The Isolation Cycle of Depression and Anxiety
Please Note: this article by Jake Durn was first published in January 2017. It helped launch his writing career and over 40,000 readers engaged with it. As of 2020, since exploring the experiences in this article, Jake has been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and received therapy and support in recovering from it. He continues to write for The Mighty and learn from his many experiences.
Sometimes, I’ll just be laying in bed, sitting on the train or walking from college to the train station with my friends, when the following happens. It hits me, without warning. My heart starts to pound, my breathing rasps and my body feels like it’s no longer mine. I find myself asking “Why now?” or “Really now? Just when things were looking up?“
This is how for me, a down spot usually starts. Completely without warning or reason, one brief moment of panic tips me over the edge, and my mind shuts down and refuses to let me leave the house the next day.
When it’s spontaneous like this, there’s no way of telling people. After or during the down spot I nearly always hear from either a staff member at college, a friend or family member: “Why didn’t you say something?” “Because it hit me just as randomly as it hit you,” I think, but I always reply “I don’t know.”
I find it hard to explain because in times like this, my coping mechanism is huddling under my duvet and watching films or listening to music. But there are people out there who don’t deem that acceptable because our world isn’t engineered around the ones who cope by no longer “functioning.”
Throughout life’s miseries, accidents, awkward moments, mistakes and nearly all social situations, I have the burning desire to scream this into the faces of all those around me: Why do I have to live like this?
So in my mind, the best thing to do is compartmentalize the life around me and hide away from it. Because if I did shout this out at people, I’d look even worse than I already did.
I established in the first meeting with my new college counselor that I have felt the wrath of anxiety and depression throughout the last four years endlessly, even over the simplest of tasks such as going to the supermarket, as well as the big horrible ones, such as exams, deaths, births, making friends and losing friends.
Sometimes this means I have to take a day or so off college, but other times, it’s extended into a week, and during that time I have nobody to talk or vent to. And I slowly start to cordon myself off from the rest of the world.
The problem is, once you lock yourself up in your room and resist leaving, it can become extremely hard to ever do so.
However for some of us, even though we’re so introverted and anxious, we still eventually feel the need to leave the house. It’s probably because we’ve been bottling hundreds of thoughts and feelings, and we can feel deep down that we are not really coping. Just stalling the big breakdown that is yet to come. Yes, I can survive living like a hermit, but in the nicest way possible, after a few days I’ll stink because I’ve been in the house so long there’s nobody to smell good for. So it is at this point that I feel abhorrent, in need of a shower and probably exercise, and I need to leave the house, but… the longer you wait before “sorting yourself out” and leaving the house, the more the burdening anxiety builds up. You have only the internet, messaging or the possible phone call to socialize. And if you don’t live alone, you’re most probably sick or just bored of the other people in the house, and they’re sick of or bored of you too. So you make the decision to finally leave, and along the way you build a certain confidence, but as soon as you open that door and try to leave, it all shatters, and you’re back to wanting to hide in your bed with your chocolate and your DVD box set and/or Netflix.
I get to that point constantly. And sometimes I just have to force myself to grit my teeth and bear with it.
I’ve always lacked self-confidence, even before my anxiety disorder was identified. I try to mingle with the best of them, but at the same time on the inside I’m an intolerable nervous wreck and always wish I was at home watching repeats of “Friends” with a slab of fudge cake, even when I’m socializing with my nearest and dearest. Sadly, I don’t think this will ever change. So when I’m at that point where I’m trying just to leave the house, let alone do anything adventurous, my fragile mind always says “But, why? Why bother? You’re going to fail at this anyway?” and I then go back into my house and end up cursing at myself under my breath. Because he’s right. I’ve isolated myself. And I can’t get out alone.
The first step to this for me is to contact a friend, usually over Tumblr or Facebook and tell them what my current situation is. The second is to message my counselor at college and say, “Can you just pass on the message that I am not currently coping and that I’m trying as hard as possible to move myself right now?”
So what does it actually feel like?
A that point, I have several things in my mind. And what always surprises me is the overwhelming feeling of guilt and disappointment and how it drags me even further down. Not only do I always feel like I’ve let myself down, I feel like I’ve let my parents, college and friends down. I worry what people will think about me now. Especially when college was still such a new environment during the last few months, nobody knew that side of me, and I was having to expose it un-readily at an early stage.
The other thing I feel is the numbness, desolation and heaviness of heart that first triggered this whole episode in the first place. And I always feel like I need to find a cause, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t; it is nearly always completely spontaneous or just a prolonged feeling that started so long ago I can’t remember what might’ve done this. And I’ve just been hiding it so well that as soon as my mind has an empty spot, I start processing how bad I really feel.
And the problem is it starts so not-noticeably. First, I no longer want to do work, then I don’t want to go into college, then I don’t want to see my friends or family, then I don’t want to go out at all, then I don’t want to do the things that used to be fun, then I don’t want to eat, then I don’t want to sleep, and then suddenly, I just don’t want to live. Which is a hard path to walk away from, as many of us will know.
My usual internal monologue when people actually ask how I feel is: Well, I’m extremely restless thanks to my burdening anxiety and depression, I haven’t slept properly in weeks and my social relationships are breaking down, which is worsening my fears of rejection. I desperately want and need to tell someone. Maybe I should tell you. I really need a hug. And someone to tell me it’ll be OK. I want to unbottle my thoughts and spill out everything. But what if I tell you that and you get weirded out or reject me? What if you think I’m just after attention? Or think I’m a freak?
So another week or so passes without me alerting anyone to how I feel because there is no way I will tell someone how I feel. My mind adds sharply, I’m repressed, depressed and British.
Believe it or not, that entire repressed emotion thing is a staple of British culture. I firmly believe now that it’s ingrained into all of us from birth. Furthermore, you don’t touch or greet people in the street or anywhere else. For example, if you accidentally grazed someone’s arm you on the bus, you are to immediately apologize or people will think you touched them on purpose. The same goes for talking — there’s no way in hell you would get away with approaching someone on the morning commute who you’ve never met, and go “How’s things?” Yet I have had perfect strangers ask me this on social networks. They don’t know me, but they still care and feel. Something I cannot comprehend. Because it isn’t a familiar experience.
Which is why for me, it’s very hard to not be isolated. I don’t make friends easily, I cannot by any means approach someone I’ve no reason to (I would be further labeled as a pariah), and most of the time, I’m anxious just to see people around me. Even at the best of times when I feel otherwise well, if I go shopping, I feel like asking, “I have anxiety, can you buy this? I’ll pay you if you buy this for me so I don’t have to”.
So when it comes to those times when I’m in an already-difficult situation, there’s an unlikeliness to me approaching anyone with my problems, thoughts or feelings. Most of the people I do know have their own life and problems to attend to anyway — and I tell myself I’ve no right to disturb them. Feeling needy has always to me felt like a weakness because of this, which is why I found it so hard to come to terms with the thing’s that make me, well, me in the first place. First came the dyspraxia, then the anxiety, then the depression. To me, it was just a mounting list as to reasons I’m not “normal.” And that in itself still gets me down at least once a week.
And for me, that is what it feels like to have anxiety and depression. It feels not normal, and it feels devastating. It feels like I’m not right and don’t fit in with the status quo anymore. And that’s why isolation occurs in the first place. Because our first reaction is not to talk, not to vent. It is to shut ourselves down and wait it out. Even though it didn’t work the last time, the first time, or the times in-between.
I described my bouts of depression in my online journal just last month:
“I nearly always see the storm clouds on the horizon. But if I shut my eyes, clench my fists and hold my ground, I know that eventually, they shall pass me by. I force my mind to try and instead see only the blue skies and sunshine that await me on the other side.”
And lastly, I just add, there are hundreds of us struggling like this, and as a result, the best thing is our understanding of each other. Please don’t sit in your room like I have done and tell yourself you’re not good enough for the world out there. Speak up. Because the likelihood is that there is someone out there struggling just as much or in the same way as you. And as a result you can socially click with them and find a meeting of minds.
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Thinkstock photo by cerro_photography