There are many rules I have to follow to get through my day unscathed.
I have depression and social anxiety.
Depression = a mental state of altered mood characterized by feelings of sadness, despair and discouragement; distinguished from grief, which is realistic and proportionate to a personal loss.
Social Anxiety = the fear of interaction with other people that brings on self-consciousness, feelings of being negatively judged and evaluated, and, as a result, leads to avoidance. Social anxiety is the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.
This is a long post so grab a drink and a snack if you choose to keep reading.
If I told you that I’ve always known I had mental illness, I’d be lying. I do know that I have felt this way since I was 5-years-old because that was the first time I remember having a real panic attack. I didn’t know what was happening at the time, and neither did my parents or teachers. They thought I was being difficult and I thought I was just a freak.
We had recently moved from Los Angeles to a small town in Colorado. I started first grade and skipped kindergarten because my birthday falls in late November. I was the youngest person in my class and I didn’t know anyone at my new school which frightened me more than anything. I wanted to shrink up and disappear so that nobody would notice me.
On the first day of first grade, the bus stopped in front of our house to pick me up and my Mom and Dad walked me outside. I promptly refused to get on the bus. I was completely terrified and then I cried because I didn’t know why I was so afraid or what I was afraid of. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents that I was scared because then they would ask what I was afraid of and I truly didn’t know the answer.
I grew up knowing there was something different about me that my friends didn’t seem to experience. I was afraid to tell anyone about my fears or soaring bouts of emotional lows when I would cry on a whim. I didn’t tell my parents or friends how hard it was for me to get out of bed in the mornings or how much effort it took for me to go to a new and unfamiliar place, especially if I was by myself. I coped by withdrawing, isolating and making excuses for my strange behavior.
I was 7-years-old, the first time I remember having horrible and debilitating stomach aches. They would come anytime I was in a situation that I felt I couldn’t control. I didn’t talk to anyone about how I was feeling, just holding it all inside and my internal storm manifested itself into stomach pain.
I never knew why I was crying or panicking or feeling like I was losing my mind and there lies the problem. I couldn’t communicate what I was feeling other than shedding tears or withdrawing. My fears were real to me but seemed irrational to everyone else. I thought that I would be judged or worse, punished, and then I would panic all over again.
We moved back to southern California when I was 12-years-old, where my anxiety and depression only increased. I learned new and better coping mechanisms to deal with my irrational fears. I would still withdraw, but since I was older, this behavior was accepted and treated as mere teenage rebellion. I lashed out, avoided conversations with adults and used drugs and alcohol to try to make myself feel normal. I surrounded myself with rebellious people so that I would feel like I fit in.
In my 20’s, I continued to spiral and withdrew even more by isolating myself. I dove headfirst into relationships that were unhealthy which masked all of my problems and focused on the other person who always seemed “sicker” than me.
In my 30’s, I was a master at hiding my fear and panic. I created elaborate and complicated excuses of why I couldn’t attend parties, concerts and situations with new people or places that I was unfamiliar with. I chose my wedding venue at my parents’ house not only because it was a beautiful setting, but because it was familiar and comfortable to me on a day where I already had too much attention focused on me.
My husband and I moved to Colorado in our mid-thirties. Living in a small town and working from home seemed to make my anxiety and depression worse. I could isolate very easily and didn’t have to make any excuses to do it.
Now that I’m in my 40’s, (my favorite decade yet!), I have learned so many coping mechanisms, read so much literature, seen so many doctors, and taken so many medications, that I have finally accepted that I have to face my mental illness. The only one I’m hiding it from anymore, is myself. I still have trouble reaching out and explaining my experiences with people, especially people who I don’t know very well or trust.
The good news is that I married my best friend and he has bipolar disorder with depression. He totally “gets me” and thankfully, I get him too. We know that when the other one is having a bad day/week/month, it has nothing to do with either one of us, or anything that is logical. We know that we both have a chemical imbalance, and while we are both managing our symptoms with medication, we are never really “fixed”. We know not to ask each other questions like “what’s wrong?” or “why are you acting like that?”, because the answers are always going to be “nothing is wrong” and “I don’t know how to stop acting like this.”
I have learned that I need to talk about my fears and keep them in the open because my unhealthy coping mechanism always wants to withdraw. My husband and I try to remember that mental illness is part of who we are, and how God made us. We seek God in all things and we support each-other through the darkness, waiting for each-other in the light on the other side.
Here are 7 things to remember when dealing with someone who has mental illness.
- We have a chemical imbalance and that has nothing to do with our character or who we are as a person.
- Please don’t label us as “lazy” or “attention seekers”. We don’t want to be this way and if we had a choice, we wouldn’t be.
- When we are having a bad day, it’s not that we don’t care about you… it’s that we don’t care about anything.
- We can and do suffer from physical pain due to these illnesses and we ARE NOT making it up.
- If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Just being there for us says it all.
- On that note, please don’t tell us that we have so much to be happy about. Pointing out all the things we should be happy about makes what we are feeling profoundly worse. It invalidates what we are going through and causes more depression and anxiety because we can’t make ourselves feel happy.
- Let us cry because sometimes that’s what we really need.
I draw strength from the memories of my late Grandmother who also suffered from depression but never let it show. Very few people ever knew that she had depression. While I don’t want to hide my illness from people anymore, one day I hope that I can cope in a healthy way where I don’t let it affect the things I want to do or the people I want to be with.
When I am sinking into depression, I realize it quickly because I have learned some of the signs. I know, that it will pass and I pray about it. I reach out to my loved ones for acknowledgement and support.
If you or someone you know has a mental illness, please be kind to them. You have no idea what they’re going through. You wouldn’t want someone being mean or unkind to you if you were suffering from an illness whether it be mental or physical. Mental illness often doesn’t get recognized as a true illness because for the most part, it doesn’t manifest itself outwardly.
If you have a mental disorder, I pray that you have found something in this post that is helpful. Please know that you are not alone. You are not alone.
I am here for anyone who wants to talk. Whether you are dealing with something personally or know someone who might need help, you can email me at email@example.com and I promise I will answer you and keep whatever you share with me completely confidential.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to me, please reach out to somebody.