To Whom It May Concern...
A story about the daily struggles with anxiety and depression: plus tips that have helped me cope.
This is an interpretation of my experiences with anxiety and depression. Sort of "a day in the life" from my point of view.
Everyone deals with anxiety and depression in their own personal way. The metaphor I like to use is that of a snowflake. Each and every snowflake that falls from the sky is unique; they come in different shapes, sizes, and complexity - but they are all "snowflakes".
This same idea can be applied to us as humans and our mental health. We never compare snowflakes — they are all beautiful in their own ways.
My intention with this story is not to compare my struggles with anyone else's. There is no way to measure severity when it comes to mental health. Those who struggle should know that their feelings are valid and just as important as everyone else's. The message I hope to convey is that although every human being struggles differently, we are not alone. Snowflakes live amongst each other harmoniously despite their differences. I think it's about time we do the same.
It's four o'clock in the morning. Even in the darkness and complete silence, I am jolted awake. My heart is racing, but I'm exhausted. My eyes are wide open, but all they want to do is shut. My breathing is heavy yet shallow. I'm physically blinded by the blackness of the night, but it feels like there is an orchestra of multi-coloured fireworks and thoughts running through my mind: I can see them all so clearly. I am having a panic attack. No triggers (so it seems), and no environmental stimulus providing me with any kind of insight as to why this is happening to me... again.
At some point, I fall asleep again for a few hours. I am still drained. It always feels as though I've just run a marathon. The panic attack has subsided, but I'm nowhere near being out of the woods, so to speak. My anxious thoughts start rolling in slowly but surely. The more I try to resist, the more I begin to overthink. I am being hijacked by my anxious mind and the vicious circle commences; the more anxious thoughts that enter my mind, the more my energy is depleted, and the more I start to feel my depressive symptoms for the day.
It scares me to be so aware of what I'm feeling and not have any motivation to change it. There is an eerie sense of habitual comfort that washes over me because these feelings are not unknown to me anymore. It feels curiously safe. However, my true self or wise mind, (you may use any variation of these that you'd like) knows I do not want to be stuck in this part of my brain. This in turn, grudgingly brings up a strong sense of cognitive dissonance: which only further complicates matters internally.
I feel mentally trapped in a zombie-like state. I'm hungry but don't want to eat. I want to read, but cannot focus. I just want to sit on the couch and watch Netflix, but find myself scrolling for thirty minutes only to give up and sit in silence. Nothing seems appealing. The feeling of loneliness starts to set in and make itself at home. Loneliness, not in the literal/physical sense, but as it pertains to the mind.
This blackhole of negative, depressing, and anxious thoughts engulfs me. It takes complete control. The worst part is, I am aware of it the entire time. I can't stop it. I open my mouth in an attempt to explain what is happening with logic and reasoning, but nothing comes out. The words people speak to me sound as if they are coming under water. Deep in this vicious circle of my anxious mind, I feel hopeless. Utterly shutdown.
I ask myself why. But that is not the right question. In fact, I shouldn't be questioning these feelings at all.
Coping and Final Thoughts
My feelings are valid. Your feelings are valid. There will never be a logical explanation for getting a panic attack out of the blue, or going from happy to sad to depressed. We are all human. I think it is important to remind ourselves of that fact.
Show yourself compassion when you feel depressed. Listen to what your body is telling you it needs when you're anxious.
I think it is important to know how to respond to someone struggling with mental health. The best part is that you do not need to know what they are going through to be there for them. All you need to do is LISTEN. Don't try to fix their problem — it only adds fuel to the fire. Providing a "quick fix" may seem like a good idea, but in my opinion, that couldn't be further from the truth. It can easily come off as minimizing or as if you are disregarding their feelings. It can make them feel like you aren't hearing them, and eventually make them push you away, shutting themselves off from wanting any kind of help from you.
Instead of saying "just do this..." or "it's really not that bad...", try asking them what they need. Instead of saying "Oh I've been through this, you'll be fine too", try empathizing with them by asking if there is anything you can do to help. Even something as simple as letting the person know you are there to listen can be extremely beneficial.
The point is, everyone is different. There may be similarities in the root causes or in the physical manifestation of anxious/depressive symptoms, but two situations will NEVER be identical.
I believe understanding this is a crucial step in fighting the stigma that is mental illness. Put yourself in someone else's shoes. Realize that you will never have a complete grasp on their situation. Clear your mind of any bias or judgement, and make listening to every word they speak your sole intention. Provide a safe space for people to express themselves. Whether you believe it or not, we are all unique humans who are in this together — differences and all.
Just like the snowflakes, we are beautiful individually and together. But we also have the ability to spread love and show compassion. Imagine how amazing this world would be if we all practiced that a little bit more?