The Other Side

Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high right now.

I’ve been dealing with depression for almost my entire adult life, so I know what healthy behaviors I should be practicing in order to have some sort of control over my illness. For instance, someone with severe depression benefits from having a routine, exercising, eating healthy, etc.

I know to stay diligent when it comes to taking my meds. To keep appointments with my psychiatrist and therapist. Last year, I spent six weeks at an inpatient psychiatric facility, so I’m also equipped with healthy coping mechanisms, as well as a safety plan if I get suicidal. 

I know what to do. So, why is it so hard to do it? Why is there a part of me that doesn’t want to be healthy? There’s another side of me that I constantly battle and no matter how many positive blogs I write about fighting depression, that other side fights to be in control. There have been times where I have let it.

No too long ago before going inpatient at the Menninger Clinic, I let the unhealthy side take over. For some reason, I stopped taking my medication. It seems so stupid; taking pills is not hard but it became an impossible task. Obviously, my mood suffered from not getting my regular meds, but I just didn’t care.

That’s how it happens — you let the unhealthy part of you in just a little and soon the pull of not caring, not having to fight to be happy, commandeers you and you start to suffer in other aspects of your life. It’s easy, so easy, to succumb to this and while there are temporary moments of pleasure, there are permanent actions that are painful. Not just for you but your family, too.

Overeating or bingeing on unhealthy foods became an almost daily occurrence. I abused my anxiety medication. I wanted to escape and those actions gave me that escape, but again, it was all temporary.

Why did I want to escape? I mean, I have an amazing life — a loving family and supportive friends. I’m very fortunate and privileged. I have everything I’ve ever needed. I’m grateful for all that, but I have a very hard time lowering the volume of the voices in my head woh tell me nonstop that I’m not worthy. That I’m an unproductive loser. That there’s no point in being healthy, because I don’t deserve good things. It’s too much work.

I know that’s my depression and anxiety talking. And I know that they’re liars. I know it all, but there’s a big difference in knowing what to do and actually doing it. Therein lies the struggle everyone with depression deals with.

I’ve been inpatient, I’ve done therapy, I’ve done ECT treatments, I’ve taken dozens of medications. I’m much better than I was but that doesn’t mean it’s not a daily fight. I’ll always be saddled with this disease and I’ll always fight that darker “other side.” I pray that I’ll always win but there is a part of me that thinks I won’t.

It’s hard fighting my own brain. Believe me when I say that my brain is an adept fighter. One of its tricks is to tell me I’m amazing one minute and then next that I should kill myself. It doesn’t fight fair. None of this is fair, not that it matters.

This blog feels like some long rant, but that’s all I got today.

Everybody struggles with depression differently. If you’d like to read more about depression and mental illness, please visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal ideation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s available 24/7.

Coping with Anxiety and Depression

Yesterday, I went to the dentist to replace some old fillings. No big deal — except that it was. I got in the chair and the dental assistant put the nitrous mask over my nose. I started to feel intense anxiety. I think it reminded me of my ECT treatments, which give me a ton of anxiety. I grabbed the mask off my nose and tried to calm down but I had lost control. My heart was pounding and I started to shake. I lay back down and the dentist started to numb my mouth but as soon as he put instruments in my mouth, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in danger, as silly as that sounds. By then, it was decided I would come back another day and I left with my numb mouth and all.

I am prone to panic attacks, so I have a lot of coping mechanisms I use – not just for acute incidences like at the dentist but also for times I can’t go to therapy every week and now for a pandemic!

It’s hard to distract yourself when you’re in the throes of an attack or in a depressive episode, and I’m not perfect. For almost every healthy coping skill I have on file, I also have an unhealthy one. When I don’t use the healthy mechanisms, I definitely pay the price emotionally, and even physically.

Here’s what works for me, whether I’m stressed or having an attack:

  • Practice deep breathing – When you do deep breathing exercises you increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and it stimulates the parasympathetic system, which promotes a state of calmness, according to Stress.org
  • Watch Friends bloopers on YouTube – This is one of my fave ways to relax because as soon as I start watching, I’m cracking up and my brain has managed to think about something else. I highly recommend laughing your stress and anxiety away
  • Sing my favorite songs – I sing a lot. The kids are constantly telling me to stop but it makes me feel good. It’s something that I do regularly to improve my mood but probably not something that can stop a panic attack in its tracks
  • Take VERY hot baths – I like to turn the heat up as much as possible to where the only thing I can feel is the hot water. It’s also therapeutic for me to have a good cry while the water is running
  • Write – Again, blogging really helps maintain my mood but it isn’t something I would be inclined to do when I’m panicking
  • Get a massage – This is my favorite thing to do to keep me de-stressed but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get one because of the coronavirus
  • Get under a weighted blanket – Healthline.com says the weighted blankets help ground your body by pushing it downwards and has a deeply calming effect. The blankets also stimulate deep pressure touch, a type of therapy that uses hands-on pressure to reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety
  • Sew – I really have to concentrate to sew, so I tend to leave my troubles behind while working on a project
  • Read – Reading is awesome and you can get lost in a completely different world
  • Pray – It helps me to pray, especially when I’m feeling completely out of control
  • Go to therapy – This probably should go at the top of this list. Talking to my therapist helps me sort my thoughts and she provides practical solutions to some of my often-illogical behavior
  • Get my nails done or do them myself – My friend Meredith and I have a saying — “Everything is always better with painted nails.” Solid philosophy

Those aren’t all the coping skills I’ve employed but my favorite ones that have proven beneficial. Now, for the unhealthy mechanisms. I DO NOT recommend you try to deal with panic, stress, anxiety or depression with these but I know they are very common. While I aspire to nix those from my list some day, I understand that it’s hard to break these habits and behaviors.

  • Overeat or binge on healthy foods – Depending on the situation, I purposely overeat until I’m uncomfortable or in pain. More rarely, I binge on unhealthy foods like candy and LOTS of carbs. I do love my carbs but I had gastric sleeve surgery last year, so it’s REALLY not in my best interest to eat them. (If you have unhealthy eating habits, check out my cousin’s Facebook page. She’s a licensed nutritionist and has great ideas about intuitive eating)
  • Compulsively shop – Sometimes, I just feel the need to shop. It’s fine if I need something and need to buy it for the house or kids, but I’ve had times where I’ll spend hundreds of dollars on stuff we don’t necessarily need. And it makes me feel terribly guilty. That’s the thing with unhealthy coping skills, they only feel good for a little while
  • Blow off appointments – When I’m dealing with a lot I feel like I need to retreat into my home and be alone, which is fine some of the time but at other times, I really need to go to therapy or my doctor. There have even been times I blow off the not-so-important appointments like getting my hair done or a massage appointment but I’m still being inconsiderate but not going and wasting others’ time. I feel guilty about this, as well
  • Abuse my medications – I don’t do this anymore but there was a time that I would take too many of my anxiety pills because I just didn’t want to feel, well…anything. I would also take too many pain pills, pushing the limits of what was safe. This is a serious problem, and for some people, it’s a deadly problem. If you abuse your medication and need help stopping, please contact your doctor

Having depression and anxiety is hard. They both can take over almost every aspect of your life and make it even harder. While I implore you to find coping mechanisms that work for you, I think I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention that things such as talk therapy, medication and a good doctor can drastically improve your life. Sometimes we need to arm ourselves with more than coping skills, and that’s OK. Whatever your plight, I hope you find peace with it and thrive.

If you are suicidal, please call the Suicidal Lifeline Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to use the chat function. Stay in the light.