Let’s just cut to the chase: I have depression and anxiety.
I’ve dealt with both for years, and they’re freaking brutal. (Content warning for general descriptions of each. If you need immediate help, it’s available here.)
I’ve thought about writing this post dozens of times. I’ve tried at least four or five times. I’ve put it off because maybe it was too personal, or I wasn’t sure if I was ready to share that yet. It is personal, and I’m still not sure I’m ready, but I am sure that every person who is open makes it easier for someone else who might be struggling.
I was reluctant to name it as such for a long time, and had a long list of handy excuses. “This is probably just situational, if anything.” “It hasn’t been long enough to count.” “It isn’t bad enough to call it that.” “You’re just having a bad day/week/month/season.” “You’re just tired.” “You don’t have the qualifications to diagnose that.”
Saying it aloud or writing it down is a whole other level. What will people think? What if someone judges me? All of these are, unfortunately, real and valid concerns. But depression is just as real.
The first time I had a panic attack 7 years ago, I had no idea what was happening. It was utterly terrifying. The first season I faced real depression, I used to go outside and kneel in the grass in the middle of the night just hoping somehow that might make it better, might make it all hurt less.
I went to counseling sessions a couple of times at various low points, and it didn’t make it worse but also didn’t help much. I told myself I was surviving, and that if I’d made it through everything else then I could deal with these feelings too. I hesitated to give the names I suspected for what I was dealing with. After all, I’m not a doctor or mental health professional — who am I to self-diagnose?
And then 2020 happened. And a horribly stressful winter turned into a terrible, painful spring turned into a lonely, miserable summer. I spent a lot of time falling asleep early on the couch, or laying on the floor, or having to stop whatever normal thing I was doing because it was suddenly all too much, or there were awful thoughts going through my head. I’d been putting off setting up a new therapy situation first because making the phone call felt too daunting, then because we ended up in a freaking pandemic.
Until I didn’t.
I got set up with virtual therapy sessions in a blessedly simple system*, and for the first time was working with a therapist I actually liked, who actually got me. And dude, it’s been phenomenal. Nothing you do for your mental health — or with self-care in general — is a magic cure-all, and this is no exception. I still have to put in the time and develop the practices to make anything from a session helpful in my day-to-day life.
(Sidebar: I also want to note that I’m incredibly privileged in being able to afford therapy without much trouble, and am aware that’s not everyone’s situation. A lot of mental health professionals and services offer a sliding scale for payment, and your insurance or work may offer some coverage as well. Definitely use those resources.)
After several months of therapy and self-reflection as well as talking to my doctor, I decided to start taking medication to help with some of what I’d been dealing with. I was, like a lot of folks, apprehensive at first. I did a ton of looking into it. I talked with a few people I trusted for their perspective and experience. I questioned whether it was “bad enough” to warrant the step, and then realized that based on multiple years of consistently using the same assessment that doctors use, the results were pretty clear.
None of that made the nervousness go away of course. What did was the fact that within a few days of starting medication, I felt better than I had in months. Levels of difficulty I’d been so used to for years that I didn’t realize they could just ~not be there~ were mostly gone.
Again, nothing is a cure-all. I still have bad nights, bad days, even bad weeks.
Even with everything I’ve been doing to take care of my brain and body, I’ve still had panic attacks and breakdowns. But all of the resources and tools I’ve made use of have turned the difficult moments into hurdles, instead of waves pulling me under. Right now I’m actually doing the best I’ve been in a long time, but I’m not pressuring myself to make that permanent. That’s not how life works, and it’s certainly not how my brain works.
May is mental health awareness month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019 (2020 data hasn’t been released yet, but is likely to show an increase). Anxiety and depression were the most common, at 19% and 8% of U.S. adults, respectively. 17% of youth (ages 6 to 17) experience a mental disorder.** Mental health challenges — both temporary and chronic — are incredibly common.
If you’re interested in learning more or want to take a closer look at your own mental health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America both offer great resources. I also did a blog post last year with some additional resources listed. Crisis resources and hotlines are available here.
Mental health is just as important as physical health, but can be much more difficult to discuss and uniquely challenging to navigate. I’m grateful to have had the ability to find better ways to care for mine, and know that each person who talks about it makes it easier for us all to be open, and to get help as well as care for each other.
If you’d like any more resources, let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup. Thanks for reading, and remember to take care of yourself.
*Not sponsored, but for those that want to know, I started doing therapy through BetterHelp but no longer do. I actually really enjoyed my experience, but it’s not for everyone. If you want more info feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to let you know what it was like for me.
**I only pulled from one source to make the numbers easy, but the numbers are supported by other studies, including Mental Health America and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
(Photo is a free stock photo because writing this post was all I’ve got.)