Everyone feels anxious or depressed at times. But a serious condition of anxiety and depression are different then just lasting for a few minutes or a few hours. It’s a debilitating mental illness that interferes with your everyday life.
I wanted to just talk today about what anxiety and depression mean to me and what some of my biggest struggles are. Before I get too far into that though, I also want to list a couple of important, official definitions according to the Dictionary
- Anxiety – distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune
- Panic attack or anxiety attack – An intense attack of anxiety characterized by feelings of impending doom and trembling, sweating, pounding heart, and other physical symptoms.
- Anxiety Disorder – Any of various mental disorders characterized by extreme anxiety and including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America this term is also used to describe panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.
- Depression – A condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason.
What Anxiety Means To Me And How It Manifests
Social Anxiety Disorder
As you may have noticed by now, I talk more about anxiety than depression. That is because it has plagued me much longer and I believe I have a stronger hold on how it affects me. That being said, I do not have an official diagnosis, nor do I intend to get one in the near future. Some day I’ll be sure to go into detail regarding why, but for now we’ll just say I don’t like labels. That being said, anxiety began for me as a very young child and has continued well into adulthood. Social anxiety disorder is most certainly the most difficult for me to handle so I want to start there.
Social situations stress me out. I have a MAJOR fear of being perceived as stupid or of doing something that disappoints someone else. I am terrified of being embarrassed and I dwell on it much more than others do. If you don’t suffer from social anxiety disorder, you may be sitting there saying, “Yeah, no one likes to be embarrassed.” Please keep reading.
Social Anxiety Creates Physical Problems
When I prepare to go somewhere, I have to take at least 30 minutes just to mentally prepare myself for the fact that there will be people. I may change my clothes up to 5 times before I leave because I notice different things that others may comment on. I mentally walk myself through every potential situation I may encounter while on my journey in order to determine what my response should be. If an event occurs that I hadn’t previously considered, my heart begins to pound, my hands sometimes shake, and I sometimes can’t even catch my breath.
Of course, I am terrified for others to know this, so I will find a way to stabilize my hands and I will pretend everything is okay. Silencing this intense fear, however, results in more trouble. I physically tense my body so much that I have pulled muscles. I grow nauseous, and sometimes even lightheaded. My blood pressure and heart rate rise. I develop migraines. Certain situations have resulted in muscle pain that has lasted for days afterwards. In addition, when I return home and retreat into solitude, I replay every social scenario that occurred and judge my responses to it. Sometimes I am happy with the way I responded, but more often than not, I feel as though I should have handled it better and I vow to prepare better for that situation in the future.
General Anxiety Disorder
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a bit different, and typically does not affect me quite as much as social anxiety disorder does. That being said, it is still very much involved in my life. I recently described GAD to someone like this:
Can you imagine driving on an interstate when suddenly you see an 18-wheeler in your lane heading directly towards you. You know you are going to die! But at the last minute, they swerve back into your lane. Not even a half mile farther down the road, you see your child about to step out into the highway. You scream in terror, only to see them turn and run the other way. Just a moment later, you see a small squirrel begin to dart out towards you. Can you imagine the fear? Even though the squirrel is very insignificant compared to the fear you experienced with the tractor-trailer, and with seeing your child nearly lose their life, those previous experiences already have you on edge and so that little squirrel brings complete and total terror. That feeling of terror is what I live with every day.
While logically I know many of the things I suddenly fret about are fairly insignificant, at that moment is doesn’t feel that way. I live in a state of feeling on edge and as though some horrible disaster is going to strike at any minute. And then, sometimes, I just get overwhelmed with it all and that is when I go flying into an anxiety attack. Typically for me, the feelings of dread, fear, and trepidation build and build, just as your emotions would in the above scenario.
How It Plays Out In My Life
Perhaps it may start with my husband not being home when he should be and I wonder if he could have gotten into a wreck. Then I hear my child coughing and I worry if they are sick. My dog barks and I can feel my heart beat increase its speed as I stare into the darkness wondering if there’s something there. Then I have to formulate a plan for if there is. How will I get my kids out safely? What If I’m not able? What if we get killed? How will my husband cope with life if he comes home and finds us all dead? See how quickly that progression gets out of control? And while it may sound silly, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels real, and it’s scary. And that’s how anxiety affects me.
Depression Is A Whole Different Ball Game
Depression reared its head off and on through my teenage years, but it never lasted too long. It came as feelings of complete rejection, loneliness, and a feeling that I wasn’t good enough. Generally, however, I could eventually pull myself up and see the lack of reality I was allowing myself to dwell in.
When I got pregnant, however, it was different. No one, including me could convince me of the fallacies of my feelings. The amount of darkness surrounding me was so intense, in my mind there way no way out. I didn’t believe anyone could love me.
Hopelessness overtook me as I felt I could never be the good mother my child deserved. I believed I would never improve. Within my heart, I knew I was a horrible wife, sister, and friend. I began avoiding people and lost contact with most of my old friends. After all, I couldn’t manage to get up off the couch, much less out of the house. I hated everyone, especially me. Then, after I had my baby, things became weird.
Despair Lead to Numbness
I suddenly just began going through the motions as though I were numb. Despite the fact that I could smile, laugh, go to church, and basically go about my day, I remember telling someone once, “I feel like I’m in a completely glass room. I can see everyone enjoying their lives and I really want to join them. I want to laugh, and sing, and play. But I’m trapped. There is no way out of this glass room I’m in. No one can hear me. No one knows I’m here so no one can reach in to help. I’m completely stuck.”
I haven’t got a solid grip on depression yet but I’ve come a long way. Motivating myself is still an extreme struggle. I still have feelings of worthlessness and I need a lot of help and support from my family. Every so often, I find myself back in that glass room again. Sometimes I am pounding on the door, begging for help.
Other days, I feel maybe I and everyone else are better off if I just stay where I am out of the way and I slink to the floor in self-pity. But these slumps don’t last nearly as long as they used to. I can eventually find my way out, and I tend to know, even when I can’t see the end of the struggle, that every storm has an end. I know that I’ve fought this battle before and I’ve gotten out and I will get out again!
Anxiety and Depression – The Connection
Some people suffer from anxiety. Some people suffer from depression. But there are a lot of out there in the midst of a crazy, perfect storm. Here is how this cycle can keep me trapped much longer than I would ever like.
When depression took hold of me, for a time, my anxiety lessened because I just didn’t care. I knew that no matter what I did, things would never get better, so I didn’t worry about it. Nothing mattered to me anymore. I didn’t worry about being kind to others (And there were a lot of times I wasn’t). I didn’t worry about how I dressed, or how my house looked. Car wrecks or seriously injuries almost felt as though they would be a welcome relief. I just didn’t care. But when my head cleared enough to see where I was and to see that I did want out, I had a new problem: Anxiety.
Conflicting Sides Of the Coin
Anxiety came back stronger than ever before and the real me, the depression me, and the anxiety me had constant battles. The real me would say, “I want to get better.” The depression side would say, “You know you never can.” The real me would find some logic and make a plan.
I knew I was lonely and I needed a support system. But the anxiety me would say, “But if you invite people to your house you’ll look like an idiot because it’s such a mess.” The depression me would say, “Yeah, and you’ll never get it clean. You should give up.” Often times, the real me would fight for days, or even weeks but eventually I would succumb. I just couldn’t stay motivated enough and nothing was ever good enough. Then I’d get a new plan. I decided I would start going to church. But anxiety me said, “You can’t drive, how will you get there?” Depression me said, “You’ll never be calm enough to.” Real me said, “I want to learn. I can do this.” But anxiety me screamed, “BUT WHAT IF YOU FAIL?” And on, and on the cycle goes.
And Then Came The Blog
Anxiety said, “What if people judge you for the things you say?” Then depression said, “No one cares enough anyways”. But I decided, one way or another, despite adversity, despite what anyone thinks, says, or does, I am going to push both anxiety and depression aside and do what I feel is right. Yes, it took months after I paid for a domain before I ever wrote my first post. But I did it! And it has started giving me a bit of momentum to show both anxiety and depression that no, I’m not perfect, but others don’t expect me to be. It has shown me that yes, things may go wrong, but I CAN get better. And I will reclaim the smile I once owned, and you can too.
Let me know in the comment section below how anxiety and depression manifest themselves in your life and be sure to share this with your friends!