Michael Dahl: living with Anxiety and Depression
I am a lucky guy. I have a wonderful life. I am joyfully married. And I have a spunky pup named Franco.
I am an active person who works out regularly (e.g. yoga, weights, and running). I love to grow heirloom vegetables and flowers in my beautiful garden. And I am passionate about working on issues to achieve social justice.
My predisposition is to be hopeful about the world and its future.
I am also engaged in chronic struggle to keep Anxiety and Depression at bay.
My blog is called, “Prone to Hope.”
Regarding that Anxiety and Depression, the deck was stacked against me. As a child I had several knocks to my noggin … a couple pretty severe. I grew up poor with my brain seeped in the chemicals of toxic stress that often accompany poverty. And (most-telling) my DNA included one (possibly two) family lines that gave me a predisposition for a potpourri of mental health difficulties.
I’ve not kept my mental health struggles a secret. I was diagnosed with the mood disorders in 2003 — although as you’ll soon read, I likely suffered from both at least since my early teen years. Anyhow, after my psychiatrist helped me realize what was going on with me, I decided I shouldn’t hide it. I figured it was best for the people around me to know that there were significant times when my agitation, anger, low-lows, isolation, and / or despondence had nothing to do with them.
My brain just doesn’t work optimally sometimes.
Here’s a bit about me and my struggle:
I can say with certainty that as a teen I suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). But my first good psychiatrist noted that it’s quite possible I was already suffering from Depression and more variants of Anxiety.
I constantly checked doors to see if they were locked or the dials on the stove to make sure the gas was off were significant parts of my daily existence. Going to bed was hellish. I would spend at least 30 minutes each night — sometimes longer — checking the alarm clock to make sure I would be woken up the next day. By the end of the nightly ordeal I would have a deep imprint on my thumb marking where the switch on the clock resisted my constant attempts to push it further. The ritual involved me placing my face about a foot from the digital reading making sure that I had set the alarm and that “AM” (not “PM) was indicated as the wake-up time. I chanted “in the morning, after midnight, AH-larm, AH-men, in the morning, after midnight, AH-larm, AH-men” over and over again.
My OCD would definitely ramp up during times of high stress. My family never sought treatment for this ailment because OCD was kind of just seen as an odd family trait, not a health problem.
I think I was around age 21 or 22, checking the stove dials on a cold Friday night when I figured out that, while I always had OCD, things were markedly worse in the winter. And, the obsessing was partnered by prolonged down moods.
I had heard about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) from several news reports. It pegged me.
I went to a psychiatrist to ask about SAD. He laughed at me. (Obviously, my attempt at finding a first mind-doc was a bad one.)
It would take several more years before I would regain the hope / belief that talk-therapy could help my situation.
But by my early 30’s negative thoughts ruled nearly all my days no matter what time of the year. While I can’t recall the date, I remember thinking “I am a reaction.” I decided to try a psychiatrist again.
My first (good) talk-therapy visits were very helpful in getting me to process my life, why I thought of it the way I did, and how to change that. My psychiatrist helped me arrive at the conclusion that I suffered from a chronic condition that would probably require long-term management. He let me arrive at asking for medications a few visits in rather than pushing it on me.
I’ve shared before: there are still days (sometime weeks) when air is cement, voices are wailing sirens, and I am little more than a reaction.
When the air is cement, I am depressed. I find it hard to do anything. I find it hard to move. My reaction to stimuli is slowed.
When any sound is amplified, I am anxious. It is as if my nerves are guitar strings plucked vigorously to vibrate violently under my skin at any peep or squeak.
And I am a reaction. I feel as if I can control nothing.
A medication cocktail keeps my normal close to what I assume is everyone else’s normal. Coping mechanisms my psychiatrist taught me often help me through short-term bouts with Depression and Anxiety. When the short-term Anxiety gets acute, I add a portion of a prescribed “chill pill” to the mix.
But when things get really bad, I go in for professional help.
(8/21/16: For the past year and a half I’ve been getting professional help.)