This week is National Mental Illness Awareness Week, and today, October 6, is National Depression Screening Day. Chances are, if you don’t suffer from anxiety or depression yourself, then you have family or friends who do, which is why I think it’s incredibly important to talk about our experiences and encourage one another to reach out when necessary.
Today marks 7 weeks and 1 day since I began taking an antidepressant for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression.
But what does that mean, really?
Well, for starters, it means I tackled some fears. It means I truly listened to my husband and took his advice, even if that meant admitting that I can’t do everything on my own.
It means getting over my (however irrational) fear of medications, being honest with myself and with my doctor, and making a decision that promotes the wellbeing of both myself and my family.
It means grace. Giving myself the same grace and “permission” that I would give a dear friend or a family member who has struggled.
Brutally honest posts are my favorite to read, but I’d be lying if I said that vulnerability comes easy to me. However, if I can help just one person make a decision that enriches their life or lightens the burden of anxiety, self-hatred, and sadness that they carry every day, then it’s worth speaking up.
Even as a child, I was incredibly hard on myself. I loathed failure, and I had a hard time accepting when things didn’t go my way.
Throughout school, I was the overachiever. I took pride in having academics come relatively naturally to me, so my identity became: high-achiever, athlete, model student. That carried over into college, and even sticks with me now I struggle to find my place in my career and life as a mom.
Although I lived a “normal” life, I think I always struggled with low self-esteem, fear of failure, and loneliness. I had a fair amount of friends, but I routinely clung to my introverted nature and lived inside my head. I was often irritable and quick to anger. I was indecisive about my goals and future.
In hindsight, I think I always struggled with anxiety and/or depression. Depression definitely runs in my family, so I know the genetic factor is there.
Just My Personality
Even though I feel like I’ve struggled for years, I just kind of thought it was part of my personality. In my eyes, I lived a charmed life. I had friends. I had a loving family. I had never been homeless or abused or dealt with the grief of losing best friends or my parents or, heaven forbid, a child. I couldn’t be depressed because my life was so “perfect,” and the guilt was overwhelming.
While I had my outbursts at work, I could easily hold down a job. I graduated college. I did all the adult things I was “supposed” to do. I had little in common with the folks my husband saw in his job as a therapist at a community mental health facility.
I thought I was just a pessimist. That I was too ungrateful and selfish. That I wasn’t trying hard enough to “create my own happiness” like so many internet memes and damn self-help books preach for us to do.
It was clearly a choice, and I was choosing wrong.
Motherhood: The Ultimate Catalyst
Before I was married, and especially before I had a child, my anxiety/depression affected me alone. Well, that’s not entirely true—of course it affected my relationships—but I didn’t really have others who depended on me to hold my shit together every day.
Motherhood—and adjusting to the new season of my marriage to Mark—was the ultimate catalyst for change. It took me a while to realize it (ok, it took a heartfelt letter from my husband that I read misty-eyed on the way to work one morning—and crying myself to sleep that night after we talked), but I was making all of our lives miserable.
I was irritable. I was angry at everything. Apart from earning a paycheck, I wasn’t sure why I should get out of bed in the mornings. I was always worried about finances, work, and Bazooka’s health, and I felt like a worthless human being and absolute failure as a mother because I couldn’t simply enjoy my child.
I couldn’t focus at work, and when I could, I was unhappy. When I got home, it took everything I had not to burst into tears when I was changing Bazooka’s diaper while he fussed or if he wouldn’t fall asleep when I rocked him.
I wouldn’t listen when Mark tried to call me out on something. I didn’t want to hear him because, in my eyes, he was personally attacking me and I was a victim.
I mentioned how the transition from breastfeeding was a struggle for me, but for months I pretended like everything was fine—that I would adjust—when it was only getting worse.
On the outside I appeared fine, but on the inside, I was a self-destructing mess.
So, I make that appointment with my psychiatrist. I agreed to go on an SSRI. I’m taking things day-by-day.
I’m lucky that I haven’t experienced any unbearable side effects (although I did feel more anxious and depressed those first few weeks), and while I know it can take up to 3 months to feel truly therapeutic benefits, I am already noticing small changes. I hope to regularly incorporate some therapy into the mix as soon as I can find a practitioner who will fit both my schedule and personality.
What You Can Do
Know it’s not your fault. If you’re feel this way: guilty, hopeless, angry, irritable, anxious, etc., it’s not because you aren’t trying hard enough.
If it’s your loved one who’s struggling, it’s not your fault either. Be there. Offer your encouragement and support and be honest when you need to be, but don’t just tell them to “calm down” or “snap out of it.” They can’t.Anxiety and depression are not your fault... #MIAW #stigmafree #mentalhealth Click To Tweet
Medications and therapy exist because they work. Yes, we all need to take time for self-care—whether it’s reading a book at night, getting a monthly pedicure, journaling, or simply having coffee with a friend.
But sometimes we need more than exercise or meditation. Sometimes we need a little extra help.
[thanks for letting me think out loud]
So tell me…
- Do any of your loved ones struggle with mental illness?
- Have you ever been screened for depression or anxiety?