It’s no secret that I have had my struggles with depression and anxiety. I wrote about my experiences a few years ago. Hitting ‘publish’ on that post was one of the most frightening yet freeing moments of my life.
Unfortunately, the stigma against mental health remains, and I feel somewhat called to help reduce that stigma. One of the ways I can best do that is through writing about my experiences, normalizing them for others and putting a face to what most people is a faceless problem.
I am successful. I am a young professional with a well-paying job and lots of responsibility. Academically, everything I’ve touched has basically turned into straight As. I am musical. I am articulate (I think). I am fun, have a great sense of humor and can talk your ear off if given the chance.
And I am one of the last people that you would ever think would struggle with depression and anxiety.
When we think of mental illness, we tend to think of people that live in poverty, people that have addictions, people from abusive backgrounds, and people who use it as an excuse. We rarely think of those ‘normal’ people like me that desperately try to keep mental illness from overtaking their life and dimming their hopes and dreams.
Mental illness has coloured a lot of my decisions over the past couple of years. As I get older, I get a bit smarter about how I manage it, and I’m learning what my triggers are and how to deal with the inevitable ups and downs. I had a relatively minor down period this past spring, and while I was frustrated, I finally felt like I had the tools and support systems in place to deal with it; I finally felt like I had a bit of control over the depression and anxiety, rather than feeling like I was letting them lead me around on a leash. After a decade of fighting tooth and nail against them, I felt like we came to a bit of a truce, albeit an uneasy one.
I’ve come to realize that I need to work with my mental health, rather than against it. This is difficult when you’re a driven, Type “A” personality with control issues and a constant need for validation. Whereas in years past I would be involved in countless activities from morning ’til night, I’m now very selective about what I do, and I ensure that I have lots of down time. A few years ago, I would have thought I was lazy; now, I realize that rest is an essential means of self-preservation.
However, I still have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn. Sometimes I do the exact opposite of what I know I should be doing out of sheer spite and defiance, kind of like how a diabetic thumbs her nose at her disease when she scarfs down a bunch of sugary foods that she knows she shouldn’t. The fact that I have a chronic illness doesn’t always compute, especially at times like now when I feel rather normal.
But ‘normal’ is relative, as I’ll never be the ‘normal’ person I was before that first panic attack. While my body doesn’t bear any physical scars from my struggles, there are many emotional scars and wounds that, while healing, are susceptible to tearing open at any given time. I sometimes wonder if I will ever again have the freedom that I used to feel, when the only thing standing between me and the world was my own willingness to step outside the door.
I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that so far, whenever depression and anxiety have tried or even kept me from walking out that figurative door, I’ve somehow always managed to eventually go back and step out on to the doorstep. And that perseverance gives me some comfort that I can face whatever comes next, and that I’ll always be able to find my way back outside.