What It Feels Like When Your Anxiety and Depression Go to War

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I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was very young, around 10 years old. I was in and out of therapy all through college and graduate school to try to help. There were some incredibly dark periods where I felt the need to harm myself, where I lost my faith and doubted everything I ever knew. Luckily, I have a great support system of friends and family who love me enough to pull me back into the lighter side.

But it’s hard.

I’m 27 years old now, and my anxiety is worse than it’s ever been. Which exacerbates my depression and my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Having anxiety can be difficult. Having depression can be difficult. Having OCD can be difficult. Having all three is excruciating and something that is truly trying to explain to people. My depression makes me exhausted, both mentally and physically. I am in constant pain. My back, my knees, intense migraines. I want to sleep all the time. One the other side, my anxiety amps me up. It makes it impossible to sleep.

So it’s 1 a.m., and I have to be awake in five hours. My eyelids droop closed, and a thought goes through my head. If you close your eyes, you won’t wake up! My eyes pop open, and it is another hour before sleep starts to descend over me. This time sleep wins, but the anxiety turns my thoughts into deeply disturbing nightmares about family dying or something at work happening that is irreversible. I wake up crying, and there is no way to back to sleep. I am mentally unprepared for the 14-hour day I have to work.

My anxiety likes me to be productive. I do a lot of freelance work, and I am writing my own novel, which is amazingly fun, and I’m in a graduate program. My anxiety fuels my desire to get things done as it spurns thoughts that if I don’t get work done, I will be a complete failure to everyone in my life, including myself. My depression doesn’t let me get anything done. It sucks all my motivation out of me like a little kid trying to drink every drop of the one soda they are allowed. I glance at my novel sitting on my desk, think about working on it, and then decide it will take too much energy to do it and enter my realm of nothingness.

There are times when they work together. My anxiety tells me that getting out of bed that day will be too hard and not worth it, and my depression chimes in saying my bed is where I need to be and is the safest place for me. On days like that, I cry, battling with my rational and irrational sides. I know missing work will be bad, but it sounds so good. The thought of getting on the bus sends me into a massive panic attack. I hyperventilate. Cry. My arms and legs freeze, and I feel like death is coming for me. As it passes, I get dressed and hope the day will be better.

This is a daily battle. My mind is at war with itself, and sometimes I feel as if nothing I do can stop it. The thought of trying to stop it is exhausting in itself.

Every day I wake up and start with a prayer. A prayer for peace. I have started journaling again to sort out these feelings and hopefully take control of them. I wrote this piece for myself but also for anyone else who experiences this. I know what you are going through. We can beat it. It will take time and a lot of effort that the anxiety and depression will tell you will not work and won’t be worth using. There will be worse days, but there will be better ones too. This community here can help. So can a mental health professional. The good news is… you are not alone. My anxiety and depression will not beat me down any longer. It won’t get in the way of my dreams, and it won’t stop me from being everything I am meant to be.

I will win this war.

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Thinkstock photo by eggeeggjiew

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How to Help a Loved One With Anxiety and Depression Get Through Family Gatherings

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During the holidays, you watch television commercials of people getting ready for a family gathering: getting gifts ready, dressing the kids, everyone in the car, you see the family at the door knocking, and Grandma answers it. She gives everyone a hug and kiss and everyone goes inside to see all the other family members. That’s what people think really happens. What about those with anxiety or depression or both? It is not always like that.

My father lived with manic depression and anxiety. Family gatherings were not his favorite. There were a lot of relatives. Only a few family members knew my father lived with manic depression, but back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, not a lot was known, so there was a lack of understanding. My father would become anxious about going, but we did go. We never knew if anyone would comment about his behavior, what he would do, what he would say; sometimes we did leave early after something was said and he would end up being hurt. After a while we did stop going. There would always be someone who didn’t want my father there because of something that happened in the past. Even just a small mention of a past event would grow into a huge ball of anxiety, frustration, anger, embarrassment and humility.

Family gatherings are meant to be fun and memorable and are for getting closer to one another. When a loved one lives with anxiety and depression, it can become a stressful event. Things are said and done and eventually the feeling of being trapped may occur, which can result in a panic attack.

When a loved one has anxiety or depression, the anticipation of the event can sometimes be worse than actually attending the event. Thoughts enter your head days, sometimes weeks before the event, wondering what is going to be said or done, how you would react to it, how the other person would react. Then you think of the consequences of it.

Sometimes just the preparation of the event can be stressful as well. If it’s Christmas, gifts have to be ready. If you have pets, they have to be taken care of before leaving. If there are children, they have to get ready. All the preparation has to be done within a certain timeframe and can cause the anxiety to heighten.

At times you won’t be able to control your surrounding during a gathering, but as a loved one you can help reduce the anxiety at any gathering…

Find an ally – if there is a relative who is positive and comforting, go with your loved one and begin a conversation.

Set limits – you cannot control what someone says or does, but you can help your loved one; reassure them it’s OK to say something but know when to walk away.

Bring a distraction – at times, it can become overwhelming. You can prepare a bag with comforting items for your loved one: a book, mp3 player, anything to help your loved one calm down.

Focus on the good – within the anxiety-provoked situation, you need to help your loved one see the good; there will be something positive that can be a calming distraction. You can suggest talking to a relative who has a positive, understanding energy, reading stories to children, playing with animals or assisting with the meal. Doing something positive will calm your mind and reduce the anxiety/depression

Understanding what is happening and having a plan to make it through can increase the sense of control and decrease your anxiety as well as your loved one’s.

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Why I Don't Answer in English Class

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After every English literature test, there’s only one person the entire class expects to emerge at the top: me. Well, the entire class except me, that is.

The truth is, I have been consistently getting the highest grades in my class, and every time people ask me for any explanation or help in English, they always leave awestruck. “How do you think of all this stuff?” they ask me. But in my mind, it’s always a fluke. Every test I write, every essay I submit, they’re all just extremely lucky flukes. Because in reality, I don’t see myself as this genius everyone sees me as. I’m not good at the subject, I just get extremely lucky. Which is why, my most important rule is to never answer in class.

I see answering in class as a risk of exposing myself – what if I say something and people realize I’ve just been faking it and I’m not really that great at English? The anxiety of unravelling that shiny image and disclosing my “average” reality stops me from expressing my opinion in class. Because I always think my opinion is wrong, and I’m scared of people judging me for having the wrong opinion.

That’s what anxiety is to me – not even being able to accept my strengths and appreciate myself. In fact, I’m only looking at English literature as something I’m good at because of what my peers and my teachers have told me: personally, I hate every single thing I write. Anxiety is wanting everything to be perfect and then when nothing matches up to your standards, being anxious because well, nothing is good enough! Anxiety is being afraid to help other people when they ask you because you’re afraid if you help them, they might realize you’re not all that good after all. Anxiety is putting the pressure of living up to everyone’s expectations of you on yourself so people don’t see who you really are because you think you’re not good enough.

I want to answer in class; I want to be able to express my opinions and take part in debates, but I can’t, simply because I don’t believe in myself enough. But eventually, I will. And when I do believe in myself and my abilities enough, nobody will be able to stop me from answering in English class.

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Anxiety Robbed Me, but I'm Ready to Fight Now

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I was robbed.

I lost so many things — things I cherish, things that made me who I am.

Dear robber, do you know you’ve done to me?

You took away the best things in my life. You away my happiness. You took away my peace of mind. You took away my rationality.

You left me in the darkest corner in my room, hiding from the world you exist in. You made me fear the slightest blow of air behind my ears. You made what seems so harmless, my darkest nightmare. You left me in disquietude.

You made me less than who I actually am. You turned my flowers into monsters. You turned my deepest fears into a reality. You constantly whisper into my ears the most cynical and misanthropic lies you can think of.

You drowned me in your pool of fears and worries. You left me gasping for air and struggling to stay afloat with only the slightest hope of surviving.

You tore me up into pieces — pieces so fine I can no longer patch back, pieces so fine I forgot what I was.

You pushed me down so hard, I struggle to stand again. You suffocated me so long, I no longer know what breathing feels like. You made me forgot what being “normal” feels like.

Dear anxiety, I will be back for you! And this time I will be stronger than I ever was. I will show you I have so much more than what you took from me. I will show you I will no longer bow to your self-proclaimed superiority and your bogus authoritarianism. I wish you all the best.

Follow this journey on Pada Pendapat Saya.

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5 Tips for Dealing With Dentist Anxiety

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I have never met anyone who likes going to the dentist. It is not something that is generally thought of as “easy” or “fun.” It’s a necessity of life. Some people have been known to go to great lengths to avoid a trip, but everyone will go to the dentist at some point.

I didn’t grow up afraid of the dentist. In fact, I wouldn’t phrase it quite like that even now. I love my dentist. He’s a family friend, we go to church together, he’s kept my teeth healthy all my life. I didn’t have to have a single cavity filled at all until I was in college. I’m not afraid of him. But my body acts terrified whenever he or a hygienist comes near my mouth. I grew into my fear.

I’m fortunate in my dentist. He knows my health problems and how I got them (he’s always treated my mom whose phobia of the dentist rivals mine!). He listens to me. That it so wonderful, but not everyone has that luxury. I’d like to give you some ideas on how I get through my dentist appointments and hope you can start your own self-care practices regarding “dentist anxiety.”

1. If you have prescribed medication, use it. If you have anti-anxiety medication prescribed to you, like Ativan, Xanax, or Klonopin, and you know you will be anxious at your appointment, take one 30 minutes to an hour before the start of your appointment. Because this is a medical appointment, I am always sure to tell the doctor if I’ve taken my meds or not.

2. Headphones are a must. Make sure your phone or player is fully charged and your headphones are on! I use my wireless ‘phones so they are sure to not get in the way of what’s going on in and around my mouth.

3. Music. Prepare a playlist that is full of relaxing music. If you have frequent anxiety you may already have a go-to list. Use it! If music doesn’t relax you or isn’t your thing you may consider downloading a calming podcast. Many dentists’ offices have TVs set up for watching and the option to listen to the show that’s on. I choose not to because it can be more distracting than it is calming.

4. Discuss nitrous. I have a conversation with the dentist or hygienist before sitting down about nitrous for all my procedures. This includes getting my teeth cleaned. (Fair warning: This usually costs extra and may not be covered by dental insurance. Discuss this possibility with the office and they will help you make an informed decision. I always pay extra for the nitrous.)

5. Talk to your dentist. I tell my dentist every time I go in what to look for when I start to freak out. For me, it’s my feet. My feet carry all my anxiety while I am focused on keeping my head still. I ask the hygienist to glance at my feet every once and a while to see that I’m OK. I just left the dentist, and in the middle of a filling I said “Ow” and he exclaimed that he knew it hurt more because he saw my feet jump around! Maybe it takes them seeing it a couple times to remember (plus, unfortunately for me, I’m not his one and only client), so I do tell them this every time.

These five tips keep me fairly anxiety-free at the dentist. While they are definitely good tips if you have extreme anxiety about the dentist, like me, using some of these, like listening to music, may be beneficial even if you have very mild anxiety about the dentist.

Editor’s note: This is based off an individual’s experience. Please talk to a doctor or dentist before starting or stopping medication.

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The Frustration of Not Always Being Able to 'Choose Happiness'

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Earlier this week, I woke up with anxiety so bad that I had to take a sick day.

While I was doing my best to manage my day, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a positivity meme.

“I am in charge of how I feel and today I am choosing happiness.”

happiness quote

If you have a job (especially a Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 sort of job), every work day you wake up and decide to go to work. Maybe you don’t think about it this way. Maybe you just wake up and go to work because it’s the obvious thing to do. It’s part of a pattern in your life, it’s habit, it’s obvious that you have to go because you have to make money and live.

But you do decide to go to work because you could just as easily decide not to go to work. On Monday when I woke up, my anxiety was debilitating enough that I could not make the decision to go to work. For those of you who experience anxiety, you may know the feeling. Do you brush your teeth or not? Do you wear the black sweater or the white one? Do you put on pants or not?

Every little “regular day” thing you do suddenly becomes as overwhelming as making huge life decisions, and it becomes impossible to move through your day. Your anxiety physically makes everything harder.

So as I was sitting on my couch, watching “Community” (a show I find weirdly comforting on bad days like this) looking at this meme, I could feel myself getting frustrated.

Don’t get me wrong – I am all about being positive. I believe in mindfulness and living intentionally. Fortunately, I am an able-bodied individual in good physical health and can use yoga and other physical activity to help manage my mental health. I know my coping mechanisms and strategies. Most days, even if I am feeling anxiety, I know how to talk myself through it. I can still function.

But as much as I use these strategies, as unusual as it is for my days to get so bad that I don’t feel like I can go into work, they still come from time to time. I know life gets rocky, that applies to everyone. But while many can turn around and change their mindset, for people with depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges – it’s not so easy.

I’m not calling for an end to positivity memes, only for an understanding that for some of us, we can’t just flick a switch. For some, an average day can be transformed into an impossible one with no external factors. It’s not as easy as taking charge of the way I feel.

That day I managed to do a half days’ worth of work from home, do a small yoga practice, and eat. I was proud of this. Sure, there were a lot of moments where I started panicking about something trivial I had to get done and then forgot it two seconds later, but I managed and even accomplished some tasks despite the way I was feeling. I didn’t just go back to bed and sleep to escape the nerves. This was a definite win.

Some days, I can be positive. It’s good to be. But some days I can’t be positive. Some days, I just need to accept myself for where I am at in that moment and learn to live there.

Balance and progress.

How do you feel about positivity memes? Leave a comment below.

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