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10 Signs of a Depression Relapse I Mistook for Anxiety

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1. Fatigue

I’ve always had difficulty getting to sleep because of anxiety, and I’ve taken something for it most of my life. But when my depression is under control, I naturally wake up at a decent hour. When I started sleeping until noon or later every day, I should have realized that was a huge “red flag.” Fatigue is one of the hallmark signs of depression for me, and even though I knew something was wrong, I kept telling myself it was just my anxiety making me tired, that it was a “phase,” and it would get better.

2. Hunger

Fluctuating appetite from ravenous hunger to nausea, was probably one of the first signs something wasn’t right. Usually, my appetite is fairly predictable. I’m not a morning eater, but I snack late at night. Not the healthiest thing I’m sure, but it’s just me. When I started waking up at 5 a.m. and eating, then going back to sleep, it should have been a sign something was off. It’s unusual behavior for me, and there was no cause or explanation.

3. Difficulty concentrating

Despite my attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), my ability to concentrate is also closely tied to my depression. ADHD can make it hard to stay focused. But depression can make it impossible to even try. The thought of reading (which I love to do) becomes overwhelming before I finish one page, so I give up. Often I end up re-reading the same few pages several times over the course of a week and making no progress. At that point, it is clearly a product of depression, but oftentimes it’s easier to simply blame my ADHD and just ignore it.

4. Losing track of time

It’s easy to get lost in a project and lose track of time. It is different when you are sitting in front of a clock doing nothing and suddenly it has gone from daylight to darkness. I couldn’t even remember what I had been doing (if anything), but hours would pass seemingly in an instant. The flip side is also true. Minutes became agonizingly long. Seconds ticked by and it seemed like time was frozen. Time in general starts to take on a different meaning when I’m depressed. It never seems to move at the right speed.

5. Not keeping up with my medicine regimen.

Medication compliance (taking what I’m supposed to, how and when I’m supposed to) becomes exponentially more difficult when the medication isn’t working. Being on medication for depression, I am usually quite dutiful about taking it at exactly the same time every day. But if it stops working as well, I am likely to be less diligent about taking it as prescribed. Sometimes it’s just because I am tired or forget, and sometimes it is intentional. Either way, compliance (or lack of) is a good indicator of how well my depression is being controlled.

6. Intrusive thoughts

Anxiety drives a lot of my intrusive thoughts, but there is a subset which occurs almost exclusively with depression. Anxiety tends to be future-oriented thoughts, and sometimes rumination about the past. Depression, for me, tends to be intrusive thoughts bordering on “flashbacks” about things in the past that may seem completely inconsequential. A night out drinking ten years ago. A sociology class my freshmen year of college. A walk in the park. Anything. But they have a sense of despair, as if anything good that may have happened in the past will never happen again. They drain me of any positivity in the present, and they come out of nowhere.

7. Alternating apathy and perfectionism

Anxiety makes me a perfectionist, and being a perfectionist makes me anxious. The two feed off each other. But when suddenly I became alternately apathetic about things, it was an indicator depression was starting to take hold. Going from a perfectly clean closet to clothes everywhere is a dramatic shift. Eventually, I got it cleaned up again, but it took weeks. That kind of strong shift is almost always a sign my depression is trying to take over again.

8. Canceling appointments

Maybe the most obvious sign to other people, namely my healthcare providers, is when I cancel appointments. Some of them know from experience that anxiety can lead me to cancel. But when depression takes over, I stop caring about myself and I definitely don’t want to see anyone – including doctors who might be able to help. If I manage to get the strength to actually cancel the appointment, that alone is a huge sign of a problem. But often I simply don’t show up because my anxiety stops me from actually canceling, and my depression stops me from going. At which point it is often too late for anyone to notice or say anything.

9. Becoming disturbingly reclusive

At the best of times, I am charmingly introverted. At the worst of times, I am painfully agoraphobic. The mistake I usually make is blaming an increase in my reclusive tendencies on anxiety, not depression. The underlying cause is usually anxiety, but when things get worse or I am less motivated to leave the house, it is often driven by an increase in depression. Anxiety makes going out a fearful process. Depression makes going out a fatiguing process.

10. Being overwhelmed by simple tasks

Doing the laundry, the dishes, the groceries, all of it – it’s usually overwhelming. But when just thinking about doing it is too overwhelming, I’m in trouble. It was probably tied with fatigue for the number one complaint I first saw a psychiatrist about: being overwhelmed by everything. I couldn’t do anything because it all overwhelmed me. It was always hard to differentiate between the anxiety and the depression – but being overwhelmed with anxiety is stress, impatience and chaos. Being overwhelmed with depression is fear, fatigue, and hopelessness.

It’s important for everyone to know their own personal signs when they might be slipping into a depressive episode, so they can get help before that depression becomes dangerous. Not sure if it’s depression? Play it safe and call your healthcare provider sooner rather than later. The quicker you get help, the better.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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

Thinkstock photo via fizkes


10 Signs of a Depression Relapse I Mistook for Anxiety
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What I Want My Empathetic Friend to Know About My Struggle With Mental Illness

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Dear Empathetic Friend,

Before anything, I want to say thank you. I know being friends with someone who struggles with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression can sometimes be a challenge. It takes patience, compassion and understanding to care for someone with these conditions. Though I may have a hard time expressing it, I’m extremely grateful for everything you’ve done for me. But sometimes, I’m afraid you don’t know how you can help me.

When my anxiety or depression becomes so unbearable and overwhelming that I can hardly get off the couch, please don’t ask me if I’m OK. The answer will always be “No,” so there’s no need to ask. Instead, maybe ask if I would like to talk about anything specific that has me feeling the way I do. If I also respond with, “No” to this, then I think it would help me if you just respond with “OK” and we can move on from there. Most likely, I’ll just want to sit quietly with you because there’s so much noise in my head that I can’t think straight. But I might feel better after 20 minutes, and then we can try to do something together or go somewhere. Then again, I may feel down or out of reach for far longer than 20 minutes. They’re unpredictable—these mental bullies of mine.

It’s best to just accept that I’m feeling the way I’m feeling, and know that you don’t have to “fix me.” Sometimes, when I’m having one of my bad days, I feel like you change. Your voice becomes softer and weaker, like you’re trying not to provoke the beast by tiptoeing around it. You ask me more little questions, like you’re trying to pass the time with small talk, maybe in the hopes that I’ll become distracted enough to forget about why I was feeling depressed in the first place. I know you mean well and you’re just doing what you think is helpful.

But when you try to perk me up or adapt an overly optimistic attitude, I actually start to feel worse. Not only because your positive brightness is somewhat draining, but it also makes me feel like I shouldn’t be feeling the way I’m feeling. Like my fatigue, gloominess or anxiousness is wrong and a malfunction of sorts — like I need to be “fixed.”

I don’t think I need to be fixed, though. That would imply I am broken. And as noble as it is for you to want to make me better — actually physically better — I can’t just be taped back together with a few distractions. Those are temporary solutions to a long-lived problem. I think I need to come to terms with certain things in my life and learn healthy coping mechanisms, adjustments. I need your help to learn how to stand on my own as I am now, not revert back to the way I was before my mental illness took over my life. I was a different person then.

It’s not your fault. As far as I know, you’ve never experienced depression or anxiety, so it’s hard to provide aid to something you don’t know much about. I believe that would be like asking you to perform heart surgery, even though you’ve never gone to medical school. You try your best, and that’s all I could ever ask from you.

I need you to understand there’s no quick way of making me feel better — though I wish there was. Know I’m always thinking of you when I have to cancel plans because the thought of leaving the house feels like what I imagine getting stung by a hundred bees at once would feel like. Or it may feel like falling into a bottomless hole of misery. Either way, you don’t make it seem like a big deal, that we can reschedule or do something different. And I’ll never be able to form the words that adequately describe how appreciative I am of your understanding.

Thank you for sticking with me through this mental rollercoaster. I would do the same for you in a heartbeat, though I truly hope you never have to experience such an aggressive form of brain funk. Even then, I’ll be with you the whole ride. Thanks for everything.

Sincerely,

A Grateful Friend

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Unsplash photo via Karina Carvalho.

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Why Getting Better From Depression Is Making Me Feel Worse

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It’s been a while since I’ve smiled from feeling and not from habit. I hear or see something that makes me feel genuinely happy and warm, and appreciative of being alive in that moment. It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt happy to be alive. I can get out of bed without too much of a hassle and face the day knowing I’m strong enough to live today and can make the best of it. I take my medication around the same time every day and I attend therapy every other week. I have more energy in the morning and early afternoon — I can actually get things done. I still feel overwhelmed from time to time, but I’ve learned to manage it and give myself credit where it is deserved. I’m finally starting to live for myself.

But, it’s not all sunshine and daisies. With the heightened energy and positive feelings I’m experiencing because of my increased medication dosage, I also experience more intense moments of depression and fatigue. Between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m. (what I refer to as my “funk hours”), it’s like a giant weight has suddenly forced itself onto me and I can’t move or think or breathe. I have no control. Nearly all of my energy is depleted, I get a headache, I feel numb and hopeless and sometimes I think about hurting myself. I don’t feel like doing anything — house chores, reading, writing, eating, etc. It’s like all the bad feelings and thoughts I ever had before I started taking medication and going to therapy have quadrupled in severity. And there’s nothing I can do about it, but wait for it to pass. I lie down and try to sleep it off if I can, but that’s not always the case.

Since I’ve started feeling more productive and enthusiastic about doing things, the fall from my high feels so much greater. I feel even worse during my funk hours because I know I’m capable of living now. I feel practically unstoppable most hours of the day, so I should be able to shake off this blanket of dread and despair, shouldn’t I? I should know what kinds of coping mechanisms will help me feel better, and be able to do them without any problems or hesitation — or maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’m really not feeling any better, and my mind is just trying to trick me into thinking I am. Why can’t I just go back to how I was feeling earlier?

The better I feel, the more painful it is to fall back down again. But when I get back up and the funk hours are over, it feels as if nothing even happened. I can go back to being productive and hopeful and looking forward to the rest of the week — the rest of my life. I can write again, make plans, clean out the drawer that’s been mocking me all week, and go on living my life. But those couple funk hours, man — they can really break me down. It’s like this beast has been waiting all day to beat me up, and then when it’s released, there’s no mercy as it pummels me again and again with suicidal thoughts and anxiety. During these hours, time is both my enemy and my salvation.

I’m taking it day by day. I work on my writing and my volunteer work, and I try to clean or organize something around my house and do things for my family every day. I try not to let my depression and anxiety take over my life again, but some moments are more difficult than others. It helps to think about how much better I am now than I was last year or the years before. And I try to use my funk hours to my advantage — practicing coping mechanisms, breathing exercises, journaling, etc. I’m still fighting this lifelong battle.

I haven’t surrendered to my demons. And I have the deepest hope in me that I never will.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via betyarlaca

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How Depression Is Like a House in a Horror Movie

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Coming out of a depressive period is a lot like the end of a horror film. You emerge from the dilapidated house, home to the reclusive stranger, having narrowly escaped your own demise. You’re dirty, with your hair amiss and you are covered with emotional and often physical scars. Yet you take step after step, blinking in the new light outside, amazed you survived the night.

You entered the house unknowing what you were getting into. Perhaps the house was inherited, maybe you are lured into it, or dared by a friend to “try” and enter the house. Maybe it is the only option on the street, the only property in your price range. There are many ways to enter a depressive period — it could be genetic, caused by trauma or the result of addiction or illness. Either way, it’s clear you would never have entered the house of depression had you known what it would contain.

Inside the house, each room is a life event — a new job, puberty, medication, addiction, homelessness and relationships. Cobwebs cover childhood memories and the locked cellar contains all the personal and familial memories you’ve locked away, waiting to be discovered. Within each room is the potential for the villain to lurk in a corner, and you stumble from room to room almost waiting for it to jump out, or for booby traps to ensnare you in depression and anxiety.

But anyone who has watched these films knows that you never enter the house alone. There is always a group of people with you, ready to be killed off at various stages. These are your relationships and friendships. Your career and hobbies. The first to leave doesn’t seem like such a loss — the superficial friends and extra activities you don’t really like. The people who are only there for the good times, the party friends who are always up for a drink but never around when the going gets tough. They’ll bait the villain, almost daring it out of the shadows, and thus they are the first to leave your life. They underestimated that depression even existed and that it could touch them. You don’t really miss them much.

Next to leave is a close friend or a hobby you enjoy. You will miss this one — you’ll feel their absence long after they go. Perhaps they felt like they could handle the house. They followed you in but eventually, the house beat them and killed that relationship, that hobby too. They didn’t know what they were getting into, and while they tried to keep up, your depression was too black and too horrific for them.

There is always a false escape before the end. The protagonist somehow finds an exit — usually through the locked cellar, and stumbles into the street before true sunrise. A few steps onto the street, they are picked up by a cop who offers to take them home but is actually the villian’s brother — a related mental illness, a treatment that’s not right for you or a relationship that turns sour. They take them back to the house and now there are two creeps to deal with. Or the villain emerges out of a trap door only to drag you back by your hair into the house of depression. A taste of freedom before depression sneers, “You didn’t think it was that easy, did you?”

This is usually when you lose the person or thing you value the most. Your relationship, your closest friend or your career. This death hits you the hardest; you had almost escaped without sacrificing them. But we all know things always get worse before they get better, and before you know it you are trying to breathe life into that last vestige of the outside world. You cradle them in your arms, sobbing, not knowing how you will go on from here without them.

You want to lie down beside them and give up, accept your fate and stop fighting.

But with your last ounce of strength, you drag yourself away, picking up a weapon of sorts — therapy, medication, exercise, not sure if you can even wield it properly. You swing it at depression, knocking it out for a second and stumble out the door.

The light is too bright, your whole body aches and you expect to be dragged back again with each step, but you know the only way out is to keep moving. Of course, after escaping, you must deal with the aftermath. Finding a life for yourself in this new world devoid of the innocence it once held for you. People ask questions about your experience, not knowing what really happened or why you reacted the way you did.

“Why did you enter the house in the first place?”

“You should never enter the locked cellar, those things are best left locked. You know what it’s hiding is no good.”

“Whatever happened to that friend of yours?”

You mourn everything you lost when you entered the house. Your previous life and the friendships you had. You feel guilt and shame about what happened in the house, question the choices you made at the time and replay the events over and over, praying for a different outcome. You try to piece back your life, and function in the world around you. Sights and smells constantly remind you of the experience however, and you never forget that depression is still out there, searching for you, waiting for the sequel to begin.

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How Living With Depression Is Teaching Me My Pain Is Temporary

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“If the foot of the trees were not tied to earth, they would be pursuing me… For I have blossomed so much, I am the envy of the gardens.” ― Rumi

I still remember the day so clearly, I woke up with the tightest pain in my chest. I got out of bed and went about my normal morning routine. “Normal.” What a strange word, defined as “the typical state or condition,” according to Mr. Google. But to me, this day changed everything I knew about “normal.” I felt like someone was watching me, glaring at me through the walls. I got on with working on my dissertation when suddenly I found myself staring at the darkness of the shadows on my bedroom wall. How did 8 a.m. turn into 8 p.m. in seconds? What was I doing all this time? Was I really sat staring at a wall for hours?

Shook up, I went and made a cuppa — the British solution to every problem.

Each day after that felt the same, the numbness. I woke up and somehow got on with my daily routine of getting through my final year of university, trying to maintain a social life when I put my GCSE drama skills to use. We hear about the symptoms such as feelings of dread, the anxiety and numbness, but no one really talks about how it feels like there are two people in one body. One ready to eat you up whole and another trying to save the little pieces of you that are left.

There I was, in my early 20s, at the prime of my life according to the magazines and blogs. Yet I was at the darkest, loneliest time of my life. I was scared to leave the house, I felt like I was claustrophobic and would die from all the air outside. Sounds silly right? Catching the bus was a big no no, I couldn’t cope with all the people. Why were they all staring at me? How long until they realized I was about to explode from all the worrying?

I counted down the days until I thought it would be my last. I secretly hoped each morning would be the day. Death felt easy because life was hard.

Everything I did felt half-hearted. I distanced from family and friends and at the time, this truly felt like the best thing to do because it was easy. In hindsight, I understand how easy doesn’t necessarily mean it is the wisest thing to do. I had never truly understood what was happening in my mind until many years later when a good friend encouraged me to speak to someone. I chose to go with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Being a logical person, I found peace in admitting there was an issue and finding a way to deal with it no matter how scary it felt. This was by far one of my strongest turning points. I finally saw I needed a helping hand.

Seeking help in my community isn’t the easiest thing to do when we are taught from an early age to just get on with things. For me, having to prove myself as an Asian as well as Muslim in a western world is difficult enough, without throwing emotions into it. The stigma attached to mental illness is all too common. People assume there has to be a recent “real” reason to feel down. A relationship break up, a death or even career failure. Why can’t we simply feel sad because it is difficult to get out of bed and face the day? Why is it after a year of experiencing a loved one’s death we should be expected to get over it? I could sit and go into that topic and be here for another rant. I’ll save that for another time.

I guess my point is, mental illness is a real thing. It is a state of being, our bodies telling us something doesn’t quite feel right. If someone broke their leg would you tell them to walk on the pain? Why do we dismiss mental health so easily when our bodies are crying out for support, help, even a hug? If you woke up today and managed to get on with your day, then well done. If you completed the task you took up weeks ago, well done. If the only thing you did today was take a shower, then well freaking done, because I know how hard it feels to muster up the energy to even open your eyes in the morning and plod along with a sunken heart.

Now having hit past my mid 20s, I feel each and every day I am understanding this pain. Sure, I still have my bad days or weeks, but this pain is no longer a burden. It is teaching me how to be stronger and see the beauty in this temporary world. Temporary.

This pain is not forever, hold on.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via amana productions inc.

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23 'Red Flags' That Might Mean You Have Both Anxiety and Depression

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It didn’t take me long to realize I had anxiety. I knew enough about it to identify its symptoms: the racing thoughts, pressure in my chest, pain in my back, panic attacks, plus the fact that anxiety was rampant in my family.

It wasn’t until years later I realized I lived with depression, too.

While I experienced more “classic” symptoms of anxiety, nothing about my depression jumped out at me as being depression. I was going to work and school. I didn’t have a hard time getting up in the morning. I never self-harmed (although I thought about it). Instead, my depression looked like neglecting self-care (“I’m just too busy to shower!”), isolating myself (“I’m too tired to go out with friends!”) and a sense of deep purposelessness I was always trying to fill with busyness and work. But it was still depression, and I couldn’t fully focus on my mental health until I addressed that sad, numb part of me, too.

Depression and anxiety affect people in different ways. They also commonly come together — about half of those with anxiety also experience symptoms of depression. We wanted to know how people with anxiety and depression realized they had not just one mental health condition but two, so we asked our mental health community to share with us how they knew they had both anxiety and depression.

Here’s what they told us:

1. “Having an anxiety attack and then self-harming to feel better.” — Shaley R.

2. “Mostly the fatigue and emotional bleakness when my body has run low on adrenaline. The tiredness and body pain… I was relieved actually to find out what it was.” — Aaron H.

3. “I can go from caring about everything to caring about nothing.” — Jessica B.

4. “Being both tired and full of adrenaline at the same time.” — Sharni R.

5. “Growing up as a happy and optimistic kid, I knew something wasn’t right the moment I felt I couldn’t be fully happy. With all the blessings and contentment, there’s always something that will remind me I don’t deserve it and that everything’s temporary.” — John B.

6. “No motivation to do anything, but not doing anything makes me anxious.” — Kayla C.

7. “Wanting to do nothing but sleep, but being unable to because my brain won’t shut up.” — Amorith E.

8. “When one part of mind is going a million miles a minute screaming at me to do something, while another part screams back, ‘Why bother?'” — Rachel C.

9.Depression tells me I don’t care. Anxiety says I care too much. Having both is war in my head. Sometimes depression wins, sometimes anxiety wins. A huge red flag for me was when I was cooking and my mom and sister stopped and looked at me and my sister ‘whispered,’ ‘She’s singing and cooking again she even left her room.’ She asked my mom if I was me again or the stranger that was still in my body. She will never know what she woke me up to: my reality of not being OK and thinking it was normal.” — Rebecca B.

10. “Wanting so badly to die, but being so terrified of not having a future.” — Alyssa J.

11. “When I’m too depressed to do housework, but have panic attacks about people seeing how dirty my house is.” — Elisabeth R.

12. “Overanalyzing everything, while not having the energy to do anything about it. Freaking out about work or friendships, but not being able to get out of bed.” — Chealsey G.

13. “Losing interest in and refusing to do the things I know would normally help with anxiety.” — Lauren G.

14. “Staying up very late because I couldn’t handle the thought of living another day, and then staying in bed late [in the] morning because I was anxious about the day.” — Annabelle W.

15. “When I would get really under the weather, I would fight with myself to go into a class I was one hour late to. Then, I would stand outside without ever having the courage to go in. I would end up breaking down back in my dorm, wondering why it had to be this way.” — Frida P.

16. “I cycle. I go from thinking I can do something, getting overwhelmed, then I feel like I’m not good enough, then I get depressed. This happens constantly with every single decision I have to make and every good thing that happens in my life.” — Skye J.

17. “When I get invited to things but my anxiety won’t let me for fear of standing out like a sore thumb, and depression makes me feel like I let my friends down because I said maybe and didn’t show.” — Megan N.

18. “I began sleeping more than I was awake. I could sleep 10 hours a night and still take a five-hour nap in the afternoon. Then I would get anxious that my family and friends were mad at me for sleeping so much. Repeat cycle.” — Ashley U.

19. “The constant binaries at work in my own mind. Depression says, ‘Don’t get out of bed.’ Anxiety says, ‘So many things to do.’ Depression says, ‘There’s no point. Anxiety says, ‘Too many people will notice.’ Depression says, ‘No one loves me.’ Anxiety says, ‘Everyone hates me.’ Depression says I shouldn’t be alive, and anxiety says I’m never good enough.” — Rosie B.

20. “[I went to] see a psychiatrist for what I suspected was postpartum depression. ‘Are you here with concerns primarily regarding depression or anxiety?’ My thoughts were, ‘Anxiety? What is he talking about? I don’t have anxiety!’ I had no idea that my 24/7 worrying was a concern!” — Carrie M.

21. “I always knew I had anxiety, but for a long time I didn’t think I had depression because I wasn’t suicidal. I was eventually diagnosed, but I realized when good things would happen and it didn’t necessarily make me any happier, something was wrong. It wasn’t fear; it was fears being alleviated and still not feeling any better.” — Marie L.

22. “The red flag is I want to be with people, but on the same hand I can’t be around people. My depression doesn’t want me to be lonely, but my anxiety makes me a lonely person.” — Sky J.

23. “The constant back and forth in my head. The need to be doing something all the time to quiet my anxiety, but not being able to get up and do anything thanks to my depression.” — Sharon E.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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