Ameera Ladak (They/Them)

@ameeraladak | contributor
Super Contributor
Pronouns: they/them. I've run a blog called "Surviving by Living", which is the story of how mental illness didn't claim me for the past 5 years. Now I'm here to share that story with The Mighty community. Visit ameeraladak.wordpress.com and Keep Surviving by Living!

How Depression Can Affect Your Career Dreams

I’ve had depression longer than I’ve had my career, but I’ve worked hard to continue to grow professionally. I remember being depressed in university, and sometimes the only thing that would keep me hanging on was imagining how great my life would be when I had my dream career, and was some sort of corporate hotshot. Years later… I’m not the hotshot I thought I would be and my life isn’t quite what I imagined. On one hand, I love my career — I work for a great company, I’m in a role that aligns well with my skill set, I can pay my bills, and I have awesome coworkers. But at the same time, it doesn’t always feel like enough. Rather, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough, or I’m far enough along. I’ve tried for years to decouple my self-worth from my career accomplishments, but they seem to be inextricably linked. I think part of it is because I’ve justified the gaps or pitfalls in my personal life by saying I’m focused on my career, and my professional goals are more important. But then sometimes I look at where I’m at, and I wonder, “Is this really all I’ve done?” Feelings of inadequacy creep up every time I see an old classmate getting a new promotion, or big accolade, and my self esteem takes a tumble when I hear what salaries other people my age are making. Beyond the title and the pay, the existential questions that my suicidal ideation likes to latch onto begin to get louder: What’s the point in living if life consists of spreadsheets and emails? Why should I fight to be here when all my time is spent trying to achieve the elusive inbox zero? I think about how my depression has improved since working in my current job, and I am taken back to jobs where my mental health wasn’t so good. A large part was because of the job itself, but part of me started to question whether it was my depressive tendencies and a clinical problem instead of situational. And I think it’s common for people in their late 20s/early 30s to feel a bit stressed out and depressed because their career isn’t exactly what they thought it would be. It isn’t as glamorous, or as fun, and the mundane and tedious nature starts to take a toll. The passion we once had is gone, and everything feels a little more gray. We go through the motions to make it to the next day because that’s what we’re supposed to do, and the days begin to blend together. Sounds a lot like depression, doesn’t it? Being disengaged, having low motivation, feeling lost/aimless can all be considered signs of depression. So how do we know if we’re depressed and need to seek help, or if we’re just stuck in a job that isn’t working for us? Now that I’m in a better spot, career-wise, I can see that there were some jobs that didn’t fit well for me, and made me more depressed. But at the time, I thought that’s what life was going to be. I thought I just couldn’t hack it, and I wasn’t good enough or motivated enough or smart enough or grateful enough or happy enough. The thing is, those feelings of inadequacy in a job, and those depression-adjacent feelings at work can lead to a much deeper depression if they go on long enough. It’s important to ask ourselves questions when we’re talking about how miserable we are to be working — are we complaining about the monotony but still doing alright? Or is there something more serious we need to be thinking about? Do we need to make a career move because something isn’t working? Or, is this job actually OK but depression is making it feel a lot worse? Once you’re far enough in your career, it can be terrifying to think of having to pivot and start fresh. Sometimes that anxiety is what anchors us to something that slowly chips away at us, and it takes an immense amount of courage to recognize when we’re slipping and make a change. I’m not saying that everyone should quit their job tomorrow and go find their passion (though, if that’s what you want to do, I’m so here for that!). I believe part of growing up and settling into our careers is accepting that some of it may be boring, and it may not be as exciting or fulfilling as we expected, but that can be a catalyst for us to find that elsewhere. Maybe I’m not as far along in my career as I’d hoped, but I have time in my life for other things that truly fill my cup, like writing, or trying out new restaurants, or even doing nothing. It also takes an immense amount of privilege to be able to ask yourself these questions. I was once in a job that was so detrimental to my mental health, but I felt I had no choice but to stay in it because the bills still needed to be paid, and I didn’t have anything else lined up. Another time, I was in a dark place, and was considering an intensive outpatient therapy program at a mental health hospital near me, but I couldn’t afford the time off it would require to participate. Leaving unhealthy situations, or even just not-great-but-not-terrible situations shouldn’t be a luxury — it should be a right. So if you feel a bit depressed because your career wasn’t as glamorous as you thought it would be, you’re not alone. It’s OK to feel a bit lost and unsure of what to do, and I’d bet more of us are going through it than we’re willing to admit. Or if you know this career path just isn’t for you and you’re looking for a sign to make a change, this is that sign. Or finally, if you know this job is right for you but you’re still struggling every day, you might want to chat with a doctor or therapist to help you get back to feeling the way you want to feel. Whatever you’re going through with your career, I hope you know that doing what you can is more than enough, and it’s not a race to the top. Wherever your path takes you, I hope you find peace and happiness, or at least something close to it. You got this, and we’re all in it with you.

Books, Movies, and Shows That Accurately Depict Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal ideation is lonely and can feel impossible to talk about; it’s hard to describe if you haven’t been there. I remember being desperate for a character who understood what I was feeling, so they could articulate the words I couldn’t. I found comfort in shared experiences, but it can also be triggering when suicide is depicted in mainstream media. If you’ve dealt with, or currently deal with suicidal ideation, I encourage you to check in with how you’re feeling before engaging with any of the below content. But if you’re looking for a shared experience, I hope you find it here. 1. Book/Movie: “It’s Kind of A Funny Story” by Ned Vizinni This is my favorite book, because while it’s painfully honest, it’s also funny. The fictional story of a suicidal teen is based on the author’s own stay in a psychiatric hospital. I found so many parallels between my psychiatric stay for suicidal ideation and the character’s. Unfortunately, the author died by suicide years after the book’s release. 2. Book/Movie: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky“ This book, told through a series of letters from the protagonist, depicts suicidal ideation in more implicit ways. Charlie is depressed and dealing with the suicide of his only friend as he enters high school. Near the end of the movie adaptation, Charlie has a mental breakdown with disjointed flashbacks. It’s overwhelming and reminded me of the intense feelings that arise when suicidal ideation is bad – a million things run through your mind so quickly that you can’t make sense of any of them, and you desperately want it to stop. 3. Movie: “Aashiqui 2” This is the Bollywood adaptation of “A Star Is Born,” about a famous musician who is dealing with suicidal ideation. It just so happened that I saw this movie for the first time when I was dealing with suicidal ideation myself. After an attempt, I tried to use lyrics from songs in the movie to try and explain what I was feeling — I didn’t know how to use my own words, and had to rely on someone else’s. The song discusses the man’s desire for the world to continue when he is gone, and for people to forget about him and keep living when he couldn’t. It’s easy to be angry with the main character for derailing his own life, and the life of his girlfriend. You wonder why he is such a mess, and pulling her down with him, but that’s an accurate depiction of what can happen when you’re struggling with suicidal ideation. You don’t want to impact anyone else, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I was hurting more than I’d ever hurt in my entire life, but I was also hurting others, and that made my pain that much worse. 4. TV Show: “Feel Good” In early season 2, a character says “Why do some people need so much help just to exist, and then other people don’t need any help at all?” Dealing with suicidal ideation requires so much help to exist, and you might wonder why it can’t be easy like it seemingly is for everyone else. You see other people moving through life with what seems like no effort, but suicidal ideation makes something as simple as existing seem impossible. 5. Book: “Hello I Want To Die Please Fix Me” by Anna Mehler Paperny I’ve never been able to finish this book, because it’s scarily accurate in so many parts that I end up putting it down and taking a break. Early on, there’s a line that always stood out: “Loving people so much it hurts doesn’t necessarily negate the need to die; it just makes you hate yourself more for all the pain you cause, makes you feel your death would be a gift.” I’ve heard some people say that suicide is selfish — but when you’re dealing with suicidal ideation, there’s nothing selfish about it. You feel like you’re such a terrible person that it would do everyone a favor. And sometimes knowing you’re loved and that you love others makes it that much harder, because you feel like it’s your fault. In the prologue, Paperny says, “No one wants this crap illness that masquerades as personal failing.” Suicidal ideation can make you feel like you’re a failure. 6. TV Show: “Euphoria” Rue deals with suicidal ideation throughout the show, which comes to a head when she overdoses. It’s painfully clear she’s so tired of trying to live with the pain she’s experiencing — the grief of losing her father, the roller coaster of addiction she can’t seem to get off of. In a special episode released during the pandemic, she says, “I just don’t really plan on being here that long.” Sometimes suicidal ideation isn’t a fixation with dying, but rather never seeing or building a future for yourself. It took me years before I started to see a future because I truly believed I would never make it past 21 or 25. 7. Poetry Book: “The Nectar Of Pain” by Najwa Zebian Every poem in this book is focused around one main theme: pain. Feeling pain, not having your pain seen and validated, not allowing yourself to acknowledge your own pain, and ultimately working through pain. Sometimes suicidal ideation is the most painful thing in the world, and other days it’s completely numbing. 8. Poetry Book: “Depression & Other Magic Tricks” by Sabrina Benaim One of the first poems is a conversation between the author and her mother as she tries to explain her depression. “My depression is a shapeshifter; one day it’s small as a firefly in the palm of a bear, the next it’s a bear.” Part of what makes suicidal ideation so exhausting is that you never know how bad it’s going to be. Will today be manageable? Or will today be the day it’s too much? She goes on to say, “Besides Mom, I’m not afraid of the dark, perhaps that is part of the problem.” And when her mother asks if she’s afraid of dying, she responds, “No, I’m afraid of living.” The scariest thought when I’m feeling suicidal is around having to live like this forever, and that the feelings won’t go away. 9. Poetry Book: “Not Enough, Just Enough” by A.B. Cofer “I distance myself from everyone I love so it’ll be easier if I decide I can’t stay.” Suicidal ideation can make you push people away, just in case something happens, so that it might hurt them less when you’re gone. While I take issue with TV shows and movies such as “13 Reasons Why” glamorizing/romanticizing suicide, it’s important to have accurate portrayals done in a meaningful and responsible way. We need to raise awareness, normalize conversations about suicide, and make us feel less alone without triggering intense and overwhelming feelings that can have devastating consequences. If some of this resonated with you, I hope you’re able to talk about those feelings and get support to work through them. I hope you don’t feel alone as I did, or less alone than before. Most importantly, I hope you stay.

Advice for When Depression and Anxiety Makes Being a Manager Difficult

I knew fairly early on in my career that someday, I wanted to be a people manager. I knew how impactful managers can be on employees — both good and bad. By the time I was three years into my career, I had been through eight different managers; some were amazing and helped me grow both professionally and personally, and some made me miserable. I wanted to be the former. When I first became a manager, I got pretty overwhelmed. Suddenly there was additional pressure and I wasn’t just responsible for my career, I was responsible for others’ careers as well. I wanted my team to feel comfortable coming to me, but some days my depression and anxiety would get the best of me and I didn’t show up in the way I wanted to. There are countless books on how to be a good manager, but nothing really prepares you for when you actually have to do it, and there isn’t a lot out there about managing your own depression and anxiety while also managing a team. Over time, these reminders have helped me set reasonable expectations for myself, while also doing my best to not let my team down. 1. Prioritize Your Team I noticed that managers, myself included, often felt stretched thin or pulled in a million directions because you’re expected to do a full-time job, and managing your team is on the side. It should be the opposite. My obligation is to my team first, to make sure they are OK and have the support they need. As a manager, I felt I always had to do all the work and spend time with my team, which just made my anxiety worse because it was too much. I had to learn to let some things go, and those things should be tasks — not managing your team. 2. Learn to Delegate My anxiety can make me a perfectionist sometimes, and I don’t like when things are late or wrong. But as a manager, you have to learn to trust your team, empower them to make decisions, and delegate work so they can take ownership. They’re going to make mistakes a few times — that’s OK. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad employee, or you’re a bad manager; your job is to create a safe learning environment, and that sometimes means keeping your anxiety in check when things go sideways. Reassure yourself, and reassure your team that it will work out. 3. Keep Things In Perspective Depression has a tendency to make me think things are far worse than they are, and anxiety likes to exaggerate small mistakes. It’s important to keep reminding yourself that most things can be fixed, and mistakes won’t be the end of the world. I’m not in the business of saving lives, and it’s not worth me or my team losing sleep over a mistake if we learn from it. 4. Frustration Isn’t Your Fault When someone on my team would confide in me, or tell me they were frustrated with something, I’d get anxious and jump into problem-solving mode. Other times, I saw it as a personal failure that I hadn’t protected them. Yes, managers are responsible for looking out for their teams, but sometimes people get frustrated. It’s not your fault if someone on your team is having a bad day or hitting roadblocks. Take a minute, listen to them, and ask if there’s anything you can do. Sometimes people just need a safe place to vent, and other times they might be looking for advice. Try to put your anxieties around their feelings aside and focus on them. 5. You Can’t Fix Everything Someone on your team is bound to have a problem that you can’t find an easy fix for. I always found this to be an anxiety trigger for me because I felt like a failure. All we can do is our best to make our team members feel heard and supported, and if we can’t fix it ourselves, maybe we can help them find someone who can fix it. Sometimes there are tedious tasks one of your team members may hate doing, but it still has to be done. While you can’t fix that, you can come up with creative ways to make it less painful. 6. Take Hard Conversations In Stride Being a manager comes with having to have some difficult moments. Whether it’s firing someone, layoffs, disciplining an employee, or a difficult performance review, these things can’t be avoided. I felt sick to my stomach and depressed the first time I had to fire someone. It made me feel like a terrible person, and I didn’t want to — I wanted to hide in bed until it went away. But I couldn’t do that; I had to put my feelings aside and follow the procedure. Once it was done, I made sure to take some time to myself to work through those feelings of anxiety and depression . The key isn’t to make those feelings go away or become numb, but rather to make sure that I can center the other person at the time, but then come back to my own feelings later. 7. Accountability Is An Act of Care I get intense anxiety around giving constructive feedback. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I know how it feels to be told you’re not doing a good job. But it’s important to remember that holding someone accountable helps them learn and become better, and that if you do it with care, you’re doing a good thing. Holding your team accountable is an important part of managing your team well, and it doesn’t make you a mean boss if you provide feedback and set expectations. Being assertive and clear is part of being a good manager. At the end of the day, being a manager is hard work, and it’s valid if it can be overwhelming or triggering sometimes. It’s important to remember that you have to take care of yourself and fill your own cup before you can fill someone else’s. It’s not easy to manage depression and anxiety while also trying to manage a team, and you’re not alone if you feel like it’s really difficult. You can’t be expected to be an unemotional robot; managers are people, too, and it’s OK to show you struggle sometimes. I’ve found it helpful to connect with other managers and share what I’m going through. More often than not, they’re going through it, too. Sharing with other managers helps relieve some of the burdens, without burdening your team, and helps create a support system with people who have been where you are. I believe that the more we seek out support for ourselves in dealing with anxiety and depression around being a manager, the better we can show up for our teams and employees and do our best to create workplaces where people are valued and supported.

How to Take a Mental Health Break From Work

A few years ago, I took a mental health leave from work. I used that time to piece my life back together and deal with the fact that I was broken in a million different places. I had just been promoted at work, and was excited about the new role I was starting — I had been waiting for an opening on a particular team for months, and jumped at the opportunity when a spot opened up. The day after I signed my new contract, there was an organizational change, and I suddenly found myself in a role I didn’t want, on a team where I didn’t know anyone, feeling lost and alone. As much as I tried to adjust to this confusing and unfair change, I felt myself drowning more as each day passed. It got to a point where I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, and I dreaded being at work. I’d become a broken shell of myself, and my suicidal ideation was taking over. Both my doctor and therapist (who were incredibly supportive through all this) encouraged me to take some time off. Me? Take time off? Absolutely not. So much of my confidence and self-worth hinged on my career. I never thought I was good at much, but I was damn good at my job, and I couldn’t fathom the thought of not having that anymore. I tried to switch teams, but it was no use — I was stuck. It got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore, and I had no choice but to follow my doctor’s advice and step back. As much as I hated being on leave, it was 100% the right call. So if you think you might need to step back for a minute and gather yourself — do it. I’m a huge proponent of taking mental health leaves because it was a critical reset that completely changed how I viewed myself and my career. In the moment I felt so weak, but looking back, I see how much strength it took to stop and say “I can’t do this, I’m drowning, I need help.” Not only did it save my life, but it taught me valuable lessons. Trying to take a mental health leave can be complicated because there isn’t really a guidebook, which makes it difficult to navigate and know what the necessary steps are. Here were the steps that occurred in my process: 1. Get a doctor’s note. My doctor didn’t disclose what I was going through, just that her medical advice was for me to take two weeks off of work and then reassess. I provided this letter to my boss, who passed it along to HR. 2. Go on short-term disability. A representative from my benefits provider reached out and informed me that my company would not be handling my short-term disability claim but that the insurance company would be. In order for insurance to classify this as a paid leave, I had to disclose specific details about my health. I had to explain my depression in-depth and keep them updated regarding seeing my doctor or therapist. Until the claim was approved, I didn’t know if I would be placed on paid or unpaid leave, which was incredibly stressful. 3. Follow up with insurance and doctors. I followed up with my doctor every few days and knew I’d be off for a minimum of two weeks. After two weeks, my doctor and I decided I should go back to work, but only on a part-time basis for another week or two to ease me back into it. When I sent this latest note to my insurance provider, they declined and said that my company was not prepared for my return yet. 4. Follow a return-to-work plan. After a third week off, I was allowed to return to work part-time. I worked half days for about a week before returning back full-time. Unfortunately, during this time, my workload wasn’t cut in half so I was stressed out trying to cram a full day of work into just a few hours, and found it easier just to work the full day. 5. Close the claim. Once I had fully returned to work, I had to follow up with insurance a couple more times to let them know that I was doing OK, and then we continued on like nothing had ever happened. At no point through this process did I know what the next steps would be, but my main focus was dealing with my fragile state, and I’d deal with the next steps as they came. I initially struggled with being on leave — I didn’t know what to do with myself or how to spend my days. Because I was on sick leave, I felt like I couldn’t leave the house or do anything enjoyable. I felt like I couldn’t be in my apartment alone, so I flew back to my hometown to spend some quiet, disconnected days in the mountains. Getting away helped me focus on my mind and healing, and entirely removed me from my stressful environment. I then went to visit a friend, who took care of me for a couple of days and listened to my misery until the middle of the night. After about a week, I returned home to spend my second week back in my own environment. I tried to use this time to set some good mental health habits — get out for a walk every day, meet a friend for coffee, go to the doctor’s office, go to therapy, and eat proper meals. The overwhelming depression I was experiencing before going on leave made it impossible to take care of my basic needs, and this served as a bit of a reset. Returning was much harder than anticipated, but I was lucky to have a wonderful mentor and old boss to support me through adjusting back. She had been in my corner since I started spiraling, and made a point to be there for me as I tried to find my way back. I wouldn’t have made it without her support. As much as I didn’t enjoy taking a mental health leave, and I wish it was handled better, I absolutely needed it and would do it again. Taking a leave didn’t make me any less of a person, and it didn’t make me a failure or weak. Not only did it save my life, but it taught me valuable lessons about my health being the most important. Ultimately, things worked out OK — I ended up becoming great friends with my new team members, and I finished the following year winning the Top Performer Award. That wouldn’t have been possible had I not stopped to take care of my mental health first. So if you’re wondering if you should take that break, you should. If you’re struggling, step back and work on getting your head above water. You’re not alone, and you don’t deserve to suffer for any job or company. Your health matters, your mind matters; you matter.

Why I'm Depressed and Anxious After a False Alarm Health Scare

A couple of weeks ago, I had a health scare. It wasn’t a scare about a new condition, but rather something I thought I’d mostly overcome. It would have set back my healing and recovery about five years, if not more. I’m not sure if it’s worse being scared of the unknown when you have a health scare, or if it’s worse when it’s a devil you know. What startled me most was the intense depression and anxiety that came with this false alarm. When you’ve overcome a lot of health issues, the fear of it returning is always in the back of your mind, and while it can be annoying, that fear also makes me more cautious about taking care of myself. My health is fragile, and sometimes I feel like I have to tiptoe around it so as not to “wake the sleeping giant.” I knew that in the days preceding, I had been putting my body through a lot of stress. I was traveling to different cities for work, was barely getting any sleep, and didn’t have much downtime at all to rest or decompress. My body was wearing thin, and I wasn’t in my usual environment. I woke up that Saturday morning in my hotel room, and immediately felt like something was off. My heart was racing, I was lightheaded, and I didn’t know where I was (it didn’t help that I was in my fourth different bed in the span of a week). I immediately filled with dread, knowing that I had a full day ahead of me, and no idea how I was going to make it through after already being exhausted and anxious on Friday. I use wearable technology to help track my heart rate, movement, and other health metrics, so that if I have a seizure, functional neurological disorder (FND) episode, or dissociative episode, I can track what happened. It hasn’t happened in ages, but the wearable is a safety net of sorts for a “just in case” situation. Every fiber of my being told me not to check my stats because I wasn’t sure I could handle the answer, and sure enough — all signs pointed to a seizure and dissociative episode. I watched as my heart rate spiked from 125 to 165 from the anxiety , and rushed to the bathroom when I felt the nausea rising within me. When the initial shock wore off, my heart was still pounding in my chest when the depression started to set in. How could this happen? Why didn’t I try and stop this? Why don’t I remember any of this happening? What even happened? All these questions continued in my mind while the hopelessness and despair creeped in. It felt like years of progress were washed away in the blink of an eye. What’s the point in trying anymore? I knew things weren’t quite adding up, and it didn’t make sense that I had no other evidence or indication of an episode occurring but I didn’t have time to think anymore, and had to get on with my day. I pushed my feelings down as hard as I could, trying to forget about the new reality I’d have to face, but my heart was still pounding the whole day and at any given moment I thought I might throw up again. It wasn’t until Monday that I was finally able to start processing things. I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t turn the lights on. I didn’t work. I think part of me needed that time to feel what I needed to feel and let myself be upset about something so scary. I just laid there, depressed and utterly hopeless. It didn’t make any sense — how had I dissociated for so long, and lost so much time? I finally mustered up enough energy to investigate further, and noticed inconsistencies in the data. I dug a little more, and reached out to the wearable company — sure enough, my tech had malfunctioned after a software update, and I probably didn’t have an episode after all. This made a lot more sense. Phew. It was a scare. It didn’t explain why I woke up feeling so tired, but that was probably just from being on-the-go for so long with no breaks. Despite it being a scare and not a true health setback, the depression and anxiety lingered. I saw my therapist the next day because I needed help processing. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t relieved and back to being fine again. The thing is, just because a health scare is “just a scare,” it doesn’t mean that the feelings about that possibility aren’t real. It was only for a couple of days, but I genuinely felt like part of my life was coming crashing down. I didn’t know how to deal with that or change it, which made me feel hopeless. Though it was a scare and unconfirmed, the possibility alone was enough to make me spiral. Over my many years of various health issues, I’ve felt anxious and frustrated when a diagnosis can’t be found and medical mysteries remain, and I’ve felt anxious and hopeless when a diagnosis feels big and scary, or like a permanent sentence. I’ve grieved over what my illnesses have taken away, and I’ve been anxious that I’ll never get better. But those are always from something concrete. I didn’t know that a scare, or a possibility, could make me feel such intense anxiety and depression . It’s important to talk about because you’re expected to just be relieved when you get good news about a false alarm. And don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely relieved! But that doesn’t make those feelings immediately disappear or make that experience any less valid. It’s still scary, and it’s OK if it takes time to bounce back. I’m still not 100% OK after that experience, and I kind of shut down for a few days, but each day gets a little bit easier and the knot that formed in my stomach when it happened is loosening. I hope that talking about health scares and false alarms becomes more OK, and that we can allow all of our complicated feelings to exist, and validate that false alarms can bring about lingering stress long after the alarm stops ringing.

How I Wish Health Provider Would React to Seeing 'Anxiety' in My Chart

I dread going to the doctor’s office. I don’t know many people who actually enjoy receiving health care, but I find it’s a very anxiety -inducing experience. I hate that sterile smell that’s characteristic of doctor’s offices and hospitals, and it makes me feel a little uneasy just thinking of it because I can distinctly smell it in my mind. It’s not just that I get anxious about diagnostic tests, physicals, blood tests, needles, and the usual experiences that come with those spaces; it’s that I often find I’m treated poorly for having anxiety . I’ve had a number of unfortunate experiences with doctors who either don’t know how to deal with anxiety properly, or don’t know how to best support people with anxiety . So, if you’re a health care provider, these tips are for you: 1. Take anxiety seriously. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been dismissed by health care practitioners who brush off certain symptoms as “just anxiety. ” More often than not, anxiety and other mental health conditions are treated as less serious or severe than physical health issues, so doctors can be very dismissive of someone with anxiety . So if you’re with a patient and know that they have anxiety , don’t diminish how serious and debilitating it can be. Don’t tell us that “it’s all in our heads” or to just exercise more, because it isn’t always that simple. Anxiety is one of the most serious health conditions I deal with, and I want support from a health care system that recognizes its gravity. 2. Be mindful of health anxiety. I have a lot of trauma from poor health care that I’ve received. I’ve spent time in psych wards, and some of my most significant trauma arises from those experiences — often at the hands of terrible health care practitioners. So when I have anxiety about going into hospitals or health care spaces, it’s not coming out of nowhere. I need to be reassured and made comfortable in an environment that evokes a lot of intense emotions. It’s dismissive and scary when health care providers don’t take health anxiety seriously or brush it off. For example, I get so anxious when getting bloodwork done that I throw up every single time, and I always tell the nurse that but they never seem to care. These things might seem small or easy to someone who is in health care environments every day, but for those of us with health anxiety or trauma , it’s a big deal. 3. Let me have a say in my health care. Since I’ve had significant mental health care challenges, and been “locked up” in the hospital before, I don’t always feel like I have a say in my own health care. I’ve been in situations where I felt I couldn’t discuss medication or treatment options — I just had to do what I was told, and it made me feel powerless. I had a great doctor once who was the first person to ask me “what do you think will help?” and “what are you comfortable with trying,” and it was a game changer. We deserve to have an opinion or conversation about our health care. I need to feel like I’m a part of the process so that I feel comfortable about the health care choices being made. If I feel like medication or treatment isn’t working, or if I feel uncomfortable with trying a treatment method, I need that opinion to count for something, and I need the freedom to choose. It’s not fair to be told what to do without any discussion or conversation. 4. Don’t dismiss health concerns as ‘just anxiety .’ Just because a person has anxiety , it doesn’t mean that they’re immune to other health conditions. In fact, it’s probably the opposite because anxiety can be linked to a number of health issues. so if you see a patient with anxiety in their chart complaining of chest pains or with an elevated heart rate, don’t just assume it’s anxiety without doing your due diligence. A small example of this is acid reflux — I have gastroesophageal reflux disease ( GERD ), and one of the main symptoms I deal with is chest pain. In order to deal with that, I have to take a proton pump inhibitor, and no amount of therapy for my anxiety can make it go away. It’s important that doctors consider other health care concerns before automatically assuming it’s “just anxiety. ” While this is a small example, it can have very dire impacts for health conditions such as asthma or even heart attacks — heart attack symptoms for women are very similar to anxiety or panic symptoms. Whether it’s at a hospital, a doctor’s office, or a clinic, it’s usually a frustrating and disappointing experience when it comes to anxiety . And I know that there are good doctors out there — I have a few friends that are wonderful doctors — but it seems harder and harder to find them. It shouldn’t be so difficult to get quality health care where my anxiety isn’t dismissed or belittled, and where my voice is heard in all aspects of my health care. It makes it difficult to reach out for medical support when I need it because I rarely receive the care I deserve. On top of that, having had a lot of trauma at the hands of health care providers doesn’t foster a trusting doctor-patient relationship . I do my best not to let those experiences cloud my vision when seeking out health care, but it’s hard not to be wary when you’ve been traumatized multiple times. I also know that it isn’t always the health care provider’s fault. They’re forced to take on more patients, move faster, and not overburden the system. There’s barely enough time to read a patient’s chart, let alone spend time talking to a patient to get their perspective. But I worry that in the pursuit of efficiency, we’re compromising patient care and putting people’s lives at risk. I hope that there’s more support built for health care practitioners. Because while I have a lot of issues with my experiences, I know they deserve better, too. Better pay, better hours, better support. So I hope that we foster better conditions for our health care workers, who try tirelessly to help people. Because the only way for us to receive better care with anxiety is to ensure that those providing care are taken care of as well. For more on what to say (and not say) to someone with any health condition, check out The Mighty’s Patient Translator .

Tips to Help You Get Through the Work Day When You Have Depression

Depression is relentless. It may vary in severity, but I find that my depression has far more stamina than I do, and it can make it difficult to meet day-to-day adulting requirements. One of those requirements is working; trying to work when your depression is in overdrive is like trying to eat ice cream with chopsticks; you’ll probably be able to figure it out, but it won’t be enjoyable or easy. Whether you work in an office, at home, or another place, I’ve found that it’s helpful to have different plans of attack depending on whether you’re having a good or OK day, a not-so-great day, or an unbearable day. Depression isn’t consistent, so the ways to get through the work day will have to vary as well. No matter what type of day you’re having, look for ways to reach out and confide in loved ones or coworkers; knowing you’re not alone can make a world of difference. On ‘Not-So-Great’ Days These are the days when you’re not in the best shape, but you can probably make it through the day. For me, these are the most common. 1. Find Quick Wins On days when depression is creeping in, my brain is craving any dopamine hits it can get. I may barely have any energy but if I have to work, I start with the lowest possible hanging fruit so I get that sense of accomplishment with minimal effort. It’s usually not enough of a hit to make me less depressed, but it’s enough to make me not feel totally useless so I can work my way up. 2. Order Delivery for Breakfast I’ll admit I do this way more often than I’d like to, but on bad days I can’t fathom the idea of having to eat or prepare breakfast. If I order in, I’m guaranteed to at least pick at my meal and try to eat. This also serves a second sneaky purpose: in order to get my food, I have to leave my apartment and go get it from the front door of the building. This forces me to step outside without the pressure of having to truly leave the house or get dressed. 3. Keep A Work Shirt or Sweater Handy I work remotely, but I often have to have my camera on and don’t have the energy to get dressed, so I keep a shirt by my desk that I quickly throw on top of my sweats to make it seem like I got dressed. 4. Dress Down When Possible This can look different for different people; if you work from home, it might mean wearing sweats and a hoodie with a baseball cap on, and if you work in an office it might mean wearing jeans or joggers/sweatpants that look fancy but are super comfortable. If you have to wear a uniform or more formal wear no matter what, buy some clothes one size up from your usual size, which will make you more comfortable without breaking any dress codes. 5. Take Breaks I’m notorious for working through my breaks or lunch, but when I’m already not doing the best, I need to slow down and rest throughout the day. If I don’t take breaks when depression is louder than usual, I’ll try to log off a bit earlier so that I’m not doing a full grind when my mind and body are worn down. On ‘Unbearable’ Days These are the days when you just can’t do it. You feel like giving up, your limbs are like boulders, and there’s a truck on your chest. 1. Call In Sick While not always possible for everyone, these are the times when we need to stop and listen to our minds as best as we can. It’s still stigmatized to use sick days for depression , but mental health is health. If you need a day off because you’re sick with depression , that’s valid. 2. Do The Bare Minimum You’re just trying to get through the day here, so anything nonessential can wait. If it isn’t due or required today, don’t bother. Maybe if you’re usually in the office you can work from home instead, or if you’re usually working from home you can work from bed today. Maybe you go in late, or leave early, or leave your camera off in meetings. Maybe you just attend meetings with no desk work, or reschedule all your meetings if you’re not up to talking. 3. Skip The Chores When you’re in agony but can’t get out of work, something’s gotta give. It might mean eating a frozen meal, or having a friend or loved one drop off food. It might mean using disposable plates and cutlery so there’s no washing to do, or it might mean neglecting or pawning off any other chores you have. Again, it’s totally up to you, but the key is getting as much as possible off your plate. On ‘Good/OK’ Days On these days, you might only feel a twinge of depression and will be more productive and energetic than on the other days. 1. “Bank” Some Work If you have a long-term project you’ve been working on, chip away at it as much as possible, and keep it in a folder so that on a day you can’t do much, you can show this extra work instead. 2. Prep For Worse Days When making breakfast or lunch, double up on whatever you’re making and refrigerate or freeze half so that you always have something to keep you fueled up on a bad day to get you through the work day. 3. Do The Hard Stuff Good days are the best time to get the hard conversations out of the way, knock off the items on your to-do list that have been neglected for weeks, or work on the problems that require more thinking and creativity. 4. Document Your Accomplishments Keeping track of all the good work you’ve done can be a boost when you’re having a bad day, and taking time to make note of everything you’ve done will help you balance out the voice in your head that says you aren’t good enough. Coping with depression looks a little bit different for everyone, and can look different depending on the day as well. While it’s important to try and keep up with the typical stuff you’re told — take your meds, exercise regularly, drink water, don’t forget to eat, etc. — these day-specific tips are a bit different. I hope that you have more good days than bad ones and that the unbearable ones are a rarity or non-existent. It’s OK if you can’t try all of these tips, or feel overwhelmed about trying something new; you can always start with one and see how it goes. Working is hard work, and if you’re out there doing it with depression , I’m so proud of you.

The Evolution of My Depression Through a Timeline of Songs

Music has saved my life more than once, and I mean that quite literally. When my depression is especially bad, I turn to music. I’ve always found that listening to music helps me work through the intensity of what I’m feeling, and there are songs that distinctly stand out from certain periods of my life. I can go back to a song I listened to years ago during a rough patch, and I’m immediately brought back to that time in my life. I created a timeline of my depression using these songs, because I find it shows how my depression has evolved over the years, and how I’ve changed. The “Pre Depression” Era (before 2012) I started experiencing depression when I was 11 or 12, but didn’t have the words for it or know what it was. I remember listening to these songs in my teenage years and relating to them, but not understanding that I probably had depression. 1. “How To Save A Life” by The Fray I think this was the first song I heard that ever talked about struggling in this kind of way before, and it stuck with me. I felt so hopeless, and like I was all alone, so I took a lot of comfort in the idea that people would stay up with someone all night to save them or help them. 2. “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry When I first started experiencing suicidal ideation, I remember it being so all encompassing. I thought about what it would be like if I died a lot. I spent time thinking about my funeral, and how people would react. I think it helped me stay alive in some way because I didn’t want to make anyone sad. But I also never really thought I’d live a long life, so the sentiment of “If I die young” felt very relatable for me. 3. “Life is Beautiful” by Vega4 I played this song on repeat when I was a depressed teenager, hoping that I would start to believe that life was beautiful. I liked that the song talked about how hard life can be. It was comforting to hear the juxtaposition of “life is beautiful / but it’s complicated / we barely make it.” With so much toxic positivity, this different take meant a lot to me. The Big Sad Era (2012-2017) The year I was officially diagnosed with depression and started to take medication was rough. I was constantly suicidal and attempted to take my life on more than one occasion. This patch lasted about five years, and music was a consistent lifeline. I’ve sometimes called this time in my life The Dark Ages, because it was such a bad and hard time in my life. I didn’t know how to cope with the pain I was in, and felt very out of control. 4. “Where Is My Mind” by Maxence Cyrin I don’t remember when I heard this song for the first time, but it was the song I would play every time I had a panic attack, every time I was trying to push down the urge to self harm, every time I cried myself to sleep. It’s difficult for me to listen to when I’m feeling OK because it takes me to those moments, but I still go to it in my hardest moments. 5. Kodaline’s “Coming Up For Air” album I listened to this album a lot during this time, but especially “Honest,” “Unclear,” and “Lost.” I enjoyed the calm, sad sound of their music, but the lyrics often said the words I didn’t have myself. When you’re depressed, it’s so hard to talk and articulate yourself. The lyrics made me feel less alone without me having to talk about what I was feeling. The Living With Depression Era (2017-Present) By this point, depression had become a part of my life and I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. I started to accept my depression more, and while I still get very depressed and experience suicidal ideation, I understand how to cope with it better. 6. “Broken” by lovelytheband It’s catchy, it’s dancey, it’s the song I blast when I’m getting some air and blowing off steam. The upbeat melody tricks me into feeling a bit better, while still talking about being lonely and broken. 7. “Shadow” by Birdy There’s something hauntingly beautiful about Birdy’s voice, and I remember listening to this song non-stop in 2019. Depression is like a shadow that always follows me around, so this song was fitting. But yet there was something comforting about this song as well — the idea that maybe the people in my life are shadows too, and will be around no matter what. 8. “Let It All Go” by Birdy 2019 was a BIG year for me and Birdy. I had to take a mental health leave from work, and this song was one I listened to every day. I was broken, and the line “I don’t know why we break so hard” hit so close to home, and the idea of letting things go was a very important theme for me at the time. I was holding onto a lot, and I needed to let go. There are at least 20 more songs that belong to each of these eras, because I’m almost always listening to music. These stand out a lot as important ones, but you can hear more of them here. Music will always be a huge part of my journey with depression, and even now listening to these songs again, I can feel the pain from different points in my life when these songs were important. I feel lucky that I had these songs to help me through, and I hope that there is always a song to help you with the hard moments.

These Song Lyrics Help Me Cope With My Depression

For most of my life, music has been a coping mechanism. The sounds often soothe me, and the lyrics frequently give me the words to say what I’m feeling when I can’t articulate it myself. Sometimes the lyrics are what I need to hear, or what I wish someone would tell me. Music is like a friend, or a shoulder to cry on, or a hug on a bad day. Over my many years of having depression, I’ve found songs along the way with words that help me immensely. These are those songs. What I Wish I Could Say / What I Feel These songs (and specific lyrics) are things I feel, or wish I could say about my depression. 1.”Three” by Sleeping At Last Lyrics: “Maybe I’ve done enough / Finally catching up / For the first time I see an image of my brokenness / Utterly worthy of love.” I don’t always feel like I’ve done enough, or like I am enough, but I hope that someday I’ll start to believe I’m worthy of love even while broken. 2. “Flags” by SYML Lyrics: “I’m hurt, I’m hurt you didn’t know / That there’s no pretty way to tell you so / I’m tired, so tired I’m letting go” and “I’m hurt, not hurt enough to die / See I was born to raise, born to fight / I’m tired, not tired enough to sleep / So, devil on my chest, don’t sing with me / Take my breath, let me be.” Sometimes I wish I could just tell the people in my life how much I’m hurting. It’s hard to talk about, and something as simple as “I’m hurt” is impossible to say. 3. “Float On” by Modest Mouse Lyrics: “Well, we’ll float on, good news is on the way.” 4. “Lost” by Kodaline Lyrics: “Take me away make it all better / If not for a day then maybe forever / Is it all in my head cause it’s getting harder.” 5. “The World Spins Madly On” by The Weepies Lyrics: “I woke up and wished that I was dead.” I feel like I can’t say this out loud, because it seems so harsh, but it’s something I experience often, and I wish it was OK to be honest about how depression makes me feel. What I Wish I Could Hear The lyrics in these songs are what I need to hear on a bad day from a friend or loved one, but can’t always have them say it to me. 1. “Alone With Me” by Vance Joy Lyrics: “Everything’s good / Everything’s just as it should be.” Now, I hate being told things are OK when they’re not by a friend, but this feels very reassuring to me. I listen to this when I’m really anxious, and repeat “everything’s good.” 2. “Look After You” by Aron Wright Lyrics: “When you think you’re all alone / I’ll wrap you up and I’ll take you home / No matter what you’re going through / I will look after you.” Every line of this song is like a hug. Sometimes we just need someone to take care of us, and depression makes it hard to believe anyone is there for me. 3. “Stay Alive” by Jose Gonzalez Lyrics: “I will stay with you tonight / Hold you close ’til the morning light / In the morning watch a new day rise / We’ll do whatever just to stay alive.” Staying alive is hard work with depression, and it gets really lonely. Night time is always the worst, and on bad nights I listen to this and imagine I’m being held close. 4. “Don’t Give Up” by Foreign Fields Lyrics: “Don’t give up / I have been there when you fall apart / Don’t give up / I have seen you crawl back to the start.” 5. “Fix You” by Coldplay Lyrics: “I will try to fix you.” Depression has broken me in more ways than I can describe, and while I don’t think I need to be “fixed,” I hear it more as trying to help me or put me back together again. 6. “Open Up” by Matt Simons Lyrics: “What can I do / To build that bridge to find you? / I don’t know what to say / Come on and open up, open up my love / Why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind?” Opening up is hard, especially when I feel ashamed about my depression. It’s so nice when someone truly wants me to let them in, and encourages me in a safe way. 7. “You Are Loved” by Matthew Mole Lyrics: “You are loved / You are loved / And nothing’s gonna change that I will / Love you ’til we’re old and grey / And I’ll love you when we’re young.” Depression convinces me I’m unloveable, and that no one loves me. I need reassurance that I am loved by my friends especially, because their love never feels guaranteed. 8. “Dim” by SYML Lyrics: “The world got a little more dim tonight.” This song is special in a different way for me. It came out shortly after someone I knew died by suicide, and I truly felt the world was dimmer. The EP this was on was all about grief, and on the days I’m feeling more suicidal, I imagine my friends feeling this way if something happened to me, and it helps me hold on for them. 9. “Two” by Sleeping At Last Lyrics: “Tell me, is something wrong? / If something’s wrong, you can count on me…It’s OK if you can’t find the words / Let me take your coat / And this weight off of your shoulders.” 10. “For The Widows In Paradise” by Sufjan Stevens Lyrics: “If there’s anything to say / If there’s anything to do / If there’s any other way / I’ll do anything for you.” These songs make me feel less alone in an experience that is inherently isolating and lonely, and sometimes we can’t hear the words we need from the people we need to hear them from, or we can’t say what we truly feel out loud. In those moments, I’m grateful that songs can help fill that gap. Does someone in your life need to hear one of these songs? Can you send it to them? What lyrics help you when you’re at your worst? I hope that if there’s something you want to say, that you’re able to say it, and I hope that if there’s something you need to hear, that you hear it. And if that’s not possible, I hope there’s a song that can say it for you.

Travel Hacks if You're an Anxious Flier

I’ve never really liked flying. I’m a pretty anxious traveler, and I don’t like the idea of speeding around in a tube 40,000 feet above the ground. A lot of my anxiety about flying stems from not being able to get out if I start to feel sick; I’m stuck until we land. I’ve found that some people who perhaps weren’t nervous fliers before are more nervous about travel since COVID-19 . Some people are anxious about not having to wear masks anymore and getting sick, while others experience anxiety about having to wear a mask for so long because it can feel suffocating. I wear a mask, but I find it hard to breathe when I’m anxious and sometimes my mask exacerbates those feelings. I’m much better about flights under five hours, but long-haul flights cause a lot of anxiety . Over the years, I’ve cultivated some tips that help a bit. 1. Plan your flight times. My anxiety is worse in the morning, so I don’t like flights before 8 a.m. I’m also more anxious if I don’t have a good sleep, so waking up early to catch a flight and having to rush out the door isn’t great. I also don’t like flying late in the evening because I’m anxious the day I travel, and I’d rather get the flight over with. I find a flight between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. is best for me, but it depends on where I’m going. 2. Get to the airport early. My friends and family definitely give me a bit of a hard time for this one, but I like getting to the airport early so that I don’t have to rush. I hate the feeling of being late or worrying I’m going to miss my flight. 3. Have a routine or ritual. Because I like getting to the airport early, I’ve made a habit of having a beer or drink near my departure gate. It’s a chance for me to relax before the flight, and calm my nerves a bit. Maybe for you, it’s getting a particular magazine and reading it in the lounge or getting a specific pre-plane snack. The consistency and familiarity of the routine are calming. 4. Be ready for security. I get anxious about going through security, even though I never have anything I’m not supposed to. I always get stopped for random searches, so that’s been a big source of travel anxiety . My strategy now is to be ready for going through security before I get to the front. I make sure my pockets are empty, my liquids are out, and my shoes are loose so they can slip off. I mentally walk myself through how I’m going to go through security and tell myself the steps again and again so it feels easy. 5. Wear comfortable layers. Anxiety makes my body temperature fluctuate, and planes are always cold to me, so I like having layers I can take on and off to ensure I’m physically comfortable. It’s important to have comfy clothes; I like sweaters with loose collars so I don’t feel suffocated, and loose pants so I don’t feel constricted. 6. Have plane snacks. Because I get nauseous when I’m anxious, I always feel sick before flying so I don’t like to eat much before the flight. But once I’m on the plane and getting more comfortable, I get pretty hungry. Instead of eating before your flight, pack a meal or snacks, or plan to buy it at the airport so you can eat when you’re feeling less anxious. 7. Have a bit of water in a disposable water bottle. I like to carry a plastic water bottle with just a few sips of water in it. You can’t take water through security, but I always need some for the security lineup, so I can drink a bit in the line and once I get to the front it’s easy to finish the rest of it. Then, I refill it once I’m past security so I have water at all times. Thanks to COVID-19 , I’ve developed an anxious cough — when my anxiety is bad and I feel like it’s hard to breathe, I start coughing and choking. Layer in the fact that coughing is now associated with having COVID-19 , and I start having anxiety about my anxiety cough which makes me more anxious. Sipping water reduces the need to cough, which subsequently helps my anxiety . 8. Bring multiple sources of entertainment. I like to pack a couple of books, my laptop, and make sure I’ve downloaded games and captivating shows and movies on my phone. Being occupied during the flight distracts me from my anxiety and makes the flight go by faster. 9. Check in early and choose seats carefully. Checking in for your flight as soon as you’re allowed means that you have the best access to seat selection. I like picking an aisle seat at the front of the plane. I like the aisle because I don’t have to ask anyone to move when I need to use the restroom; in the window seat, I wonder, “what if they’re asleep and I have to get up,” or, “what if they’re angry that I need them to move for me?” I like the front of the plane because it means I get to get off the plane faster, and I also once heard that the front of the plane experiences less turbulence; I have no idea if that’s actually true or not, but I’ll try anything to avoid turbulence. Ultimately, flying still makes me anxious with these tips, but it’s slightly easier when I follow these steps. It’s totally OK to feel anxious about flying, especially when so many of us haven’t traveled in a couple of years, and have COVID-19 fears lingering as well. If you’re not ready to fly, take your time, and start with a short flight to see how it goes. My first flight after lockdowns was especially difficult, but now I feel a lot more comfortable and have been on a plane every few weeks, for work and pleasure. Allow yourself patience and grace if you struggle with traveling; you deserve to feel comfortable and safe, and it’s OK to need time or support to get there.