5 Things My Friends Have Wondered About My Anxiety and Depression
In an unprecedented wave of bravery, I decided to post something personal on my Facebook wall. The message read as follows: “OK friends, I need your help. I’m looking to write a blog post on my depression and anxiety. What is one, two or three questions you’d like me to answer about my experiences or what is something you’ve always wondered? Feel free to post here or PM me. Thanks!” In the past I’ve shared social media posts from “The Mighty” and other organizations that pertain to mental illness, but I don’t think I’ve posted anything quite so open. I wasn’t sure if I’d get any responses at all, but I did get a few.
Here are the questions and my answers to them:
1. I’m interested to know if you ever struggle with the expectations of perfection and excellence that academia and society has?
Absolutely! Part of my story also has to do with dealing with perfectionism and what I call “all or nothing thinking.” In other words, in my mind, if it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worth doing. As you can probably tell, this can be a problem. Growing up, I never really had to try that hard in school; I never really had to study or put in lots of time or effort. I was a straight-A student without really trying and I think that’s where part of this warped expectation of perfection came from. I knew I could do well and was always pushing myself to do better, even if that meant trying to improve a 95 percent on a test to a 98 percent. Now, striving for “perfection” is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it overtakes your mind and makes you start believing that things aren’t worth doing if you can’t do them perfectly, that’s where the problem lies. I learned a really hard lesson when it came to undergrad; I actually had to study and learn to be OK with a B. I like to think that I’ve overcome a lot of my perfectionist tendencies, or at least learned to deal with them in a more positive way. I’m trying not to let others or society to pressure me into achieving the “perfection” that is so often expected of students today.
2. I’m curious as to what types of medical advice you’ve received and if you’ve tried any “alternative” approaches such as a gluten-free diet?
The medical advice I’ve received has ranged from “let’s put you on hormonal birth control” to “let’s try this medicine instead.” I suppose you could consider the typical “make sure you’re exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep” as medical advice I’ve received and honestly tried to follow. In addition to my anxiety and depression, I have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which has caused some additional difficulties and has affected my mood. In order to help treat the PCOS and its symptoms, I am receiving hormone shots three times a month and take medication specifically for this. I’ve found that treating the PCOS has actually improved my mood significantly. I have not tried any “alternative” methods of treatment such as a gluten-free diet. I’m supposed to be cutting out processed sugar, but I haven’t been doing as well with that as I would like. I’m not necessarily against anything “alternative,” but being a scientist myself, I like to have solid evidence for something before I blindly jump in. That being said, I’m still doing some research on things such as diet to see if anything might be promising for what I have/am experiencing.
3. Is there something that helps, like talking about it or doing something to distract yourself, when you are especially depressed or anxious?
This is a tough one. The short answer is yes, there are things that help. The more complicated answer is that whether those things help depends on the situation and my mood. Sometimes talking to a person either in person or virtually via Facebook, texting or Skype can help. When talking, sometimes I want to talk about what is bothering me and other times I just want to talk about random things to get my mind off of the negative thoughts and darkness. A lot of times a hug along with talking is helpful. Sometimes it’s going for a walk with a good friend that helps and sometimes it’s simply sitting in my apartment watching TV or a movie. If I have the time, I like to do something creative or read a book for fun. When I’m especially anxious, for me the best way to combat it is to remove myself from the situation. That is not always possible, so I often like to employ the strategies I mentioned earlier, which are things that I usually use to deal with my depression. Sometimes doing deep breathing and just taking a couple of minutes to ground myself can also help with my anxiety. The biggest thing I found that helps with both my depression and anxiety is to let the feelings come and to recognize them rather than to ignore or try to cover up the feelings.
4. Looking back is there something that you can now say was the beginning of your depression and anxiety?
Looking back, I can’t say that there is a specific thing or event that was the beginning of my depression and anxiety, but I think I can see when it started. I believe it started much earlier than I really care to admit and I tried to deal with it for far too long on my own before reaching out for help. While I can’t pinpoint a specific thing that was the beginning, I do think that my perfectionism played a large role in developing my depression and anxiety. I had put so much pressure on myself and had such unrealistic expectations that it just drove me to be unable to reach them and led to disappointment and frustration. As far as the anxiety goes, I think I’ve always been a “worrier.” For as long as I can remember I’ve been worried about things — sometimes warranted and sometimes unwarranted. I think as I grew older I just had more things to worry about which then manifested itself as anxiety.
5. What are the best ways for friends to support you?
Again, this kind of depends on the situation. The best way for friends to support me right now is to simply reach out. Ask how things are going. I may blow you off or answer “fine,” but it really does mean a lot to me. Even if we haven’t talked in a while, feel free to reach out. I enjoy positive quotes and songs, so if you come across one of those, send it to me. I know this sounds silly, but I love receiving snail mail — a short note, a coloring page to help me destress or a picture of you and your family. Prayer is a big one too. Please just keep me in your prayers even if you don’t let me know that you’re doing so. Basically, if you’re ever wondering how you can help, feel free to ask. Sometimes you may get the answer “I don’t know,” but just by asking you are showing me that you care.
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