I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I’m not alone when I say I’m struggling. I’ve been struggling for a while, and the day finally came to do something about it.
Anxiety has been a presence in my life since I was a young girl. Unfortunate circumstances and stressful times dealt me a hand of heavy responsibility and crowded emotions. We all have a story, one that’s left us helpless and scrambling, but that story isn’t the focus of this. However relevant that story may be, the damage is done, and time ticks by. Life carries on. And here we are.
As a young adolescent moving through the drudgery of life, I found myself looking over my shoulder and building a defense — a wall sturdy and strong, so the past can never repeat itself. While I calculate my plans and analyze those in them, I steer clear of any opportunity to feel pain or hurt. Although I won’t know it until my late 20s, I am being introduced to anxiety. Its seeds sprout there from a young age, and it grows as I grow.
Anxiety feeds me insecurities and fear. It gives me sweaty palms and a racing heart. It steals sleep from me and wakes me with thoughts that shouldn’t make sense, but somehow they do in the dark quiet of the night. It depletes relationships and sours group gatherings. It hinders my role as a wife and mother. And it takes from me my confidence — all that was left of it, anyway.
Depression introduced itself to me as a young adult. I was maneuvering through my 20s, feeling like the world could be my oyster if only I could learn to manage this anxiety better. When my nerves get the best of me and my anxiety gouges me with fear, depression is there hovering over me like a fog. A fog that has the potential to develop into thick, dense rain clouds. Its showers pour over me without leaving any knowledge of the reason behind the darkness. I search for light, and even when I find a thin sliver of it, the clouds eventually follow. This feeling is foreign, yet familiar at the same time. It reminds me of darker times as a child, and I want to run from that feeling as fast as I can.
But it always catches up.
Depression feeds me more anxiety and irrational thoughts. It engulfs me in feelings of being overwhelmed. It swallows me with sadness and loneliness. It keeps me isolated and unproductive. It takes me away from my family, both physically and emotionally. It provides me a dark hole to hide away in, in pain and aching from stagnation. It places me in the dark, gives me back to the light, only to return again. And again. And again. To take me away in an endless cycle.
I’m tired of leaving. I’m tired of missing out on life, because I just can’t.
I see myself trying to suppress the anxiety and depression. Everyone else sees my smiling face — a mask I’ve learned to wear so well. I see myself running on a hamster wheel, trying to keep going. Trying to keep my mind busy from the thoughts that attack me time and time again. Everyone else sees a woman who is accomplished and can do it all. The pressure is suffocating.
I see myself running the rat race and beating myself up when I fail. I see my abilities and potential flying out the window, watching as opportunities pass me by because there’s just no way I could attempt anything more than I’m already doing — which feels like absolutely nothing. I see myself rationalizing the feelings and dismissing them as if they’ll soon be gone with each passing circumstance. After I finish school, I’ll be fine. After we move, I’ll feel better. After this, after that, everything will be ok. But it’s not.
And I’m not alone.
I finally hit bottom, sitting at the edge of my bed alone with my thoughts of failure as a mother and failure as a wife. I pick up the phone and call my doctor.
I walk into her office sweating, on the verge of tears.
I sit down with a racing heart and blood pressure so high, you’d think I had just taken five shots of espresso.
I sit in her gaze, crying, and asking for help as she compassionately asks me the hard questions.
She confirms that I am a therapist. “Yes, an intern,” I affirm.
“Wow,” she replies. “You should feel so proud of yourself for taking this step,” as she writes my prescription.
I am proud. In this moment I am little more than a helpless child, but proud I am. As long as it’s taken me to get here, it’s not because I think I am exempt. It’s not because I don’t think it can happen to me. It’s not because I am embarrassed. I simply needed to have that moment of clarity, a moment of realization that I can’t actually handle this, or manage this on my own.
It was an emotional bottom that no one sent me into — not my kids, not my husband, not family or friends. It is no one’s fault. It was my depression and anxiety. They ganged up on me and attacked me all at once. And I thank them for that. If it weren’t for that bottom, I wouldn’t have made the gigantic step I did.
And I’m not alone.
I’ll never be alone in this struggle. I do not stand alone; I stand with a brave and courageous legion who fight for their lives every day by using therapeutic interventions and medicine. We stand (now) together to fight the stigma.
We are not alone.
Depression and anxiety does not discriminate. Every gender, every race, every size, and culture suffers from these debilitating disorders. And it’s ok. Because we aren’t alone — we have each other, to rid the shame and embarrassment from our minds, and the stigma from our society.
I am not ashamed. We are not ashamed. And you don’t have to be ashamed.
Because you are not alone.