World Mental Heath Day

In the midst of writing about a very heavy topic this month, I’m presented with another difficult topic that I have been challenged to talk about in the past. One that I didn’t really want to embrace yet.

Mental Health.

Today is World Mental Health Day – a day in which the objective is to raise awareness of mental health issues and to advocate against social stigma.

Not really in the mood to write about this… not ready… but I guess we’re going to chat about it anyway.

I have generalized anxiety disorder. I usually just say I struggle with anxiety and leave it with that. To be honest, this doesn’t bother me. I’ve been through enough yuck in my life that there is not one bit of me that is ashamed of the fact that anxiety is a part of my life. I mean, I wish it wasn’t, but it is and I’m ok with that. It is what it is and it is part of what makes me, me.

It is something I have to deal with every day, every day. Some days are better than others, but it’s always there.

Some days my friend Ellie, the elephant, sits squarely on my chest making it hard to breathe. My thoughts are dark and fear overwhelms me… at times for no real reason.

Other times, I can be driving, feeling perfectly normal, and a car will spook me and suddenly my heart is racing and I feel the flight response taking over.

Sometimes thoughts of awful things come to me from no where and I have to battle the images I suddenly have. At social gatherings, the people overwhelm me and I just want to hide.

And sometimes there is just a low level of unease underneath the surface of my day.

Living with anxiety is hard but it’s such an ever present part of my life that I use my strategies and move on, push through, or just get through and survive the feelings of the day, knowing that it will pass.

But… that’s not even the topic for today. Because there is something else that I don’t like admitting to – and I need to get over it. Several months ago was a period when I had been really struggling. I didn’t want to do much. I wanted to stay in bed all day (I didn’t – single mom/teacher life but I sure wanted to). Things that I previously enjoyed doing, I no longer wanted to do. I wanted to sleep all the time. I was having trouble accomplishing things that I really wanted to accomplish.

And my counselor gave it a name. Depression.

No thanks, my response.

I already struggle with anxiety and I’ve come to terms with that, no need to add another label. Thanks, though.

Ok, but I’m not really going to run away from a problem and that session was spent talking about depression. How it doesn’t always… doesn’t often… look like how it’s presented on TV. You know, with the person who literally can’t get out of bed and is non-functioning.

I was a perfectly functioning adult. I was adulting very well in fact. But… I also had many of the other very common symptoms of depression. I had many, but not all of the symptoms that include…

  • anxiety (yes it goes hand in hand)
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in activities
  • fixation on things
  • insomnia or oversleeping
  • fatigue
  • increased or decreased appetite
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • hopelessness
  • restlessness
  • digestive problems
  • thoughts of suicide (I did not have these but it is a major sign of depression)

My biggest problem with being told that it’s depression was the label. I am a well educated woman who knows that depression is a very physical condition in the brain that cannot be helped and needs intervention. It is not your fault and it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s actually very, very common.

And yet, I didn’t want that label.

Here’s a bigger kicker! I’m already on depression medication!!! I was given it to help with anxiety and when I went back to look at diagnoses on the patient portal for my doctors office – guess what diagnosis was there? Mixed anxiety and depression. I must have known that at some point. I must have just ignored the depression part.

But now I had to face it. Yes, I was struggling with depression. Yes, it was affecting me. I can remember telling my counselor – But I function. I may not want to do the things, but I do the things. I do all the things. Everything that needs to be done.

And she said that’s actually very common. She had a name for it, her own name, and I can’t remember now. Something like the walking unwell. There are so many people, hundreds and thousands of people, that are suffering from depression but just pushing through and still getting stuff done. But their quality of life is not what it could be.

My counselor said I could be a voice.

A voice for the people who do suffer from depression and anxiety but still keep going anyway. The people who may not show how they are really feeling inside. The people… who may not even realize it’s depression they are dealing with until they hear someone else’s story.

I could be a voice that says depression and anxiety are a part of life that no one can control. That it’s nothing to be ashamed of. That it’s ok to get help, even if you are handling your business like a boss. Because you don’t have to go on feeling the way you do.

I ended up going back to my doctor and upping my antidepressant and it was the best decision ever. Over the last several months, I’ve gradually returned to “normal.” My normal involves anxiety daily but it no longer includes the symptoms of depression. My brain needed something that I could not physically give it. When I changed that, my body was able to change too, for the better.

It wasn’t something I could talk my way out of or use affirmations to fix or self love – those are all ridiculously important facets of a healthy life… but if there is a physical deficiency such as there is with depression, you have to address it. It’s ok to get help for that.

I guess my bottom line today is this. It’s possible to be a bad ass, confident, strong woman and still struggle with mental health. And it’s totally ok. It doesn’t change who you are. The diagnosis does not define you. The medicine you take to help does not define you. It’s not who you are.

You are amazing. With all your strengths and struggles, you are absolutely amazing.

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