Warning: this post contains heavy adult content regarding mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
New level of anxiety
I knew something was wrong when I was holding my cat Cheese and I felt empty inside. Normally, just seeing my fluffy ginger kitty is enough to flood my body with pure joy. I panicked, started catastrophizing, and began black & white thinking. I thought I must no longer love animals. I spiraled into an anxiety abyss not knowing who I am, what I want, and what to do. The terror went beyond animals and invaded my marriage, career, and friendships. Everything seemed triggering.
I didn’t understand where my anxiety was coming from. I searched through the darkest corners of my mind, turning over every single possibility I could think of as to why I was feeling this way. I’d think of a terrifying possibility and chase it down a rabbit hole of worry, self-doubt, and fear. Being alone was the worst, I’d call my husband panicking, telling him my anxiety was spiking. The only comfort I found was when he was home, but I knew he couldn’t stay by my side at all times.
I stopped calling and texting friends, scheduling activities, and I didn’t post to social media. I was lost, scared, and terrified I’d never feel normal again. Nothing brought me happiness, not animals, my husband, even hanging with friends. I didn’t want to be at home but I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
The only peace I found was when nighttime would come and it was acceptable to crawl into bed and forget about the world. Of course, sleep often wouldn’t come as my mind raced with all different kinds of negative and terrible thoughts. My heart pounded, I felt like there was a belt wrapped around my chest, my breaths were shallow and jagged, and white-hot knots constantly squeezed my stomach. Many sleepless nights led to worse mornings. I dreaded the day, I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I couldn’t sit still. I was restless and exhausted.
The scariest moments were the ones where I wished I didn’t have to go on any longer. While I never considered ending my life, I wished for death. I didn’t want to be in this world any longer and endure this constant battle in my brain and body. I couldn’t go on like this, but I didn’t know what was wrong.
After a few weeks of this, I scheduled an appointment with my internist and asked to be screened for anxiety. Once in the room with my doctor, he had me fill out a questionnaire that asked me a range of questions. Almost every single question I answered “most days” which indicated severe depression and anxiety. Depression, that hit me right in the chest, an almost “ah-ha” moment.
We chatted for an hour, discussing my concerns and he was beyond patient and kind. He prescribed two anti-depressants, escitalopram and trazodone. I giggled when I saw the Trazodone because it’s used to help dogs with anxiety. My, how the world likes to come full circle.
I didn’t start the medication right away as I still wasn’t convinced I needed it. Plus, my already anxious mind worried about the side effects, and if I was just taking “the easy way out.” After all, I’d never needed it before, I was taught to “just buck up and get over it” throughout life. I have experienced depression one other time, my senior year in college. But that episode was different and I knew exactly why I was depressed. I started therapy in college and worked through that depressive episode in about six weeks.
Letting go of judgement
I’ve probably been depressed for longer than I realize. I only really started to understand how far gone I was when the anxiety physically manifested in my body. My body was telling me something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what. Turns out, I was depressed, and until I was able to acknowledge and understand why, the anxiety wouldn’t go away.
It was hard for me to understand why I am depressed. Sure, we are in a global pandemic for the first time in modern history, but everyone is! Why would I, a woman of privilege who is employed, has her health and the health of her family, a home, and no loved ones in immediate danger be depressed? I brushed off even the possibility.
It wasn’t until I worked with my therapist who asked me how I really felt about the state of the world that I finally connected with my depression. I was embarrassed to admit that I could be affected, people have it so much worse than I do, I’m one of the lucky ones. However, when I stripped away the judgment of my feelings, that’s when I finally understood what was going on with me. I was so sad, so sad.
As a result, my body tried protecting me by numbing itself. The numbness was the main culprit of the anxiety. I would do something that would normally make me happy, like holding my cat Cheese, and when I didn’t experience joy, I’d panic. I felt empty with my marriage, career, pets, friends, and my family. The fact that nothing brought me joy in my life scared me to the core. It’s why I started questioning everything.
After connecting the depression to the numbness to anxiety, my chest started to loosen. Over the next few days, my anxiety came down from an eight/nine to a manageable four. I spent time reflecting on the current state of the country and allowed myself time and space to grieve without judgment. I fully recognize this is a privilege so many don’t have the chance to do.
To help with the depression, I also started 5 mg of escitalopram and have been on it for almost one month. The side effects have been minimal. It takes a few weeks to build up in your system to start working. I still feel fully in control of my mind and body.
While I’m certainly not fully back to myself, I am feeling better. I’ve felt joy, excitement, and happiness for the first time in weeks. My mind isn’t full of terrible thoughts and I’m able to move through my day productively. I’m learning that recovery from a major depressive episode isn’t linear and some days are still better than others.
I realize I’m not the only one currently going through mental health issues. In 2017, 17.3 million adults in the US had at least one major depressive episode. It’s estimated that only half of people with a mental health issue will get treatment for it. If we take a look further at why people don’t get treated for mental health issues, one recent study indicates that 42% of people who don’t get treatment city cost at the biggest barrier.
I don’t pretend to know a lot about our healthcare system, but I do know this is unacceptable. It’s been really hard to dig myself out of this hole and I couldn’t have done it without medical treatment. If you are able to do so, please consider donating to a nonprofit that is helping people with mental health issues.
The reason I’m sharing my story isn’t for sympathy, but in hopes that we can begin to erase the stigma of mental health. 31% of people have been worried about being judged for mental health treatment. I was certainly one of those people, I was embarrassed and ashamed I needed medical help. I am huge proponent of mental health and therapy, so that fact that I was still struggling with it tells me plenty.
When I told this to my friend she said, “Christine, you would go get treatment and take medication if you had a physical ailment, this is no different.” I’ll forever be thankful for her sharing that sentiment with me. I hope by sharing this, someone reading it might recognize the similar symptoms in themselves or a friend and get help.
I’ve always been someone who worries about things outside of my control. This journey has taught me how important it is to have a toolbox to use with my mental health. Along with talk therapy, I have started meditating, keeping an anxiety journal, eating a healthy breakfast, and working out regularly. Small steps that are adding up and helping me feel more like myself.
This has been a rough year for all of us. Our emotional capacity is severely limited right now, so I want to encourage you to be kind to yourself. I am grateful to be feeling better and I know this is going to be a continued journey. Please, if you are not feeling okay, make sure you reach out to someone about it. Find a therapist that fits your needs or chat with your doctor. Don’t ignore your feelings, they are valid.
Thank you to everyone who has continued to check in and offer support. I’m so thankful for my husband, animals, family, therapist, and friends. I can’t wait to share more animals now that I’m feeling so much better.