You’ve had 4 cups of coffee. I told myself. That’s why you feel anxious.
You ate too much sugar. I rolled my eyes. That’s why you feel anxious.
You read too many news articles and spent too much time on social media. I chastised myself. That’s why you feel depressed.
You watched a sad movie and listened to a song that reminded you of . I growled internally, pissed at myself. That’s why you feel depressed.
A lot of people live with some form of mental illness. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 people have a mental illness of some kind. And I think we’re all pathetic–at least on my worst days. I get so sick of my anxiety and depression. Some days all I can think is how awful we all are–like it’s our fault. I hate myself. I get frustrated. I get more depressed and anxious because these are awful thoughts.
You’re a fucking horrible person. I scream internally.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has taught me a few tricks over the last fifteen years. When I get anxious and depressed, I do a self-assessment. I think of what my routine has been like lately. What did I eat? Have I slept? What activities did I participate in or not participate in? Was I unkind to someone and this is guilt kicking in? Is this my insomnia finally affecting me mentally and emotionally? Did I see, watch, or hear something that triggered a reaction? What led to these thoughts? Are these thoughts real and true? Do I really believe what my brain is saying?
Let’s get one thing straight–when I say I get anxious, I don’t mean “nervous”. This is a wanting to crawl out of your skin, afraid to be touched feeling. My clothes touching my skin makes me want to scream. The fan blowing on me makes me jumpy. The fan not blowing makes me feel suffocated. Loud sounds make me want to run for it. If I ran. Quiet makes me listen closely for every small sound. It may not always be apparent to people who don’t know me very well that I’m going through an internal struggle. But, internally, I feel like a meth head without the benefits of the weight loss.
When I say that I get depressed, I don’t mean “sad”. My brain convinces me that no one likes me because I’m unlikeable. That I’m worthless. That life has no meaning. That it wouldn’t matter if I was here or not because I do nothing but make things worse with my presence. That everything I do is just a waste of…everything. My. Brain. Is. Waging. War. And it’s exhausting. But I have insomnia frequently, so…
Regardless, I’ve learned techniques to help myself when these things happen. CBT has taught me how to self-assess and challenge these counterproductive and potentially damaging thoughts. These techniques help me to remain calm (at least nonreactionary) and help ease my anxiety and/or depression. It doesn’t cure them–but it helps me get from one moment to the next. And the next thing I know, I’m through the worst of it and moving out the other side. And CBT has always been my favorite treatment because sedatives and SSRI’s make me feel…nothing. And nothing is worse than anxiety and depression.
Wanna know the worst part of living with anxiety and depression and using CBT to deal with them?
When absolutely nothing has happened.
Sometimes nothing happens…and then everything happens. One minute I can be doing an activity I love, such as reading a book, having the time of my life, and BOOM. I feel worthless and jumpy. I’m coming out of my skin. So, I self-assess. I’ve eaten plenty of fruits/veggies, whole grains, didn’t eat too much or too little protein, didn’t eat too many or any synthetic foodstuffs, watched my sugar and caffeine, didn’t drink alcohol, didn’t read the news or do, see, hear, read anything that would trigger me. My anxiety and depression just arbitrarily decided that today is the day they’ll stage another battle against me.
At my worst nowadays, I am just so tired of dealing with anxiety and depression. I turn into the worst version of myself because it’s hard to be who I truly am when I’m in my head, fighting a battle all day long. I flit from one thing to another because I can’t focus on completing one task before my brain says “NOW GO OVER THERE!” I can’t be fully present for the people I love. No matter how hard I try, it’s written all over my face that I’m preoccupied. And it makes me so angry…which makes me more depressed and anxious. I hate that I might be making a person feel bad simply because I can’t devote all of my energy to showing them how much I care. And I hate that on good days, I love being alone–so that I can revel in how great things are without distractions or possible triggers that might ruin it. It makes me feel selfish and self-involved.
At my best, I’m calm, collected, kind, funny, and present for every moment. I remember important things, like checking in on a friend to see how their day went, wishing people “Happy Birthday” or just taking time to say “thinking of you”. I can get my work and home life in order. I can just…breathe. Those are my favorite days. When I tell someone that I wrote, blogged, networked, answered emails, did dishes and laundry, cleaned house, and watched a favorite T.V. show and it was a great day–they look at me like I’m messed up. Probably because I am.
A great day is where I can be in the moment and not fighting in my head. Even if I have a million chores to do–at least I got to do them without my enemies in my head. I had peace. Things were okay. And “okay” is an immense feeling when you are a person dealing with mental illness.
It’s at all times, both exhausting and invigorating. Because when I’m having a bad day, I’m just…not me. But when I use CBT effectively, or I just have a good day–it’s like I’m William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. I was outnumbered and out-armed, but I kicked some fucking ass.
And a lot of people deal with what I deal with day after day. We’re a mostly silent group that wages our battles inside our heads day after day, trying not to bother others with it. My heart goes out to those folks because, damn, it’s an almost fucking daily struggle. Moment-to-moment is how we live our lives far too often. To want to just be you, but instead having to be defined by a mental illness (or two, or three, or…) is a desperate and exhausting existence.
But anxiety and depression–and how often I deal with them–have taught me a lot about gratitude. When I’m having a good day, I make sure to say out loud “I really enjoyed today”. Usually, I say this to JoJo. Because she knows what I deal with. And God love her for being understanding and willing–because it’s no freaking picnic for her either. Even though she understands why I know it’s still hurtful when I decline a hug because I can’t tolerate the idea of being touched for fear that I’ll come out of my skin. Or that I can’t tell her what’s wrong–because nothing is wrong. Nothing happened. The wind blew the wrong way and I found myself in a spiral. The best I can tell her is “this is just what it’s like–I get anxious and feel on edge and inside my own head and sometimes depressed and my ‘dialed to 11′ personality gets knocked down to zero’.” She worries about telling me things that are depressing because it might get stuck in my head and trigger anxiety or depression. Ninety-five percent of the time, I’m an effervescent, ebullient fellow, chatty and insouciant. And that can be my personality for weeks and months–then BOOM. I sound like Eeyore for hours or days before I dig my way out of the hole I woke up in. It’s tough for people who love and/or live with people with mental illness. And there aren’t words to describe how much I understand that, hate that it affects her, too, and how grateful I am.
I have nothing funny to say or a way to end this, so I guess I’ll leave everyone dealing with mental illness with three words:
They’re your best friends.
Also, at the suggestion of my lovely friend Mona, from over at Wayward Sparkles blog, I did the best I could mashing up songs that describe bad days.
It sucks. I’m not brilliant at all with the tech stuff. And that’s not being thirsty or making a “humble brag”, either. *shrugs* Survive by breaking shit, my friends.
P.S. I’d like to issue my first ever apology/retraction on The Midnight Goose to date (that I can remember) – I regret referring to Donald Trump as a 300-lb Cheeto, or any other insult about his physicality. I don’t hate him for aesthetic reasons. If he did a 180 and became a wonderful president, those things wouldn’t even occur to me, so they shouldn’t now. He’s ugly on the inside–the outside doesn’t matter. That is all.
Until next time…