A day in my head when my depression and anxiety are at their strongest. Please note that this is only a small portion of what I experience daily, and it is only my experience and what I describe may not be the experience of others with these disorders. This is only being written to give you an idea of what it can be like from my perspective. Trigger Warning!!!! I do describe what I go through in a panic attack, as well as situations that bring an attack on for me. This may trigger those that suffer with anxiety, so read with caution please!
The alarm goes off at 8am even if it is a day off. The alarm is set to go off everyday at 8am to help me get out of bed, because I really want to just sleep. I want to curl up under the covers, and be tiny, and small, and insignificant. As soon as that alarm goes off though I have to force myself to move. I have to fight the fears that creep into my head about interacting with people, the fears that something will happen that will be to overwhelming to handle, or the fears that I won't be able to get through the day without a breakdown of some kind. I force my feet to hit the floor though, I force myself to move. Some days the depression and anxiety win and I'll sleep in till noon, or I won't get out of bed at all. Other days I know I have to fight them, because I can't let them win everyday.
Getting dressed I'll change three or four times before deciding on an outfit. "Is this work appropriate?", "Am I too casual, or too dressed up?", "Did I gain weight, or is this shirt supposed to be this tight?", "Can I wear red even though I'm not in a power position at work or will that upset someone?", "If the weather is going to be so hot this afternoon is it better to dress for that, or dress for the colder weather it is now since I'll be inside when it's hottest?" These are not just questions, I'm not just worrying. It's fear. If I later go to work and someone comments on how dressed up I am I'll panic, and that could be the beginning of a panic attack for me. "Does that mean she just liked what I was wearing today, or that I'm to dressed up for this job? If she thinks I'm to dressed up does she think that I'm trying to move up into another position there? Is she worried I'm trying to take her job? I'm on her list of bad employees now because she thinks I'm trying to take her job. She's going to fire me the first chance I screw up and then how am I going to pay my bills. If I can't pay my rent I'll have to sell my stuff. If I sell everything and can't get a new job I'm going to be homeless on the street." And this is how a panic attack begins all over what I choose to wear that day.
Breakfast is another battle with myself. "Don't eat that, it's bad for you and people already think you're fat.", "You'll have bad breath, and offend people, all day if you eat that breakfast burrito with onions in it.", "You need to cut down on your coffee intake, it'll stain your teeth and make you jittery." I'll finally decide on something. Normally coffee and something I can carry and eat in the car with me because I've spent too much time deciding what to eat to have time to actually eat it before I leave.
Driving to work, more panicking because of other drivers on the road. "You've already been in 6 car accidents, what will people think if you end up in another one?", "Did that guy behind me leave enough room to stop without hitting me?", "Am I going to be late for work because of this traffic?"
At work my day becomes a combination of anxiety and depression depending on the day and the situations. Often feelings of inadequacy rule the emotions though. "They don't think I'm good enough to do this job.", "They're probably regretting having hired me in the first place.", "I'm never going to be able to do this project they way that they are going to want it done. I'm just not good enough to be doing this." Throughout the day these feelings build, until it is time to go home. I've gotten really rather good at hiding my emotions at work so I don't have a breakdown there. This is unfortunately good and bad. Good because I don't breakdown there for all to see, bad because I'm bottling up those feelings and fears to explode at a later time.
The drive home from work is often the same as the drive to work was, with the same fears. Once home I'll often find bills that need to be paid with money I don't have. Or housework that needs to be done that I just don't have the energy for. Often there is something else at home that makes me breakdown in some way. Either collapsing on the couch or bed and crying before falling asleep (which I shouldn't do because the depression also gives me insomnia too, but do anyways.), or having a panic attack depending on which mental disorder is ruling my brain that day.
If it's a panic attack normally my body tightens, think about having a Charlie horse in your entire body, it's kind of like that. Once my body starts to tighten my panic gets worse, only fueling the attack into another stage, difficulty breathing. Breathing becomes difficult, like when you were a kid and you were crying so hard you couldn't breathe. My body forgets the simple acts of inhaling and exhaling, for me it's normally forgetting to exhale. If I was standing, I most likely can no longer and will fall to the ground. My muscles will have given out meaning my legs can no longer hold me, and my fingers and toes tighten and curl up into claw like appendages. It often feels like someone has wrapped themselves around me and I'm smothering, unable to fight the person off. I'll feel nauseated, and will try to vomit in an effort to ease the pain, but I'm unable to control my stomach muscles. My head will pound, and I'll hear the blood rushing through my ears, making it difficult for me to hear anyone who may be around trying to help me. Eventually after what feels like an eternity, and a lot of concentration on inhaling and exhaling, the attack will subside. I say subside because I'm still just balancing on the edge of another attack. It will be hours before I don't have to concentrate on breathing, or containing the bile to my stomach. Often I'll need to remain seated on the floor, or wherever the attack took place, because my muscles are shaky and unable to move. Often my entire body is shaking, and will be for hours.
Normally it is after these attacks I physically can feel my depression taking over. Often I'll go straight to bed after and not force myself out of bed the next day. I'll sleep, lay on the couch, not eat, and have no ambition to even get dressed. There have been times I have thought of taking my own life, and times I have acted on those thoughts. (Never Stop Feeling) Socializing isn't even a thought, and if it is it quickly is pushed away. Thoughts of seeing other people cause worry about what they think and only brings on the beginnings of another panic attack. I isolate, and for me it is both comforting, and horrifying.
For me, I have found that therapy is the best way for me to control those disorders. Activity such as running daily help me control them. Keeping my environment clean, organized, and controlled helps me. Medications have also been an option, and will always be an option. Anxiety and depression for me are real. I have chemical imbalances in my brain that make thoughts you may think are irrational and silly, very rational and true for me. There are times I am able to go back and look at a situation and see that it isn't me thinking one way, it's my anxiety and depression. Then there are the times that it is so real for me, I can't discern between rational thought, and irrational. Those are the times I rely on others to help me see, and the times I rely on medications to help balance me again.
It's difficult to explain how and why my brain takes what many deal with daily, and makes it into something so much more than what it is. I know this is why it is difficult for many people to understand what exactly it is I am going through, and how to help. The biggest thing I can say is if you are reading this, and trying to understand, you are helping. If you find me, or someone else, in the midst of a panic attack and say in the heat of the moment, "I'm here," you're helping. If you haven't seen or heard from me for a few days and you call me to see if I'm okay, you're helping. We all go through times of sadness, and anxiety. Some of us just can't "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps" and "suck it up" like someone else can. Would you tell someone who has cancer, "suck it up, we all have times we don't feel well but have to push through it."? People have told me that before when I was depressed, and trust me, it makes things worse.
This blog post was not written to generalize anxiety and depression, only to describe a bit of how I personally struggle with them. This post was also not written to gain sympathy for myself either (seriously if you give me sympathy, I'll probably punch you!). This post was written because I felt the need to share with those that read it something they may not understand if they have never experienced it themselves. I know that even within my own family they didn't understand what a panic attack was like for me until they witnessed me having one. And even then it was still difficult for them to understand. Because mental disorders happen "in your head" it can be hard to understand. If someone breaks their arm, we can see a cast and an x-ray even if we can't see the broken bone from outside the skin. There are no x-rays or casts for mental disorders, so we often forget that they are just as real as broken bones. I know that there will always be a stigma with mental illness, there will always be people that don't understand because they can't see it. For me though, I know it's real, and I will continue to share my story in hopes that it may change the mind of someone who has difficulty believing it. That's why I wrote this blog post.