“On the one hand, it’s important to talk about mental health, but on the other hand, people want to see you overcoming. They don’t necessarily want to hear about your anxiety and then hear about it again and again. That’s the messy truth of life: Anxiety, depression, mental illness – they don’t just go away. As scary and as intimidating as it might be, it’s important for us to talk about them over and over and over again.” - Alayna Fender*
I thought my days of depression and anxiety were over, at least I really wanted them to be, so I chose to believe they were. In my heart, however, I knew they were not.
From the age of 16 on I struggled with PTSD in the form of anxiety and panic attacks, nightmares, as well as a low-grade melancholy that sometimes blossomed into mild to moderate depression. It all terrified me. I was hyper-vigilant, always watching for danger around the corner, scanning for the next threat, checking my closets every night before bed to make sure no one was waiting to attack me, and never feeling truly relaxed unless I was in what I considered a safe place.
For a variety of reasons, I resisted taking medication for these conditions until my late 30s. Finally the distress caused by the anxiety and depression, as well as the chronic pain I had developed, pushed me to start taking anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications.
And wow. The medications changed my life. They allowed me so much mental and emotional freedom - freedom from fear, anxiety, depression, pain, and terror. I had no idea life could be like this. This good. This calm. This relaxed. I didn't realize how much I has suffered for most of my life until the suffering stopped. It felt like a miracle!
For four years I did not have anxiety, panic attacks, dark depressions, or suicidal thoughts. I did not have to check under the bed or in the closets before going to sleep. The pain in my body subsided to the point where I was able to do many things I had given up on. And most recently I was able to travel to Europe without anxiety or fear, a first in my life. It was a huge victory for me to be so far from home, and feel so comfortable. I was finally able to really enjoy a holiday.
Unfortunately, this year a little storm settled into my body. The pain in my face and neck grew, as did the migraines. The grey and rainy weather in my hometown, which lasted well into June this year, didn’t help my mood and certainly worsened my body pain and symptoms. Depression started to creep in at the edges.
While I am usually extremely sensitive to supplements and herbal remedies and thus avoid them, I thought I would give a well-known pain reducing and mood enhancing herbal remedy a try. At first I thought I had stumbled upon another miracle: the pain stopped completely! Nothing had ever worked this well before, not muscle relaxants, migraine pills, or opioids.
A few weeks in, however, I started to notice I was feeling anxious. I let it slide, thinking maybe it was the coffee I had drunk that day. But then terror joined in a few days later and I felt paralyzed. My body worked, but my mind couldn’t rally to motivate me to do even the simplest chore.
I became very scared. I thought I had left those frightening feelings behind. I had been so happy in my new world and I didn’t want to face these emotions again.
After a bit of sleuthing, I discovered the herbal product I was taking can trigger and increase anxiety and depression. After three days of stopping the herbs, the anxiety has abated and the terror has retreated. What a tremendous relief!
This was a big lesson for me: while the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications have been such a tremendous help, the PTSD, depression, and anxiety are all still there under the surface, and I must keep chipping away at them slowly and steadily.
It was also a reminder that to maintain my mental and emotional well-being, I need more than just medication. It requires a fine balance. I need to take good care of myself each and every day: being as active as possible, socializing, doing the things that bring me joy, getting enough sleep, leaning on friends when I need support, eating healthfully, and avoiding substances that trigger anxiety, depression, and other distressing emotions.
Chronic health problems, like mental illness, don’t have an easy fix. They continue, and even if they seem like they are gone, they are often simply being managed. We have to keep taking care of ourselves, and keep talking about mental health and mental illness. The struggle doesn’t end, so the conversation shouldn’t either.
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To read the Psychology Today article that inspired this post (“The Vlogging Cure” by Carly Lanning) click HERE.