illness, people telling me that anxiety shouldn’t be an excuse or laughing that I don’t have my license because of it, hurts the most.

The awkwardness I have felt of getting up to use the restroom or really anything else during a meeting or training or some other setting because I feel as if I am being watched and silently judged or that I am doing something wrong. Now, logically I know that people aren’t paying that much attention to me or really care. But anxiety can make me feel like I am constantly being judged. And that is exhausting.

Another aspect of anxiety that I didn’t realize was anxiety is that I always second-guess friendships and if people want me around. Sometimes it’s very hard for me to make any type of conversation for fear of sounding dumb or that the person I am talking to doesn’t really care. Texting is even worse – I constantly feel like I am bothering the person. I just always thought I was weird but once I started reading up on others’ experiences with mental illnesses, I realized that this was apart of it and that these feelings were actually a symptom that I was experiencing. I mean I’m definitely weird, but this wasn’t one of the reasons why.

I also never realized the physical symptoms of anxiety. I get chest pain a ridiculous amount of time, even when I don’t think I’m anxious, I can get it. I’ve heard others describe anxiety as having too many tabs open in the brain, and that is a pretty accurate description. My own brain doesn’t know if it is coming or going. It affects every aspect of my life, and it is very frustrating that I have not figured out a way to tame it yet. Even when my depression is at bay, anxiety is still present. It can hit me at any time. I feel like a tennis ball in a tennis match. I’ve been a perfectionist forever, and now I realize that was definitely my anxiety beginning to manifest. I am terrified of being a disappointment. I feel as if the highest expectations are always present, and anything less is failure. I wish I would have realized this sooner.

It is important to remember that you are more than your mental illness. But it is also important to accept that your mental illness can impact all aspects of your life. The sooner you recognize this, the sooner you can start really fighting this thing full-on. Denial is just going to drag it out further. Your anxiety will move faster and your depression will sink deeper. You also have to accept that there are going to be bad days. The bad days can sometimes make me scared as hell that it’s coming back. I’ve had a couple periods where I succumbed back into a deep depression. Obviously I am still here, but it is a terrifying feeling that you are going to lose yourself again and have to start from scratch again. It is also really important to build up a support system. It is much easier for me to write out how I feel versus talking about it. While I hope this blog helps people dealing with these situations, I also hope that it helps the loved ones of people with mental illness, including the ones in my own life. It can be very hard to put into words how it makes you feel. The despair, the nervousness, the guilt. The loss of self that can be all-consuming, wondering if you’ll ever find that sense of self again. I think one of the biggest pieces of advice that I can give (not that anyone asked for it) is to not let anyone invalidate your feelings when it comes to your illness. You know yourself best. No one has a right to tell you how to feel. Don’t let them stigmatize you. Recognizing your symptoms and accepting it is one of the first steps to beating it. Keep on fighting.
*Note: I am very supportive of using medication if you need it. I struggled for a long time with the idea of taking medication for my mental illness. However, after several false starts and a variety of combinations, I have found a regime that I realized is the difference between me functioning and not. My treatment requires more than medication, but I have finally accepted that it is okay to use medication and recognize that it does work. It’s literally me getting out of bed or not. Don’t listen to those who say you just need to change your diet/go outside/work out and medications are bad. While those may work for you, I’ve realized it is usually a combination of treatments. I was working out long before I was depressed – although it can help now, I still got depression. Don’t. Let. People. Guilt. You. Into. Not. Taking. Your. Medications.

Be Better

In some ways, I feel as if I have lost all hope for humanity. That hate is winning out over love. I am sure social media and the ease of sharing (and manipulating) news are contributing to this illusion that, simply, everything sucks. But the worst place to go anywhere is the comments section of a post or Twitter in general. It amazes me how easily people throw out hate. It amazes me how easily people hurl insults and dismiss each other because of varying opinions. It amazes me we have a wealth of knowledge literally in the palm of our hands, yet no one can be bothered to fact check. What happened to our respect for our fellow man? I feel like we’re going backwards.

Regardless of your political affiliations, you would be hard-pressed to deny that there is definitely a divide in this country right now. I think people put far too much stock into their political party and conform too often to party lines. Myself, I am very moderate. Very moderate. There really is not a dominant party for me on the political spectrum. I refuse to vote simply by party lines. In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned against relying too heavily on political parties, saying “Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.” I would speculate that this “baneful spirit” has gotten worse over time. I know each side has extremists and those tend to be the loudest – that is really no reason to use insults to describe an entire group, especially when the majority of the country is represented by two options. I can guarantee that not every conservative is a religious zealot and not every liberal is a tree-hugging hippie, and I am being kind on those stereotypes; I generally see much worse.

Speaking of the two-party system, has anyone ever heard of a compromise? This stubborness is impacting lives in a huge way, across the board. I don’t understand how people can get voted into office to represent others, to serve constituents, and refuse to compromise. Or, my favorite, take money from donors and in return vote in ways that benefit those donors. Not cool, boys and girls. I don’t care who you are. The right thing is hardly ever an easy thing. A lot of problems our nation faces really shouldn’t be solved in a “this or that” matter, life is generally more complex than that.

I don’t think we’ve yet learned that the world isn’t black and white. Why do we keep putting ourselves in these containers? All it does is give us tunnel vision. The Pilgrims came to America in search of religious freedom. I see so many people sneering at anything other than Christianity.  The following centuries saw millions of immigrants searching for a better life. America was called a melting pot. Now, despite not having a federally-mandated national language, people scream “English only!” even when the conversation doesn’t involve them and it is literally none of their business and has no impact on them. My great-grandparents only spoke Russian, and another set only spoke broken English. I can’t find it now, but I saw a quote the other day that said essentially that America was the only nation founded with a distinct purpose – to have a better life. But we can’t even respect each other on anything. Respect? We can’t even tolerate each other.

Far too often, we use past actions as an excuse for behaviors now. That’s not how it works. Just because it was done before doesn’t make it right. Doing it before doesn’t excuse the behavior now. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat.” George Santayana (1905). Why are we okay with repeating our mistakes? We can be better than this. We should aim to be better than this. And too often, when others try to bring about change, they are ridiculed. The biggest example of this I can think of is the Parkland kids. These kids, some barely 18 and a good bit younger, are insulted and threatened daily on social media because they are trying to bring change after they saw their friends murdered while attending school. I can’t wrap my head around this. These kids suffered an unimaginable tragedy. And they are trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

As being the alleged adults, what example are we setting for them? Even if we don’t agree with them, they are trying to make it a safer world! They are trying to bring change. Everyone knows the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” They are taking action instead of just sitting there letting the world go by. How many of us can say that? How many of us just talk a big game? How many of us are actively trying to make a difference, instead of throwing insults behind a computer screen, and yes I recognize the irony that I am typing this on a computer screen but you know what I mean. Mr. Rogers once said “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

Maybe we should see it from their perspective, and maybe they should look at the opposing perspective as well. When looking at some of these problems, I think the best thing people can do is look at all sides. Maybe we’d learn from each other. Or find a solution. I have never actually found anyone who wants to fully repeal the Second Amendment, except one former Supreme Court Justice. Also, I don’t think any elected representative is going to put in the work to actually appeal an amendment or get the support it would need. Only one amendment has ever been appealed – the 18th. It ended prohibition. Absolutely zero surprise.

When it comes to school shootings, can someone answer me this? Why do we focus on the gun and arming teachers/guards, increasing security, etc. in case a school shooting occurs, instead of trying to figure out what the hell is driving a teenager to commit mass murder on his or her peers? Why not try some prevention instead of straight reaction? Why are we not investing in mental health and identifying these problems? I don’t think mental illness should be a get-out-of-jail-free card, but anyone who does that has some serious issues. I’m still jaded enough to believe most people are good and that very few are truly evil. Maybe prevention would help this. But we don’t even talk about that! It goes straight to the guns, which we shouldn’t blame, but solve with more guns. This is a multi-layered problem. Guns are neither fully the problem or solution. I don’t believe there is just one all-encompassing solution.

And now, the real reason I am writing this post. There are terrible things going on in the world all the time. There are terrible people out there. But like I said, I believe most people are good. Or at least, can be good. You have to choose good. Sometimes the right thing is the harder thing and not the popular thing.  But damn, man. Why are we so nasty to one another? It amazes me how people constantly insult and judge with no basis for their opinion, just face value or grasping at straws. You will accomplish so much more in the long run by doing good. Some people might argue that its thankless…but you’re not exactly going to get thanked for being rude either. And doing good can make you feel good! Time out – literally just saw someone on Facebook call someone a “dumb bitch” for having a difference in opinion. Dude. What does that accomplish? In my opinion, the second you start name-calling, you lose all credibility in your argument. We’re adults. We can do better.

Amy Schumer was quoted the other day saying that we need Mr. Rogers. I think she’s absolutely right. Mr. Rogers taught us to be good to each other and help each. Mr. Rogers would be so ashamed of the society we have created.  One of his most famous quotes is, ““When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” There are an awful lot of scary things in the news right now. We need those helpers.

Mr. Rogers also said “Imagine what real neighborhoods would look like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.” Could you imagine? It takes just one person to start it. Think about how often we hear that “pay it forwards” in a drive through go on and on? It doesn’t need to be a huge production of being kind. But the little things add up. They inspire others to be kind. Maybe I’m asking too much. I’d be happy with people not insulting each other when they argue. I’d be happy seeing politicians working together for the greater good, and not for their party agenda.

I am literally begging people to do better. Be kinder. Respect each other. Hate has no place in the world.

No one is benefiting from all of this division and hate and just nastiness. All it does is bring others down and spread more hate and anger. I kind of feel like Yoda right now, preaching about the dark side and the light side. Maybe he was right; “Fear is the path to the dark side, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Maybe it is fear that led us to this. But we need to stop looking at the past to justify whatever the hell it is we are doing and look forward. Be better. Do better. This century has been pretty tumultuous and we’re only 18 years in. Our world completely changed on September 11th, 2001 and we are still fighting that war. We had the Great Recession. Things sucked. Hurricane Katrina. School shootings. It might take awhile to change the world and make it better. But we can make our little corner a little bit better. Maybe I’m just rambling. But I just don’t see any benefit to talking shit or insulting someone. We say how actions speak louder than words. That’s true. But words still matter.

Hope matters. I still have hope that we are a better people.

Final thought – I highly suggest reading The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels by Jon Meacham. It showed how we as a country have handled a variety of situations. I read a lot of American historical nonfiction (that’s probably 90% of what I read anymore), and I learned a lot.

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss. I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy. I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of their descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” – Charles DIckens, A Tale of Two Cities

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.” J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Thoughts After Kate Spade

There are a few things that leave me speechless. The suicide of Kate Spade was one of them. For the past couple days, I have been wondering what I wanted to say. I have read many articles, posts, and, unfortunately, comments. It started a cycle that I’m afraid society is far too familiar with and I would say numb to. The sharing of suicide hotline numbers, the “you are not alone,” “#stopthestigma’, “that’s a shame,” “thought and prayers,” the list goes on and one. And then the questions, how could she do that to her family? How could she leave her daughter; she’s selfish, I could never do that to my child.

These questions often show a lack of understanding towards mental illness. I don’t want to say it is ignorance. There is such a lack of understanding towards mental illness. I don’t necessarily have the answers on filling that gap. I guess that is why I write these posts. I hope that by sharing my thoughts, it might help someone else understand a little bit more.

Kate Spade is an iconic fashion designer. I like to joke that her bags are either the most or least functional things ever. I downright adore Kate Spade. I own multiple bags, wallets, and jewelry. I got my grandma Kate Spade earrings this year for Christmas. My yoga-turned-work-bag (that I reviewed on this blog) was one of the best and most functional purchases I have made in awhile (probably behind my Honda Fit). Her style was simple, fun, classic, and chic all at once. It was light and airy. My phone case is of a Kate Spade design and says “Glitter is my favorite color.” Kate Spade brought fun into fashion while keeping a classic style with a feminine touch. Pinterest is filled with her quotes such as “I adore pretty things and witty words,” “She leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes,” and “She’s bright like glitter and bubbly like champagne.” Do you get the theme here? Kate Spade’s style was radiant and confident. I aspired to be the level of relaxed (which I have no idea how to be) and fun, not a care in the world, while still emphasizing that I had it altogether and a Jackie O air of class. I thought she had it together. I was wrong.

Dealing with mental illness, you kind of get intrigued as to who else is and how the hell they keep it together, keep going, and living successful lives. So I always found it interesting to learn about which celebrities suffered from mental illness and what they did to overcome it. I had no idea that Kate Spade did. Her death at 55 was shocking enough; the cause of suicide simply flabbergasted me. Like I said, it is not easy to render me speechless. This did. Of course, she was due her privacy. But it appears in some ways she suffered in silence; fearing what it would do to her brand and image. And that is absolutely heartbreaking. Anyone with mental illness will tell you they’ve felt the stigma. Just recently, I had two people in a week question the legitimacy of my anxiety (which, I don’t get, because I can’t figure out why anyone would want to use anxiety as a reason for anything because I’d much rather enjoy feeling like I can breath at all times instead of feeling suffocated by anxiety and chest pain as it happens far too often). In the end, I’m no one. My mental illness doesn’t matter. My speaking out is not making headlines. But I also have the availability to speak out without worrying how it will impact my livelihood. The New York Stock Exchange isn’t going to be impacted by me dealing with depression and anxiety and talking about it publicly. It absolutely tears me apart that Kate Spade felt that she couldn’t take certain options because of the impact it would have on her company.

We got to talk about it more, guys. I have asked myself so many times why my brain is wired like this. I try to ignore the comments on how exercise and nature is all I need! Because I know that as much as I hate taking the medication every night, it can be the difference between me getting out of bed or not. This isn’t my fault. It’s not yours. It wasn’t Kate’s. There are a lot of things we can do for our health that we don’t, and we still don’t shame people the way society can for having mental illness. I have heard so many people say it’s okay not to be okay. But we need to help people learn how to acknowledge the not okay. And I know the mental illness doesn’t make it easy either. I am terrible about talking about what is bothering me. There are very, very few people – and I mean like two – that I really feel like I can talk to and let me tell you, it is a bitch when you lose that. Even if it’s not your fault, you’ll still blame yourself.

It is so hard for me to open up and really explain how I am feeling. I put a lot of it into my writing, it is a lot easier for me to have these conversations by some form of texting or even writing out what I want to say and either reading off of it or having the person read it. But honestly, I can’t imagine how hard it is to be on the other side. To want to help someone and not have a clue what to do. I have seen the look it brings into people’s eyes. Mental illness hurts more than person with the disease. Maybe it is so much harder because it is not something you can see, you can’t necessarily pinpoint a physical symptom that goes with it. It’s harder to comprehend than recognizing something like a cough. I know some people can tell when it’s coming back or when the bad days are. More than once, I’ve been told I don’t look depressed or anxious, or asked how can I do this or that if I’m really depressed or anxious? We have to talk about mental illness. It’s not the same in everyone. There is not a one size fits all solution.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it is really important not to invalidate how someone says their mental illness affects them. You wouldn’t question someone with a broken arm or a peanut allergy (God I hope not; I have heard stories of otherwise. People are morons). That is a huge part of whether or not someone will feel comfortable with you when it comes to things like that. I had someone who I care about very much tell me that I cut for attention. That downright broke my heart. I forgave the person for it, but I didn’t forget and that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt. And it really changed what I thought I could tell that person. Mental illness is a complex, dark thing. The surface hardly represents what is actually going on, and I know that it is not easy figuring out what the hell is going on. It will take time, effort, and understanding. But I can tell that it will mean the world to whomever you are trying to help. And, if they’re anything like me, they will never be able to adequately thank you for being there.

A really good way I can describe this is listening to the song “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz. I think it is actually about a couple, but I have always interpreted it differently. I always listened to it as being there for someone. It is a really soothing song, and there’s an aspect of hope there. That someone, steady and strong, will be there with a shoulder to lean on when you need it.

Everyone has something to live for. I truly believe that. But life can be cruel. Mental illness blinds you from so much. Where there is a flower, it tells you it’s a weed. Suicide is not about transferring the problem to someone else or giving up or a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I’m sitting here, and it’s honestly hard to put into words what I am trying to say. It is such a dark place. You feel like you’re the problem and solving it for everyone else; not that you’re leaving anyone behind. It is a combination of falling forever and suffocating and feeling like you are being crushed by a weight. It is a pain that I can’t describe. I’ve been there, and I pray to God that I never go back. I know what kept me going then. And I can’t judge anyone else. It was a variety of circumstances that worked in my favor. I have no way to know if it was just luck or anything more. One of those circumstances was that I joined a sorority, and that helped me keep going rather than doing nothing. I’m forever thankful that it worked. I just wish that no one would ever have to experience that pain. All I wanted was to be free of that pain.

Kate Spade appeared to have it together. Her brand represented fun. It will live on, and I hope that the style doesn’t change. Whether she knew it or not, her designs made countless women a little bit happier. None of us would have ever guessed that she struggled to escape this dark place, a contrast from the world she created.

When Robin Williams died, it was a very similar reaction. How could someone so funny, who brought so much laughter to others, suffer so much? That death left me speechless too. Robin Williams made people laugh. Kate Spade spread her fashion like confetti to brighten others. I know I’m a people pleaser. I will do anything to try and keep others happy. And I know now that in some ways, it’s because I will do anything to avoid pain. It is almost like a reflex.

The suicides of artists such Kurt Cobain and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park are – and I hate to say this – almost romanticized by society of the struggling artist trope, how they turned their pain into art. I’m starting to wonder if the pain into art thing is a theme because we don’t know how to say the words. Never thought of that before.

An acquaintance of mine, a friendly one, but more like a friend of some of my friends, died by suicide a couple years ago. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t know he was suffering. But I saw the pain it caused. And the world lost a lot when we lost him. His funeral was the first time I saw some of my friends cry. The questions and reactions to his death was what led me to really start to be vocal about my struggle, in the hopes that if one more person could understand then maybe one more person could be helped. We need to do more.

It never really leaves you. Recently, I had my scars covered up by a tattoo of a beautiful daisy. I absolutely adore it. Before, I would be transfixed by my scar, disgusted by what it meant. Now, the daisy is a reminder that it can get better. Even when I do get that urge to cut again, which I hate to even admit that it has happened, I look at that daisy and somehow it’s enough. I can’t ruin that flower. Flowers bloom. Sometimes under not the best circumstances. It can get better. I also know that I can end up back in that dark place. I pray that I can fight and for peace for others suffering and that they keep fighting. I am so sorry for Kate Spade, Robin Williams, and the countless others that have lost their lives to suicide. I wish I could snap my fingers and cure mental illness. We never talk about a cure for mental illness. Maybe it’s too much to hope for. 

Ijust hope that more and more people start to really talk about it. It’s not contagious. But it is an epidemic. And we need to fight it. We can only do that together. Even on my darkest days, I know that somewhere in me that I believe in hope and that it can get better. Hope can be powerful. Please take time to learn more about mental illness. I would be happy to talk to anyone about it. No matter how bad it gets, I believe that there is a chance that it can get better. The world needs you.