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The Battle You Can’t See Inside Me

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My name is Stephanie. I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt. I have an amazing job in New York City and a beautiful house in the country. I serve on charity boards and am a breast cancer advocate. I own three large dogs and a cat. I am a soccer mom and a tennis mom. I have it all…including depression and anxiety.

Yes, I have a lot of good things in my life. No, that doesn’t mean I can’t be depressed or anxious. Yes, I take medication. No, that is not a bad thing. Yes, I look happy. No, that doesn’t mean I feel OK.

So put your generalizations aside and ignore the stigma typically placed on those with depression and/or anxiety. I am here to tell you that your “normal” and my “normal” don’t look the same, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t both normal.

My battle began about five months after the birth of my second child. The doctors and the books warn you of the risks of postpartum depression and the urgency to seek help should any of the symptoms manifest themselves. I was on heightened awareness, but the symptoms never came. There was no depression for me; instead I was filled with dread and discomfort over leaving the house or going to appointments. The more I fought the feeling, the worse it became. There were days I couldn’t leave the house to run the simplest of errands. I kept it to myself thinking it would pass; it didn’t.

One day I found myself sitting in the airport with my husband waiting to board a plane to London. This time there wasn’t a paralyzing fear of going somewhere, but a rush of need to get somewhere. I found myself unable to get on the plane fast enough and unable to get to London fast enough and unable to get to the hotel fast enough. I was overcome with a desire to get the next task done so I could put the event behind me. I finally broke down and told my husband that something was wrong. He told me to go to the doctor the moment we returned; I did.

I sat in the doctor’s office a couple weeks later, palms sweating, tears on the cusp of my eyelids, hoping to be done as soon as possible. I was fortunate to have an amazing doctor who listened and was understanding. He asked me a series of questions, then told me not to worry, everything would be OK; and he was right.

For the next five years, I was able to manage my anxiety issues relatively well with the aid of prescription drugs. I began experiencing some health issues, and with them came the side effect of depression. I had experienced periods of feeling down or blue, but this was so much more than that. I physically could not do things. Melancholy was the new me and sleeping for endless periods of time was easy — and desirable. I could shower, but the process of drying my hair, doing my makeup or brushing my teeth was exhausting. I am not talking about being tired because I had to wake up early for work. I am talking about feeling like I had just walked 50 miles and couldn’t muster the energy to walk another two feet.

This was new territory for me. I am an incredibly driven person who doesn’t like to sit idly by wasting time. Mentally I would get exhausted just thinking about the things that needed to get done, and trying to do them drained me of all I had. Couple this with my anxiety and I could barely accomplish anything. If I found the energy to leave the house, it was sapped by the insatiable desire to get back home as quickly as possible. I felt like my life, my former go-getter life, was over. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Almost 12 years since that first anxiety attack and I am still going. Not every day is easy; sometimes there are weeks at a time that suck — I mean really, really suck — but I’m here. I remember my doctor telling me not to be embarrassed that I was taking medication to help me manage my anxiety. I thought it was silly until I started paying attention to others. There is a terrible stigma that comes with admitting you have depression and/or anxiety. Honestly, it saddens me. I would be a miserable person if not for these medications, and I cannot control the chemicals in my body that make me this way. Trust me, I exercise and manage my diet and all those other holistic things people suggest. And guess what? I still have issues.

My hope in laying out my struggles with depression and anxiety is that others will understand them better or take solace in my battle. I am tired of the stigma mental illness carries and the shame people feel because of their struggle. Depression and anxiety preys on all types of people. It is time to shed light on the darkness so many feel.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 18, 2016
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