Anxiety and Depression – You can Win

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This morning I read the Facebook status of a childhood friend. It was very open and honest, and it was about the depression she suffers from. It did not read like a “poor me, why can’t everything be okay?” status, in fact it was beautifully written and poetic. She certainly has a way with words. The general point of her status – aside from how she feels about the sadness – was the irritation at this thing getting in the way of her achieving her goals. She feels so frustrated that she can’t take the world by storm, because as she puts it, it can be so hard just to get out of bed in the morning.

Many individuals suffer from some level of sadness, anxiety, or depression – I would say everyone, actually. As human beings, we are capable of feeling things very intensely. We feel intense joy, and the counterpoint of that is the sometimes debilitating effect of those negative emotions. How we deal with it is specific to each individual and the level of depression. It can be as simple as a nice long run for some people, while other require hospitalization to achieve normalcy. I don’t think either of these extremes is wrong or right, I just recognize that each person feels differently and requires a different level of intervention to find balance in life.

I am not an expert on the field – not a psychologist or a physician or anything like that – I can only bring my own personal experience to the table. The internet is sometimes used for pictures of cats or videos of people running into things, but it can also be used to connect one another in a true online community of emotion and feeling. It is for this reason that I will share my personal experiences, for her and for anyone else that finds themselves stuck with what to do.

As an adolescent, I had some struggles with overwhelming feelings and not knowing how to handle them. It was common around my house to say that Kyrston’s cup was overflowing – onto everyone else. It didn’t matter what the feeling was – happiness, anger, sadness, excitement – I just couldn’t handle it. I would act out in the most annoying ways, and my parents realized that this issue had better be addressed if I ever hoped to survive the sometimes cruel and harsh adult world. Thus, they taught me how to properly analyze my feelings and discover where they come from, rather than just feeling it. This can be extraordinarily painful; who wants to go into that black hole of madness and see what lies at the center? But, as time passed, it got easier and easier. It is a reflex now – when I feel something, I automatically try to get to the bottom of where that feeling comes from, so that I can understand myself and try to work through it.

As a teen, I did have bouts of what some people may call “depression” – I am hesitant to use any specific words because I was never clinically diagnosed (as if they know what they are doing, right?) and it seems that, as a culture, we typically toss these words around that are supposed to be serious. The reality is – depression is a word to describe a feeling that we collectively share, and it’s okay to say it out loud. It’s really okay to say that you are depressed, even if it’s just for the day, and the next day feel better. Sometimes you can be depressed for a few months or even a few years.

I know that some people have a chemical imbalance in their brains that require the use of medication to intervene, but I shy away from using prescription medication for pretty much everything. This is only how I feel, mind you, and I do not judge anyone that does it differently. I feel the same way that my friend wrote – “I didn’t want to become dependent on them, I didn’t want to pollute my body, and I didn’t want them to change me in a negative way. I don’t want to become a drone. I don’t want to become benumbed to the world. And I especially don’t want it to trick me into thinking that I’m okay with my life right now, that I’m content and I can settle for things I know I don’t really want.”

I typically prefer using holistic healing to heal my body. For those of you that don’t know – the holistic approach takes into consideration the entire body as a whole, rather than addressing the symptoms. For example, when I have a headache, I do not immediately reach into my purse for the 500 mg Tylenol. I drink a glass of water, I stop drinking coffee, I eat something, or I get some sleep. A headache is my body’s way of telling me that something is wrong, and needs to be fixed. It works the same way – with some cases – with depression and anxiety. Am I saying that your particular case of anxiety or depression does not require medication? Of course not. I’m not a doctor. But it can be pretty scary to feel as anxious as you do, or as depressed as you do, and you don’t understand what’s going on and just want to feel better.

In the months prior to getting married, I had severe anxiety. Actually, I had anxiety long before that, but getting married just amplified all of the things I was feeling. I was constantly nauseous to the point where I couldn’t eat – for years I had this problem – and I was always feeling blue. Then, a few months before the wedding, I noticed that I felt like I had this giant lump in my throat. It was right at the base of the throat – I could feel it (from the inside) in the hollow between my two collar bones. It felt like I had taken a big bite of mashed potatoes or something, and it was lodged there. I could still swallow, and breathe, but it was uncomfortable and it scared the hell out of me. Of course, being scared about it only amplified it. It wasn’t always there, but I started to notice a pattern. As soon as I felt anxious, I could feel that lump when I swallowed.

Naturally, this was all in my mind. The brain is a powerful tool – but the mind is even more powerful. The mind is where our memories come from, and our feelings, and our decisions and actions. The mind holds our personality, and we can do powerful things with it. Monks can meditate to the point of keeping themselves warm in freezing temperatures just by using the mind – and so too I would make this terrifying sensation go away by the power of thought. It was one of the few moments in my life where I almost “broke down” and went on anti-anxiety medication, because I felt like everything was completely out of control. In fact, things were going unchecked, and it was my mind’s way of telling me “danger! danger! something is wrong! pay attention!” It worked, alright. It took awhile, but eventually I was able to manage my anxiety just by thinking myself out of it, and I’ve never felt that lump since.

Another problem associated with depression and anxiety is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. When my ex-husband and I first separated, I was so afraid for my safety that a friend of mine had to talk me to sleep on the phone every night. I went to bed at one or two in the morning, from exhaustion, and always woke up at five or six in the morning. I was crashing – big time – exhausted at work and completely at a loss for what to do. I started smoking marijuana before I went to sleep so that it would calm my mind, and this seemed to work for me, because I felt rested in the morning. Who knows if this was actually the drug or if my mind simply felt like it was taking charge and it was a placebo effect. No matter – it worked – and it was a temporary “emergency” fix.

Others may find themselves feeling stuck in their lives – which I think is incredibly common for people in my age group. You spend your entire childhood completely unprepared for adult life. Most people, I find, didn’t listen to their parents in their teen years and we are shocked when we realize how different the world is (and being an adult in it) than we thought it would be. Sure, there’s lots of partying and sex and freedom to enjoy – but there’s also rent and the electric bill and the soul-crushing realization that our future is on us, now. And what are we to do? With the external pressure from society or our friends and families to behave a certain way – going against how we feel inside – it can all be very depressing.

I have definitely had days where it takes all of my energy just to get out of bed in the morning. On those days it’s easy to feel worse about myself because I feel like a ghost. I’ve learned – over time – to forgive myself for those things that I think I should feel bad about. There’s all this pressure to do certain things in life, to amount to something, but why can’t we just be honest? No matter how old you are, you are still figuring it out. Then you come to a moment when you realize – I know absolutely nothing. It can be scary at first, but it is also liberating. There was a time when I thought I knew where my life was going to go – I was married and I was trying to have a baby and I was going to have a life that I had planned out. When everything changed, in one night, I realized – I have no idea what’s around the corner. Absolutely no clue. Instead of being afraid, I let go of trying to be any one thing and just make minor wins. Those minor wins end up being major wins, when you look at the time in the rear view mirror.

A minor win, for me, was seeing a therapist to address my feelings about my divorce. It seemed like such a small thing, but looking back, I am better now and it was ME that did that – no one else. Another minor win – my first college class as an adjusted adult. Sure, it was just Humanities, and sure it was only one class. But I still got an A and that led to more self-confidence and another A and another.

Another thing I have learned is patience. In a particularly bad moment of depression or anxiety, the panic can set in or the feeling of complete desolation and apathy. It can be terrible – but just wait. Just wait. One day, two days, maybe a week. When I arrived here a year ago, I was a basket case. My dad told me, very gently, that in a year I would feel a million times better. Although he has been right about nearly everything my entire life, I just couldn’t believe it. I cried and cried when he said that, because how could that even be possible? It didn’t even take a full year. Six months, maybe, before I started to feel better about it. And my therapist warned me – you will lapse, and have negative feelings, and this is normal. It will come as a shock, but we never really get over anything, it’s all mixed up in who we are.

Your anxiety and depression is a part of who you are. Make it work for you. My anxiety is a tool that I have. When shit needs to get done, no one can accomplish things under pressure like I can. I am so used to feeling pressure that success comes easily to me that way. When I am sad, I use it as a respite from my life. I do sometimes just lay in bed, if only to forgive myself that I feel sad and be a little self-indulgent and wait it out. Some people do not have this luxury, because of jobs or responsibilities. If you do have to get out of bed – what looks like a minor win is really a major win. Don’t say that it’s all you can do to get out of bed in the morning like you’re worthless and weak. If that’s where you are – and you get out of bed – throw yourself a mini parade in your awesomeness. This sounds silly, but it helps.

Lastly – it is a proven fact that when we make decisions or when we behave in a certain way, we create neural pathways in our brain. There is the separation between the physical part of our body – the brain – and the ambiguous part of our body – the mind. The two work together to do everything, and you can make your brain do whatever you want, if you try. Every time you have a negative reaction to something, you are reinforcing that neural pathway. Soon it will become a reflex. There is so much medical data to support this claim – so this is the one thing that I am saying as a representative of the medicine. The rest I just pulled from my own experiences and things my therapist has told me, but this is true. Whenever you repeat an action, you reinforce that pathway. The best way to keep your brain healthy and strong is to use your mind to be a brand new person every day. So, that means, take risks. Try new things. Go outside your comfort zone. Concentrate on really seeing another point of view in an argument. Every time you do, it will feel incredibly unnatural (depending on how stuck you are in your current way) but you are healing your brain with your mind. Every time you try something new – maybe don’t have this one cigarette, wait until the next one, you are weakening an existing pathway and strengthening another, or building a new one. This same mentality can be applied to anxiety and depression.

This holistic method does not work for everyone, obviously, and I do not wish to offend anyone by my perspective. It works for some, for others it does not. But as a general rule, my advice is: forgive yourself for the way you feel about being anxious or depressed, make your anxiety and depression work for you, try new things and build new neural pathways, take a break from your life, pick a minor win and recognize that it is a major win, and let go of the idea that you are in control of everything. Go with the flow, give yourself a break, and be creative. Try yoga, try therapy, try the medication. Go for a bike ride, do some cartwheels, make a list of the things you love about your life or that you have accomplished. Figure out where your emotions come from. Don’t be afraid to go into that scary place in your mind.

And above all else – love yourself for exactly who you are, whether you feel broken or not.

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