Tears streaming down my face, my head in my hands, thoughts rushing through my head.
Anger boiled over, screaming at people about unimportant things, moving feverishly cleaning, tidying, trying to perfect things that can’t be perfected.
Tears, oh the tears.
Nothing, sitting in a catatonic state. No movement, no thoughts, just blank.
Fear, overwhelm, worry, sadness, negativity.
Pretending to be okay, when inside it was anything but okay.
Anxiety and depression.
They are real. They are personal. They do not discriminate. They can be hidden. They should be talked about.
They are all too familiar to me, and those statements above are just a few of my personal experiences.
Recognizing, naming and accepting my anxiety and depression were not easy. It was a long and sometimes lonely road. In retrospect, I can look back at my childhood (honestly a happy trauma-free childhood) and recognize these feelings manifesting even then.
How was I to know that it wasn’t normal to spend New Year’s Eve in tears as a child mourning the loss of the year gone by and the start of a new one?
Most kids didn’t worry every time their parents were a few minutes late getting home that there must have been a car accident and the police were on their way to inform us?
The pressure I used to put on myself to be the best, to get everything perfect, only led to feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed.
The first time I saw a counselor was when I was newly married. The catalyst was my winter sweaters.
Yes, you read that correctly.
My winter sweaters led me to seek counseling for the first time in my life!
I was standing in our bedroom and trying to put my winter sweaters up on the top shelf in the closet. Once I got them put away they were never perfect. I kept trying to fix them until I couldn’t take it anymore. I ripped all the sweaters down out of the closet and started yelling about how I couldn’t do it. My extreme anger and frustration led to crying.I knew this reaction wasn’t normal.
Why were these sweaters making me cry?
I knew I didn’t want to live the way I was living anymore. I had such a short fuse, and I strove for the unattainable – perfection. Making that first call was hard. I started with my work EAP (Employee Assistance Program).
It took me days and days to get the courage to call. When I did, I was fighting back the tears trying to schedule the appointment. It was hard to admit there was something I couldn’t fix and something might be wrong. I went to counseling for a little while, got a little better – I’ll call it a band-aid fix. The counselor and I determined that I was having a bit of a career crisis and it was time for me to find a new career. A plan was made, and off I went.
I still didn’t know I had anxiety and depression. Things got better — for a while.
Several years later it wasn’t okay, and it got much worse. I was unhappy, stressed, not handling change well, and so overwhelmed with life. At the time we had one child, and Brian had recently started his new career as a police officer. I knew I wasn’t okay and I needed to see a counselor. This call to counseling was much harder.
In fact, I believe it was the most difficult call I’ve ever made. I cried and choked over my words the entire time I was on the phone. The receptionist, trained in crisis management, asked me if I was okay.
She said, “are you going to hurt yourself?”
Wow, sobering. Through tears, I said, “no.”
I met with that counselor for several months. It did help to talk to him, but I didn’t necessarily feel as comfortable with him. In retrospect, I think I wasn’t quite ready to face the fact that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I was agitated when he would say those words out loud. I refused to talk to a psychiatrist about medicine, as he suggested. I like to be in control and be strong.
Anxiety and depression seemed like a weakness to me, and I would not give up control by taking medicine.
Eventually, I stopped counseling and again felt somewhat better. I now know that accepting and dealing with your anxiety and depression is actually strong. The strongest people I know are those who battle mental illness.
Counseling is a tricky thing. Sometimes you need to go for a short period of time and then pop back in as is necessary as stressors build up. Some people need to go forever. I went several years without counseling and did pretty well, or so I thought.
I had no idea how much better I could be doing.
In the summer of 2016, I sought out counseling again. For me it’s not usually the cold, dreary days of winter that push me to seek help, it’s the approach of my birthday and this time was no different. The difference this time was that I recognized the feelings sooner and knew I didn’t want to wait until I couldn’t make the call without crying. In the search for a counselor that my insurance would cover I discovered a great center that also offered neurofeedback. I had no idea what that was, but I did some research and felt like that was the right direction for me. I didn’t want to just talk about my problems; I wanted to solve them. It seemed like neurofeedback could do that. I didn’t realize then that mental health doesn’t work quite that way.
Two years later, I can say that was one of the best decisions of my life and certainly the best decision for my mental health. I am finally able to accept that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I have learned ways to handle both of these things in my life. I have patience like I have never had before in my life. Neurofeedback has done tremendous things for my anxiety.
Do I still overreact, worry, and lost my temper?
Absolutely, but it is so much different now. I don’t spiral out of control. I am not a puddle of tears at the thought of having to take care of and keep my children quiet all day while my husband sleeps.
After doing neurofeedback for awhile, I wasn’t making the progress that I felt like I should have been. Several times Brian suggested I talk to my doctor about also taking medication. I shut him down very quickly and said I was fine – I wasn’t, but I was stubborn.
November 24, 2016, that changed.
I know the date because it was Thanksgiving. The girls and I stayed home to have Thanksgiving with Brian because he had to work. I was busy making my first turkey (all on my own) Thanksgiving fixings, entertaining children and trying to keep the house quiet so he could sleep 12 feet away from the kitchen.
It didn’t go well, and there were a LOT of tears.
I was finally ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, medication would help. I was scared to try the medicine, especially because the doctor warns you about the side effects of depression getting worse and suicidal thoughts. Brian was on high alert to pay attention. Within a few weeks, I knew it was working. I felt different.
Brian, the smart husband that he is, will never admit to me how noticeable the changes were, but I know. I can feel it in myself. I am such a better person, mom, wife, etc. since deciding to take medication.
I now live a more centered, focused life and I feel more in control of my emotions and anxiety.
I did try to go off medicine for a while with my counselor and doctor’s help. What I found was my anxiety was under control, but my depression was not. My anxiety had been masking the depression symptoms, and since the anxiety was better due to neurofeedback, the depression was more apparent. Queue the breakdown, the tears, and the lack of desire to do anything.
I vividly remember trying to decorate the Christmas tree with my family, but not caring one bit about it. I tried so hard to be happy for my kids and my in-laws who were visiting, but I couldn’t. I barely made it through the day. All I wanted to do was curl up in my bed. I escaped the house alone to return library books (my only solo time without kids for days upon days). It was during those few moments alone that I realized how bad it was. Realizing it and admitting it were two different things.
I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my daughter’s room sobbing as I told my husband I needed to take medicine again.
I was depressed.
Why is it so hard to say those words?
I choked them out, but only after days of thinking about it. How do you admit you are depressed, especially when you have an amazing life? It felt like being a failure. When you are in the midst of depression, it is hard to admit those words to yourself, let alone say them to someone else. I don’t know that it will ever get easier, and I imagine most people who struggle with depression have the same problem admitting it.
I don’t know how to make it easier for anyone else, but I hope by sharing my story it helps you to share yours or to be open to hearing someone else’s.
A person’s mental health is crucial to their being able to live and live well.
Yet it is something that is easily ignored, pushed aside, and considered taboo. For me, counseling will be a part of my life periodically forever, and I am okay with that. I just hope that I will know myself well enough and admit soon enough that I can make that call before the tears and desperation have set in.
Let’s start talking about mental health, normalizing getting help, and actually connecting with friends and family.