Living with Depression and Anxiety
A personal journey
I suffer from several mental health conditions: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, trauma, disordered eating, and neurotic issues. Over the last several years, I fell into a black hole of depression that I thought I would never get out of and am only now clawing my way up the side of.
I've suffered from depression my whole life and I have made a few stabs at treating it over the years but nothing really took. I remember being depressed as a child coming home from school after a day of bullying and feeling like a fat little unwanted outsider. I was depressed as a teenager, suffering from an eating disorder, being told that I was too fat, weird, and smart all the fucking time. I developed the beginnings of a lifelong battle with body image and self-mutilation. My twenties were a blur of ups, more downs, and constant gnawing anxiety. By my thirties, I was spiralling ever downwards.
I deluded myself to think I would just come out of the depression on my own. That I would just automatically get better. My last bout of depression proved just how wrong I was. I spent several years going very far down the depression rabbit hole. As I think back it started as my health problems got rather bad (not death-causing bad but lots of awful pain kind of bad) and it took a toll on me that I'm only just beginning to realize. I started to lose interesting in everything. It went beyond sadness to a type of numbness that flattened the whole world. I didn't want to be around people, I isolated myself, I didn't call friends, the whole world felt bland and uninviting. I couldn't find any motivation to do anything. I just wanted to run away and hide.
If you have ever read the novel Perfume, the main character at one point decides he's had enough of humanity and crawls into a crevice in the mountains. He stays there for years, living off of roots and water dripping down the walls and lives completely inside his head building kingdoms. I felt like I wanted to find a crevice and just stay there forever. I became increasingly non-functional. Unable to work or do even the simplest of tasks like brush my hair or go to the store. I could no longer focus. I couldn't read for more than few moments (torture for a bibliophile). I couldn't even focus on a half-hour TV show. Larger tasks became massive cliffs that my brain just could not deal with. I felt sick all the time. Everything hurt. Living hurt. I could barely make it out of bed most days. Most days I didn't make it out of bed.
Luckily I avoided being suicidal only by the fact that I'm so neurotic that I have a pretty serious fear of death. I mostly just wanted to remove myself from the human world and hide. The closest I ever came to a vague suicidal thought was having a bottle of pills and a bottle of whiskey in front of me and actually thinking of mixing the two. It was not to commit suicide but because I wanted to feel sick. I wanted so bad to not feel the crushing depression I was in that feeling really sick and ending up in the hospital almost seemed like a better idea. Luckily my fear of death kicked in and I didn't do it. But that's not to say I didn't engage in other self-destructive behaviours like self-mutilation, self-medicating with alcohol, removing myself from human contact, and seriously thinking about just leaving and never coming back.
I knew something was very wrong but I didn't know how to get out of it. It's extremely hard to make those decisions when you are so far down in the mud that you feel absolutely stuck. I tried anti-depressants for the first time and had a severe allergic reaction that put me in the hospital. That gave me a fear of the meds and I avoided them for the next year even though I knew I wasn't getting better. I finally came to the realization that I really needed help when I had a nervous breakdown and realized I had finally been pushed to the absolute edge of sanity.
My disorders had finally pushed me far enough to make me try anti-depressants again even though I was terrified of getting another allergic reaction. I tried a different anti-depressant and didn't have a scary reaction. I suffered through the side effects and waited for the benefits. I really thought nothing was ever going to work because my depression had convinced my brain that it wouldn't. Having severe depression is like having a little demon sitting on your shoulder whispering in your ear that nothing will ever be better and that you are not worthwhile in any sort of way. I had to add a second medication to counteract the sedation effects of the first. As is always true of psychiatric meds I had to try many to find the right mix over the course of several months under the supervision of a psych med specialist. This is where a lot of people give up because it can take months or even years to find the right combination to effect what is going wrong in your brain chemistry as depression hits everyone differently. But I stuck with it and luckily hit upon a good combination fairly quickly.
I am actually feeling like a human now. My mood has improved immensely and I realized for the first time in forever I was actually starting to feel happy and interested in the world again. I can focus, I can read and I can write. Things I thought I might never do again. I always resisted drugs but I have to admit that there was something very wrong in my brain chemistry that needed to be treated and just waiting for it to fix itself was not going to work. Depression (as well as anxiety, body issues, bi-polar disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction, and bad temper) runs in my family. I now recognize a lifetime of symptoms that I was always waiting for "to just go away on their own." That is not the reality of depression.
I still have bad issues with anxiety that need to be treated and I will always be neurotic. My disordered eating needs to be addressed, as does living with chronic health issues, but I'm on the road to recovery. I do recognize that I can backslide at any moment and I need to learn to recognize the signs and how to deal with them (which is a long process as most treatment programs take months or years to get into due to budget cutbacks and high demand). Every little step forward is a good one.
I have always been good at putting up walls and fronts. I build a castle of defenses to protect what is actually a very delicate heart. I come off as brash, bitchy, and very confident. I look very sure of myself and in a lot of ways I am. But the truth behind that facade is there is a tortured little girl inside me who is pretty sure she is worthless, unlovable, unwanted, and hated. That little girl lurks behind everything I do and sometimes she is controlling my interactions with the world. I build those walls to protect her as she is fragile and can not take too many hits before she falls apart. Every day she and I navigate this alienating world and struggle to move forward to something better.