woman with depression sitting on bed in pajamas

As I wake up at 6 a.m., alarm blaring through my skull after I retired to bed just nine and a half hours earlier, I try to put on my “positivity hat.” I feel more tired than when I went to bed the night before — how is that even possible?

I physically struggle to keep my eyes open as I sit up in bed, stomach churning with anxiety and whole body aching from chronic illness. I’m having a flare-up due to stress.

I think about how much I desperately desire a few more hours of sleep. And then I think about how if I did get it, it probably wouldn’t make me feel much better anyway. No amount of sleep helps to relieve my fatigue and exhaustion, and it wouldn’t help me mentally either. Not really. I’d just feel like rubbish and beat myself up for missing work. Again.

The gloomy voice of depression sets in and tells me I’m useless anyway. Why do you bother pretending you can live a regular life? I inevitably crumble at the slightest change to my routine, and my chronic illness flares up at times, catching me off guard and resulting in a worsened mental state in addition to the physical. I feel like I can’t cope.

Old friend Anxiety arrives, too. It reminds me of all the things I could do wrong today and everything I’m not yet comfortable with, that isn’t familiar or predictable to me. I feel like I’m going to be sick. I’m almost paralyzed.

I think about how easy it would be to just cower away under my duvet, or run away and never look back. Sadly, the thought of no longer existing seems the best option for a moment, as it would take away the pain I feel, the doom and gloom hanging over me and the wretched anxiety plaguing me every single minute of every day. It would put a stop to it all. It often presents as seemingly the only way out of me feeling so useless, hopeless and not capable of coping with anything. The delicate link of depression and anxiety for me is debilitating in every way possible.

It starts with anxiety, which sets in when I feel out of control, out of my comfort zone or useless — i.e. when I’m not learning something as quickly as I “should be,” when my routine has changed or when my chronic illness has flared up. This anxiety is constant for me and causes many symptoms, from nausea to diarrhea and insomnia. Having these symptoms constantly initiates more anxiety, and it’s an endless cycle. I’m anxious about being anxious. Feeling this way all the time makes me feel down, and at times I dislike existing, therefore I slip into a depressive state and another bout of depression arrives swiftly. Often, those around me notice it before even I do. Then I’m battling both anxiety and depression, and I’m sure this isn’t an unfamiliar story to many of you.

Despite waking up feeling so dreadful this morning, hounded by anxiety, depression and chronic illness, I still got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and made my way to work. Every single second on the train, I spent it trying to enforce some positivity: Today will be different. Today, we can do this. Today, I’ll be in control. Trying to calm the anxiety down makes me more anxious, though. But I still left the house today. And it took a lot for me to do so. More than anyone might imagine.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on The Invisible Hypothyroidism.

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To my daughter,

Today, at 4 years old, you are starting on a journey you might continue your entire life. It will not necessarily be easy, although at times the inner work may be lighter to bear. You see, you, like me, have an anxiety diagnosis. You, like me, have worries that overwhelm your brain beyond your ability to cope.

I know it. I feel it too. I live with it every day.

It’s been challenging to get to this day. There have been many days where your intense spirit have made me question every choice I’ve ever made as a parent. I worried that I didn’t eat the right foods when I was pregnant and nursing, that I haven’t loved you the right way and that I haven’t provided you with the right environment. My heart has broken as I’ve watched your struggles, and I’ve felt so helpless to help you. Now, I don’t have to figure out how to help you alone.

I want you to know I have advocated for you so fiercely. I had two pediatricians discount my concerns and tell me I wasn’t parenting you correctly, or that no one will see or diagnose a child so young. One even told me I just needed lavender spray and calming music! Ha!

In my heart, I knew something more was going on, and so I switched to a third pediatrician this year and demanded an evaluation. Finally, someone listened! The evaluation took nearly three months, but here we are, on your first day of therapy. I’m so very excited for you!

In therapy, we will get to play together, you, me, your brother and your father. Once a week, we will play with the support of a kind and skilled therapist. She will help us all find a way to narrate your experience of anxiety to you and your little brother in a language you both understand. She will provide connecting activities to bring our family together, to support and understand one another.

In our family, we will not have shame and secrets about our mental health. We will talk about it openly, in therapy and at home. Even when we are camping and hiking or when we are snuggled up with blankets and books in the winter, we can talk about it. We will keep sharing our highs and our lows at bedtime, just like always, without fear.

Some nights, you may not be able to think of what made you sad that day, and some nights you may not be able to think of what made you happy. Both of those are OK. I’m going to tell you something no one told me when I was little: It is OK to not be OK.

I hope so many things for you, but today, I hope you will be able to grow knowing yourself better than I did. I hope you can grow with many skills and strong coping mechanisms. I hope you will know you are truly wonderful just the way you are, and there is nothing wrong with you.

For years, I thought something was wrong with me, that I was broken. I am not broken, and neither are you. You have a mental illness, like your mama, and you deserve love, compassionate care and support.

My sweetie pie, (“Don’t call me that!” you say. “I’m a marshmallow pie and you are a pickle!”) you are being given the sweetest gift! You are being given the chance to love and accept yourself. More than anything, I hope you will keep saying, “I love myself!” like you do because you are so loved! We tell you this every day, but I’m telling you again: We love you, all the time, no matter what.

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My anxiety has always been a part of my life, always. Usually it’s just like a dull hum, always there but easy to ignore.

I finished my first year of university at a school only an hour away from home. After getting through the year only having a few panic attacks during exam season, my only thoughts were about how excited I was for my second year.

Now, here I am, less than 30 days since I started my second year, and I’m seriously debating if this was the right choice.The last 30 days have been good. Don’t get me wrong. I love living with my friends, and I love my school.

To everyone around me, that’s all they see — the happy me. Everything externally was going so well. I was eating right, working out, being social, balancing school, but internally, it was like there was a war going on against myself.

The me no one saw was the realest me. It was the real me having panic attacks almost every day for the past 30 days. The real me was on the phone with my mom every night, in tears about how miserable I was.

Living in a state of constant anxiety is exhausting. And that’s what was happening to me. I was constantly anxious about everything and everyone. It’s not just that anxiety you get before a job interview or exam, not even close.

It’s like the feeling you get when you’re leaning back in your chair. You go a tiny bit too far, and you’re about to fall back. You get a jolt of panic in your chest and a pit in your stomach for a few seconds. It’s that feeling but constantly.

This feeling has consumed me over the last month. I have felt like I have no control over my life and like my world is crashing down completely. Yet, I have to go about my life like everything is fine.

The feelings of anxiety soon morphed into isolation. My anxiety has kept me hostage in my bed, waking up every morning and immediately wanting to sleep all day. I began to either feel angry and frustrated or feel nothing at all. It was a terrible cycle of anger, emptiness and so much anxiety.

All this was happening at hyper speed, and I had to juggle school, living with five other people and family issues on top of it. I had no room for anxiety. I had my life to live.

I knew I wanted to be at school. I loved my friends, and every part of my wanted to be there. I was ready, and I was looking forward to the year. However, my anxiety has a different idea. My anxiety just hasn’t caught up to me yet.

Seeing as it’s only been 30 days, I have no idea what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll stay. Maybe I’ll go, but that’s for me and my anxiety to figure out.

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On my way to pick up my son from daycare, I started getting ideas for my writing projects, and of course, I’m couldn’t write those ideas down. My anxiety started to build, but hey, I’m a pro at this by now, and I could handle this. Suddenly, like a sign from the stars who wish to cut me some slack, the school bus in front of me stopped to let off some kids, and I had a quick moment to jot my ideas down on the random Post-its I have in the center consul of my car. Thank you, Mr. or Mrs. Bus Driver, for giving me a break. You managed to settle my nerves for a whole 15 very welcomed seconds.

The thought, or rather revelation, I had was this: I have an evil twin, and her name is Anxiety. She sucks all the time. She makes me feel “crazy,” and she makes me physically nauseous. I go through moments in my life where I need to make choices, even simple choices, and she appears. She is trying to take over my life. She is trying to conquer this body I was given. I remember being one person as a kid and without notice, this second person crept up on me. It’s like the movie “The Body Snatchers.” One minute I’m my own person, and then bam! I’ve been taken over by my evil twin, and I can’t seem to shake her out. She’s made herself comfortable, and after 20-plus years, I believe she’s here for good.

I started recognizing her existence when I’d get stomach aches and feel shaky and uncomfortable for whatever reason, but I always set it aside. I’d think, “everyone must feel this way most of the time, right?” Wrong. It wasn’t for another few years that I understood what those symptoms meant and that I had an annoying visitor in my head.

Slowly, I started understanding that when I anticipated something, I’d feel anxious. I thought it was what anticipation felt like until I started experiencing that same feeling all the time in different scenarios. I refused to talk about it or tell people because I thought they’d think I was ridiculous for being that excited about going to a house party or a movie. I thought it was strange too. I didn’t get why I was so excited or nervous. I now see it wasn’t me. It was her. These were my friends. I knew them, and they knew me. She wasn’t their friend, and they didn’t know her. But that didn’t matter. She doesn’t care. It happened all the time, and I kept it quiet. As I got older, I
came to terms with those feelings and accepted that I was just constantly anxious. She has refused to move out, and now I live with functional anxiety, and let me tell you, it’s a peach!

Anxiety is constantly around, hovering over me, waiting for something else to get me all riled-up over. She never leaves me be. She’s there with her head held high taking over the most basic parts of my day: Do I get myself or my son ready first? She swoops in at the excitement that a choice needs to be made. She gets her fix, and I get the shit end of the stick. She’s choking me. Ridiculing me. Putting me in constant discomfort.

But I prevail! I continue like a soldier in war. I fight the good fight. But she’s played a trick on me, you see. She’s there even when she’s not there. She leaves behind her dandruff. She leaves behind uncertainty. She leaves me not knowing when she’s going to return. She’s sneaky and she’s vicious. I get things done, and I go about my day, ensuring my family is taken care of. We constantly fight over my mind frame, and she does have her winning moments. Sometimes I give in to her in the hopes that she’ll lay off, but she’s not that nice. She leaves when she’s ready to leave, and I’m left picking up the pieces. I’ve gotten better at taking control over the years, but I believe I will live in a constant battle with my evil twin.

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Stock image by yuriyzhuravov

My wife and I love movies. We go to the cinema at least once a week and watch plenty more at home. As my wife’s anxiety sometimes makes it difficult for her to go out, it’s great to have something she looks forward to every week. Our favorite are horror films.

The movie “Lights Out” looked great, and it seemed to have a particularly scary premise. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it is about a creature who can only be seen with the lights out. Therefore, we went to the cinema excited about the film.

I looked uneasily at my wife as the protagonist in the story called her mother crazy, and then asked her if she had taken her pills. From that moment on, the film was filled with cringe worthy moments diminishing the reality of mental illness, from the way antidepressants work to the attitude of the mother’s family.

When I got home, I read up about the movie, and it turns out the writers actually planned the movie to be a metaphor of depression. They clearly didn’t do their research. The worst thing about the movie (spoilers coming up), was the ending. The mother kills herself to be rid of the “monster”and save her family, and everyone is happy and relieved. What a message to send to the public about mental illness and to people who are struggling with feelings of worthlessness surrounding their own mental illness.

The actions of the people involved in this film spoke volumes to me about the stigma surrounding mental health and will only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes. If done slightly differently, then it could have actually have had a positive message, much like “The Babadook.” Unfortunately, this was not the case.

While this was an extreme example, it is sadly common to see poor interpretations of mental illness in popular culture, whether in direct use of a mental illness story or in careless use of language. This, unfortunately, greatly diminishes the effects of films and television shows that are written in a positive and caring way.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Screenshot via “Lights Out”

The hard part about mental illness and all invisible illnesses is that you’d never know the battle each person is fighting. You don’t know what they have to do to get themselves out of bed and moving each day. Not many people know I take a stimulant medication for my attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and an antidepressant for my anxiety. I always have an upbeat, positive attitude but inside things aren’t always so great.

Many people take their brain functioning for granted. They’ll never understand what us neurodiverse people go through. I love my medication for what it allows me to do when I’m on it. Yet, I hate when I don’t have it in my system, I’m a mess.

My meds allow me to think more clearly, get organized and be alert, but this only lasts a small portion of my day. I love that I don’t feel as worried about things. I don’t have as much social anxiety. I can reach out to friends and others to see how they are.

However, this doesn’t always carry over when I’m not on my meds. I can plan for my day, make lists of what needs to get done, but meds don’t tell you what to focus on. If your brain strays elsewhere, then you will certainly not get that list done.

At the end of the day, when those meds wear off, it’s not always easy. I want to get myself ready for the next day, but I’m not focused on that. It’s exhausting to try and get things done sometimes because my brain just takes so much more energy to direct its focus where I need it. Sometimes, at the end of the day I’m just so tired.

I love that there is something there to help me, medication that eases my mind’s wandering and anxious thoughts, allowing me to be the person I know I could be. Yet, it’s a battle. It’s not always easy.

I wouldn’t change my life because this is who I am and who I was meant to be. I am carving my path as I go. I may encounter a few bumps on the road, but I will never stop.

Anyone else out there who is having a tough time with meds or invisible illnesses, just remember, tomorrow is another day. There will always be another tomorrow. Keep going, keep trying and do your personal best each day.

It doesn’t matter what others can do and are doing. Do what you can and you need to do. You are strong and smart. You can accomplish your dreams, even if it takes longer than others!

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Image via Thinkstock.

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