Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Living with Anxiety & Depression

I mentioned in an earlier post that I've been taking medication for anxiety and depression for about 12 years now. Like I said then, I know it's kind of (maybe not as much as it used to be) a hush-hush topic, but I'm very open about this piece of myself. And the reason is two-fold. First, I think it's important for others (myself included) to feel that they're not alone. Anxiety and depression can be terrifying...it feels at times like you've been swallowed whole, and I've honestly felt like I would never escape its tight grip. That's a terrible feeling. Second, I've had such a positive experience with medication, and I want others who are truly suffering to know that medication is an option, and there's no reason for anyone to silently suffer. With all of that said, here's my story:

I've come to the conclusion that I've probably been anxious almost my entire life. I didn't really recognize how debilitating it was (or had gotten) until I was in grad school, and it was shortly thereafter that I finally started seeing a psychologist.

I can look back on my life now and see all the signs (neon lights, really!) that pointed to me having severe anxiety. As a child I remember having the strong, irrational fear of being kidnapped or murdered. I can laugh about it now (kind of), but I used to beg my little sister to guard the bathroom door while I showered...it was only then that I was able to shower in peace, knowing that she would "deter" an intruder. In junior high I remember having the extreme fear of speaking in class. I know public speaking is a fear of many, but I got to the point where I would get physically sick from the thought of it. There were several days where I called my parents from school, convinced I had the stomach bug, when in fact I was just so anxious that I was making myself sick...I know that now because as soon as they would pick me up and take me home, I'd be fine. The brain is a powerful organ.

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My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30, and she died when she was only 36. I was almost 10-years-old. I sometimes wonder if she hadn't gotten sick if I would still struggle with anxiety and depression, or at least struggle as much. I remember having a very hard time leaving her as a young child. I remember being asked to spend the night at a friend's house and the panic and guilt that would ensue, wondering: "Should I leave my mom?" "Is it going to hurt her feelings?" "I need to spend all my time with her, don't I?" "I'm scared if I'm not with her I won't ever see her again." No child ever expects to ultimately lose a parent, but I felt like that "what if?" was always in the back of my mind, even then, at a young age.  Those what-ifs are something that still plague me.

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For me, anxiety has been debilitating at times. I have felt like my skin is crawling...like there are tiny pins pricking at my skin. It has left me almost paralyzed in certain moments, unable to make a decision and just completely consumed with fear. I remember in grad school getting so overwhelmed with what I needed to study that I didn't even know where to begin. Instead of starting somewhere, anywhere, I would just take a Benadryl when it got to that point so I could go to sleep...and so all the anxiety would go away for the time being. I knew then that things had gotten out of control and that I needed to talk to someone. I was running from my problems, and I needed to address them.

I struggle much more with anxiety than I do with depression, although I've battled both. Many times, for me at least, anxiety has led to depression. And depression is something I wouldn't wish on anyone. The best way I know to describe it is an overwhelming feeling of sadness, and you have no idea why you're sad. It is a scary, lost, and empty feeling, and I hate it.

I am so thankful for the psychologist I saw in my early 20s. He was then and is still a hero to me. I felt like he was the first person to get me, and he made me feel not so abnormal anymore. He made such a positive difference in my life just by listening to me and in recognizing my struggles. What a relief. He recommended medication and referred me to a physician who wrote the prescription. I still have a notecard he gave me, all those years ago. On it he wrote, "You are stronger and more capable than you think, but if you need me, I am always here." That's something I'll never forget.

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So on to medication. Yes, Tom Cruise, I tried many alternatives before I tried medication. I prayed (I still do); I exercised; I took my multivitamins, and I ate fairly well. I tried meditation before I tried medication. I tried it all and when nothing helped, I had no qualms with trying something that might make me feel better.

It took several weeks for the medicine to start working, but when it did it made such a difference. I'm not saying medication is a magic pill with no side effects, and life all of the sudden took on a rosy hue while I laughed my way through every scene. But as I've said to people before, I feel like medication has helped me be more of who I truly am. There are side effects, though they are very minimal for me. I still get anxious and depressed at times. I still get nervous. I still cry. It didn't turn me into a robot with no feelings. I'm still human, and I think that's very important for people to realize. It just took away (or minimized, really) some of the really bad spots and gave me the ability to better cope. I felt like I was finally Lindsey, and I felt like I was finally able to truly be myself without that crippling fear.

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I try to find the good in every situation. That's something that's so important to me. So while my struggle has been real and raw, and I wish I hadn't gone through it, I do hope my story might help someone. If nothing else, I do believe it's made me more sensitive to the struggles of others. It's helped me realize that we're all fighting something, and that we're all really in this thing called life together. We need each other, and we need to support one another on this journey.

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Thank you for reading my story...