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How I'm Learning to Recognize That I Have Depression and Anxiety

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with a body-focused repetitive behavior or self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can find resources at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Depression and anxiety are tricky. They are as sneaky as a thief. They’re good liars. They are great at hide and seek.

As I was sitting on the floor, crying my eyes out and with no explanation as to why, a thought came to me: could I be depressed? Over the last six months, a small voice in my head kept saying the same thing: this is depression.

Clean clothes were piled up on my dresser. My treadmill had become a stand to hold cords, a laptop, dirty dishes and dirty clothes. Old protein bar wrappers and coffee cups were all over my nightstand. The bed wasn’t made and more clean clothes were all over it.

“This is depression,” the voice whispers. No! I’m just busy. I’ve had a lot going on. That’s all!

I open my eyes. It’s morning but I don’t feel rested. Nightmares kept me awake and anxious for most of the night. I’m confused as to why they are happening again. Some nights, they get so bad that when I wake up screaming, I need to remind myself that I am OK. “My name is Ashlee. I’m 38 years old. My husband is next to me sleeping. I’m safe.” That voice whispers again: this is depression.

As I’m driving down the road, my finger rubs over and over against my thumb. I pick and pick and pick. I bite. I pull. I bleed. It hurts. The pain doesn’t stop me. I go to the next finger, then the next; my hand bleeds and the pain is always there. “This is anxiety,” the voice says.

Lying in bed at the end of the day, next to my husband, watching “Friends,” my teeth have found that spot on my lips: the one I never let it heal. They can’t quite get it, so my fingers start pulling at it: pick, pick, pick. Two episodes of “Friends” later and I finally get the skin long enough to rip off. Oh, the pain! The pain is always there. Again, I push the voice away that is trying to tell me that this … this is anxiety and depression.

I tell myself I am just hormonal, or lazy. The doctor takes tube after tube of blood because I am sure something is wrong. The doctor puts me on supplements, tells me to try different diets and keeps doing more tests. I figure at some point they would find the answers, so until then, I keep telling myself I just need to get over this. I need to do the next thing.

Once again I am on the floor, tears streaming down my face, completely overwhelmed, when I hear it again: This is depression. “No!” I say audibly. “F**k this!” I wipe my eyes and get off the floor. Over and over again I keep saying to myself just do the next thing.

I pick up a shirt off the dresser and put it away. I pick up the next, and the next. Then I pick up the trash. I take the dirty dishes to the sink. I make my bed. I sweep. I mop. The room is completely clean. I’m looking over the room, proud of myself, when I hear it again: This is depression.

Day after day, I get up. I have children I must take care of, so I do the next thing. I cook lunch for the kids. We have a dance party in the living room. I take them to appointments. This is depression. I get on the treadmill. I run. I take a selfie. I host a party. I laugh with friends, but in every situation, it’s there.

Finally, I’m starting to listen to that voice. Depression and anxiety look like lying in bed, nightmares, picking my skin, having no energy and weight gain, but depression is also going on a date night with my husband, dancing with my children, laughing with my friends.

I opened up to a friend. At this point, my bloodwork was normal but I felt like I had lost myself somewhere. My hair began falling out. I had stopped going to the gym. I was crying more than I wasn’t. I was quiet. My friend told me I needed to see the doctor. I did. The doctor prescribed a liver cleanse. I was devastated. My friend said it sounded like I was completely stressed out and needed a little help. Finally, I was ready to believe this was depression and anxiety. I called the doctor back but they weren’t listening. They told me to call after the liver cleanse was completed. I called another doctor. They got me in right away. They gave me a questionnaire to fill out and by the second question, the tears were so bad I couldn’t see the paper anymore. The doctor walked in and I explained my symptoms, and I gave him my bloodwork from the other doctor. He told me I was stressed. He listened to me and together, we made a plan: a prescription for antidepressants, a list of therapists in my area, a pep-talk and a reminder to get back to the gym… and hope.

I am learning that depression and anxiety are not lying in bed sleeping all the time. It isn’t giving in or giving up to be put on an antidepressant. Asking for help isn’t a bad thing. The pills aren’t a cure-all. I still pick at my skin and have nightmares occasionally. I’m still not back at the gym but I am sticking to a workout plan at home. Each day, I get up and I make the choice to do the next thing. Every day, I get a little stronger. I may not get the “old me” back and that’s OK. I’m learning to love myself even with depression and anxiety.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Originally published: January 13, 2020
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