Mental Illness is Something We Can Fight
I recently had a pretty major episode of depression. For a little history, I have struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. And, like most people I didn’t get help until about ten years later. I tried to treat it with sheer will, exercise, nutrition, meditation, and complete avoidance. Now that I have been on medication for almost three years, it’s been very interesting. While my medication stopped daily thoughts of suicide and the doom and gloom of my depression, I had to develop a keen awareness of when my symptoms were having a flair up.
When I taught groups we would talk about how anxiety and depression are more often than not related. For some, they have a bout of anxiety which leads them to feel depressed and apathetic. For others, they have a bout of depression and it leads them to feel anxious about all the things because they can’t seem to get their body to move. For me, I can tell my anxiety is having a flair up because I feel like I have to do it all and be it all. Then, when I fall short, I become a bully to myself and I get apathetic and hopeless resulting in a depressive episode. And, my depressive episodes make everything feel dull, there’s very little drive to do most things and I sleep-a lot. I compare it to having lead in your veins and trying to walk with cinder blocks on your feet.
I wanted to share this in a blog post for a couple reasons. First, I want those of you who have a loved one with anxiety or depression or any other type of mental illness to have an inside scoop. It can be tough to be on the outside watching your loved one go through this and not know what to do. One of the best things you can do is to memorize the phrase “I’ve noticed…” This is such a great statement because its non confrontational and it demonstrates that you care enough to express concern. For instance, my husband might say “Hey babe, I’ve noticed that you seem really tired these last few days and you have been really frustrated with things, are you ok?” Why this is important is because sometimes when you’re the person having all the symptoms, you don’t see it. This is also important because you become your loved one’s ally and you can work to decrease the difficulty of the symptoms, find strategies to make things easier, and open the dialogue to talk about what you’re seeing.
The second reason I wanted to share this is for those going through the symptoms of mental illness. Please know, you are not alone. Your brain is having a difficult time working and will get you to believe these lies. Also, you are not helpless. I want to be compassionate and firm all at the same time as I write this. When you have any type of illness it is your responsibility to use your resources and find a solution or ways to cope. It won’t be perfect and there is a trial and error process but ultimately, it’s on you to manage your illness.
Case in point, this last flair up I recently had. It was the first time I was able to separate myself and my own personal worth from the symptoms I was having. I was able to recognize that my body was depressed and that it doesn’t make me any less of a person; yet another symptom of mine trying to convince me that I am a waste of human life. What I found was I had to adjust my expectations for my daily accomplishments and decide what I would do each day to try and help myself feel better while also juggling the demands of life. Totally eating the words I would spout to my patients. Some days it was simply eating, another symptom of mine, I struggle to make myself food. On another day, I made sure that I exercised and then after, I let myself sleep because it took all the energy I had to get some exercise in. Then, for the last part of the day, I had a little more energy than if I made myself push through. And after about 4 days, I started to bounce back and was able to get back to my typical pace.
The thing is that yes, having this type of illness sucks. It does. But, you will not make it better by playing the victim to your illness or sticking your head in the sand. There are treatments and strategies out there, its is your job to access them. I know it is easier said than done but, no matter what the narrative is in your head about why you shouldn’t, you need to. Life can get better and it will get better when you decide to fight this thing. You are not your illness. Your illness is a single part of you and your story. When we can separate our illness and not let it overtake our identity then we can begin to fight back.
Whether you are caring for a loved one or the one going through anxiety, depression, or another mental illness it is our responsibility to lock arms and fight this thing together. When loved ones take action and those with mental illness take action we can begin to make progress. We have 5k’s and all sorts of other events to fight all sorts of illnesses. Let’s view mental illness in the same light, something we can fight to overcome together.
You got this,