Jared and I started this website to share personal thoughts and stories so that we could try to help people who have faced similar experiences feel less alone… and to try to connect with and reach the hearts of people who may not have experienced something that one of us has. This whole project is our combined effort to make whichever portion of the world we can influence a little bit kinder and a little more empathetic…..not to specifically talk about politics. So, today, I am going to refocus on our goal and less on current events.
I haven’t written in a while….which is something, I wish I could blame on “writer’s block,” but that wouldn’t be the truth. The truth is that I was sort of MIA. And the real truth is that I wasn’t “Missing in Action” so much as I was “Missing in Anxiety.” Which is why this post is going to be focused on mental health.
I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder three years ago and I manage both of those issues, pretty successfully, with therapy and, more importantly (for me, personally), medication. Each have been extremely helpful for me and I am thankful every day that I have access to the care I need. I desperately wish more people did.
When I’m not being treated for these things, I am a mess. I experience constant, debilitating guilt. I view even the tiniest of mistakes as further confirmation of my own worthlessness. I drink too much and teeter on the edge of eating disorders. I say “yes” to everything in an attempt to “work” my way out of my own self-hatred…as though achieving enough or the right thing…or getting enough people to love me will somehow eventually “convince” me that I’m worthy of existing.
Prior to actually finding a treatment that worked for me…I truly believed that there was nothing I could do that would ever actually make me feel better. Not every day was completely dark and I figured that being moderately sad and anxious was just the way I was going to have to live. I had learned and tried the “coping tools”. I’d read tons of books on psychology. I ran all the time and was really into exercise. I had gone to therapists. I had tried several medications. And although I knew myself inside and out at this point….and could probably teach classes on psychology from all of the bibliotherapy I had consumed, I couldn’t feel the way I knew was “logical” or “normal” in any given situation. It just wasn’t happening. Plus, I wasn’t suicidal, which was another reason I felt I didn’t need/deserve to be helped. I was fine “enough”… even though I was really, really tired of being sad.
I ended up seeking help again, not for my own sake, but for my husband’s. Obviously, I should have just gone for myself. But again….I wasn’t in a place where doing anything “for myself” was all that motivating. I went because my husband begged me to go, so that he could come home to “me” every day instead of a crying blob on the couch.
My new therapist was excellent and the medication I was put on was not only the right one for me, but eventually the right dosage. (Both of which can make a huge difference to it feeling effective). I also had reached a point in my life where I felt motivated enough to put in the difficult and vulnerable work that therapy requires to actually make a difference. That motivation may have been spurred by my husband and not anything intrinsic, but it was enough for me to take the steps necessary to move forward, in order to get where I needed to go. My experiences with therapists until that point had been superficial….and I realized eventually that a lot of that was because I hadn’t yet actually “put in the work” and put myself out there with them.
Since I found the right medicine and spent some time in therapy, I feel pretty good most days! And when I do feel low, which definitely happens, because that’s just life….I feel it on a much more manageable level, it’s usually caused by something that actually happened (as opposed to just existing), and my feelings are much closer to the realm of what I would call a “reasonable response” than “flying off the handle.”
I don’t know that most people would guess these things about me without me outright telling them. I don’t hide it, so there ARE people who know, but even with my transparency on it all, I think that most people would say something like- “Oh wow! I would have never known!” or “I’m glad you’re better!”
I just want to say though….I’m not “better”…like it’s an end-state or something. I’m doing better, because I actively work at it every day- whether that’s by remembering to take my meds or reminding myself to “ABC” myself through damaging self-talk. If I stop doing those things— I go straight back to that scary and awful place I talked about five paragraphs ago. I know, because it has happened. And sometimes I get frustrated by the fact that I even have to do all this work….because I know lots of people are out there who DON’T have to… and that definitely feels unfair somehow. But overall, I try to counteract that by focusing on being grateful for the fact that I CAN feel “better” at all.
Allllll of that said…I’ll get back to why I was “MIA” for the past few weeks. Even though I am managing my depression and anxiety pretty well at this point in my life, when something big happens, my typical coping tools can be rendered mostly useless and my medication only prevents me from reaching rock bottom and not from engaging in the accompanying downward spiral. Still helpful… but definitely less effective. Which isn’t really a bad thing exactly…because I WANT to feel my feelings. I just don’t want to be consumed by them.
This time- the “big thing” that happened was the election. Don’t worry, I’m not delving into “political discussion land”, I just need to cut through it.
I was on high-alert already the week of the election, because I very much viewed it as a pivotal moment not only for my country, but for my family. The fact that it took several days to get any conclusive answers left me nauseous, hyper-vigilant, and sleepless.
My anxiousness went careening into full-blown panic when I got into an argument about the election with a loved one via facebook messenger….in the middle of a doctor’s appointment at a Japanese hospital, where I go almost monthly to get needles stabbed into my back for pain management (oxymoronic…but there ya go). I had spotty reception, so I was unsure if my messages were being sent or, sometimes, if I had to wait a long time, if I was being ignored.
I don’t usually recommend “arguing” via facebook, but I’m halfway across the world from most of the people I know and I, personally, find that I express myself better through written word anyway…so, it happened. My family member and I were able to reach a point of…not closure…but understanding, I think… eventually, which I’m grateful for. The fact that she engaged with me and we were able to finish our discussion on a loving note meant a lot to me.
But spending a full day immersed in confrontation, coupled with almost a week of constant anxiety and mental acrobatics left me….with nothing left. So I needed some time. And I took it. And since I did, I was able to sit down and write this post because I wanted to and not because I “should.” Which might seem semantic, but it’s a pretty big deal for me and if you’re someone who identifies with any of this or has experienced these things yourself….you get it.
Mental health is a huge, huge, huge, huge, broaaddddd subject and I am sure I’ll come back to it in future blog posts, because I barely scratched the surface, outside of my own experiences, but for now, this is all.
Stay safe, healthy, and hopefully happy ❤