Okay, can we talk about something serious here for a minute? Did you know that 1 in 8 women battle with depression at some point in their life? How many women do you know? Probably more than eight. And that’s just depression. When you add in anxiety disorders, PMDD, PPD and PPA, and a whole host of other issues, chances are you live with, work with, or are friends with at least one person who has dealt with mental illness in their life. I am one of those women.
Mental illness can be a challenging thing to talk about. Heck, it’s often uncomfortable just to think about talking about it. It took me a long time to open up about what I was experiencing. But that’s when I discovered, not everyone gets it, and they have questions. I eventually reached out to the ever-supportive Dayton Mom’s Blog team to find out what people wished they could ask someone with depression and anxiety but never felt like they had the opportunity to- and thus this blog post was born.
So bear with me, this stuff isn’t easy, and it isn’t fun. In fact, this is probably my sixth attempt at writing this because I was trying to keep it neat. I was trying to be professional. I wanted this to be a nice, short, comfortable read. But that’s the thing about anxiety and depression; it isn’t neat, it doesn’t matter how professional you try to be, and it’s certainly not nice, short, or comfortable. But I promise to try my best to answer honestly from my personal experiences (DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional and everyone’s experiences with mental health are unique). So here’s my truth, my whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about my experiences with mental illness.
How did you know you had anxiety and depression? Was there an event that brought it out?
Personally, my depression and anxiety are not circumstantial. I didn’t have a traumatic childhood. I literally grew up in a house with a white picket fence. I’ve never experienced the untimely loss of a loved one. Things in my life have been relatively, “normal” (whatever that means). I do, however, have a family history of mental health issues (PS- ask your mom, grandma, aunts, etc. if you think you may be having symptoms, it can be genetic!) Do certain stressful events amplify my anxiety? Absolutely. But for me, there was no cause, no catalyst, no launching point, no pivotal moment. And it comes and goes too. There are times that I’d consider myself “in remission” but not ever cured. This is not the case for everyone though.
I started having panic attacks and test anxiety in high school. For me, these were obvious physiological and psychological events so it wasn’t hard to recognize. Think, room spinning-can’t breathe-chest tightening, physical types of episodes. In college, my depression began. This was more of a, “what is going on?” moment (or month) for me. Something seemed, “off” but I figured it was college busyness and stress from having a lot of responsibilities. I wasn’t myself. I didn’t even really recognize myself. I felt out of touch and out of control with my emotions. I lost interest in things that I loved. I isolated myself. I pushed people away. It wasn’t until I visited my school’s counseling center that I was diagnosed and realized that it was pretty serious. Now, my anxiety manifests in anger and frustration (this is way harder for me to deal with than depression was). My symptoms range from feeling like terrible things are going to happen to people that I love to things that feel silly like not knowing how to begin basic tasks like cleaning or cooking and freaking out because I feel ugly. I feel out of control a lot of the time still. Things can get rough. But I now have an excellent support system, am regularly seeing a psychologist, and am learning to use new tools to combat the symptoms of my anxiety and depression.
But you seem so normal, how do you hide it?
This is a tricky one. And honestly, while it doesn’t bother me, this can be a loaded question for some. I don’t feel normal. But I totally understand where this question comes from. So this is a super dorky reference, but it’s a, “conceal, don’t feel,” kind of thing for me. And frankly, it’s kind of a problem. It’s important for people to know that we shouldn’t have to hide our mental health issues. People don’t try to hide the fact that they have a cold, an ear infection, or a broken bone. This is an illness, not a secret or a weakness, and I want the taboo to go away. But it’s harder to, “let it go,” when the fear of being ostracized, the social stigma, and not wanting to be a burden on others are always present.
What shuts you down and what opens you up?
The friends I’ve talked to most openly about my mess are ones who share their messes too. I open up to people who are genuine, honest, and don’t try to look like they have it all together all of the time. People offering advice almost always shut me down. It’s nice in theory, but not actually helpful for me 98% of the time. Be a listener. Love on people. Be a good friend, and if someone wants to open up to you, they will. Don’t push. As I often tell my two-year-old, “be gentle and kind, all the time.”
If I’m worried about you, what’s the best way to ask if you’re doing okay?
“Are you doing okay?” That sounds super simple, but I think it’s the best option. You won’t upset or offend anyone who is actually doing fine (like you might if you said something like, “hey, it looks like you’re struggling/your life is a mess/you seem miserable…”). And if your worry is for not, the person will know that you care about them, maybe ask why, and think nothing of it. If your worry is justified, they may open up about it, and maybe not. (See above.) But knowing someone cares is so so so important.
How can I try to look for signs in my kids and parent them the best way?
One of my biggest fears in life is that my children will have to deal with this too. And if I’m honest with myself, the odds are not in their favor. Signs will be different for everyone to some degree, but you can always ask your doctor or do some research online if you want something concrete. I truly, truly, truly, believe the best thing you can do is to have an honest, open, authentic line of communication open with your kids. My little ones are still very young, but I don’t try to hide my feelings and anxiety from them. In fact, during an anxiety attack my wild two-year-old boy will stop what he’s doing, wrap his arms around me, and loving say, “it’s okay, mama.” I NEVER reprimand my kids for crying or being emotional. Instead, we try to get to the root issues. I got help as a teen because I could talk to my mom about what was going on, but also because she (and some of my teachers), noticed signs like poor test grades and missing work which was a big change for me. Pay attention to what your kids “normal,” looks like.
Is there anything I can do to help?
This is my FAVORITE question. Pray. And often, the answer is otherwise, “no.” But just offering shows compassion. I have a few friends that will literally just send a text message that says something like, “Checking in,” or, “How’s it going?” Little acts of kindness that show you’re thinking of the person mean a lot. Be consistent, especially when I can’t be. My anxiety often makes me seem flaky or disinterested. If you can love me despite that, you’re doing enough.
This stuff is tough. It is ugly as heck. It is messy. So don’t do it alone. Talk to someone. Ask the tough questions. Be open. End the stigma. Know that you are enough.
(Have more questions you wish could be answered? Leave a comment. Let’s get real and live authentically.)