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Running From Depression and Anxiety, and Better Ways to Cope

Depression and anxiety are a twisted tag team. One goes left, the other right, until they trap you in a corner. Instead of withstanding them, which I don’t feel strong enough to do; dodging them, which I feel too tired to do; or fighting them, which seems impossible, I avoid them.

My fingers are in my ears, and I’m shouting, “I can’t hear you.” I’m filling my brain, trying to crowd them out. “Sorry! No vacancies!” But they just wait for me to grow tired.

Some days, the better days, this works relatively well. I ignore all my problems, and they can’t affect me when I’m too busy running away. But these days are like that one day you were sick but started feeling better, so you went to work. As long as I keep moving I feel fine, even great. But as time runs on, and I grow weary of running, I stop to rest. As soon as I rest, a lunch break or just a second to think, it’s over. The sickness is back, and it’s worse this time.

That is the better scenario. More often, by attempting to shut out this dreadful duo, I end up shutting out my life too. I become so withdrawn — so focused on not thinking, on not having time to think the thoughts I don’t want to think — I end up wasting hours and hours of time, procrastinating as long as possible. TV, the internet and social media are my favorite brain fillers. How can you stress about the work you need to be doing if you don’t have room for stress in your head?

It makes you doubt yourself as well. Do I really like books, or do I just want to shut everything out? Do I watch so much TV because I like TV, I’m lazy or because it keeps my mind busy? Books are no longer a retreat, partly because they aren’t enough to quiet my head anymore. My life has become a balancing act between watching TV and using my phone to distract or attract my full attention.

Even if I manage to waste all my time but keep anxiety and depression out, there is still the time when I have to stop running: the time to sleep. I choose to become so busy and active so late at night that I wear myself out enough to fall asleep quickly — to avoid the slow, drifting off thoughts before sleep.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Running for so long in the same place just digs a trench. Luckily, it is not the only way. At the beginning of this article, I mentioned three paths I don’t like to take because I feel weak, scared and alone: dodging, withstanding and fighting. If you’re like me and feel like you’re running from your anxiety and depression, know you fight more battles than you think you do.

Those nights where you couldn’t sleep and couldn’t avoid your thoughts? You lived through it. Withstanding isn’t being untouched — withstanding is simply going through it. Even if you leave worse than when you came, you still lived through the pain. You survived. You can make it. The only power it can give you is if you notice. You have to realize you’ve been through this before and you lived, so you can do it again.

Those times you looked at a trigger, whether it was a sad story about a dog on Facebook or an optional event or stress, and decided it wasn’t a good idea — those were the times you dodged. Even if it was so small you don’t think it made a difference or so obvious it practically had a sign that said,“Don’t do this,” you recognized an obstacle and avoided it. Off the top of my head, the obstacles I avoid are certain people and soda. I know who I shouldn’t talk to because they stress me out or encourage my depression. I know I should trade that soda for a water because I need to take care of myself, and I get dehydrated which leads to headaches and more anxiety for me. Making smart choices about your needs helps relieve your future you of some pressure and makes you feel more responsible.

The moments when I fight are certainly causes for celebration. These are the moments when I am being beaten up by anxiety, beaten up by depression and I say, “No, you’re wrong.” When I try to calm myself down about a deadline or shove down the thoughts that the person I’m talking to secretly doesn’t like me, I break the power of hopelessness they have over me — even if I just put a nick on its side.

I just stopped writing, stood up and turned off the TV Not an interesting story; not a problem for most people. But for someone who sits in the same spot for so long and so often the cushion has a dent in it, it can be a nice reminder I can do something. Just a minute later, it built upon itself. My phone died and I had to get up to get the charger. Such ridiculously simple tasks I tell myself I can’t do, that my family says I can’t do, but I did anyways. In the future, I hope the small victories like these grow to help me do my work, start my hobbies again and generally live instead of treading water, with my nose just above the surface.

Don’t overwhelm yourself. Encouraging better choices is good, but running towards “normal” won’t help any more than running away from anxiety and depression. Every time I decide “I’m going to stop this habit, I’m going to be nicer to myself, I’m going to do so much better!” I land on my face, having tripped from my eagerness over reality. The reality is it takes time. If you’re in a hole right now, it’s going to take time. Find support. Hunt it down. Get someone who will help you to celebrate success and move past failures. I have no close friends, no supportive family. Every article saying to “talk to a friend or family member” causes my heart to drop in my chest. Yet after over a year of begging for help finding a counselor, I finally have an appointment set. I had no belief I would get help. I even gave up several times. But somehow, things will get better. For those of you who do have supportive friends and family, appreciate and utilize them. Everyone needs someone to talk to.

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Thinkstock photo via nensuria