Coming to terms with anxiety and depression as a chronic Pollyanna.
I stared at the text, my eyes blurring with tears. I was not really processing what I was reading, but even then, a huge wave of sadness was washing over me and I could feel myself losing it.
It had been a really shitty day. I was traveling on business, juggling the madness of racing to meetings in a rental car, and dealing with nonstop calls from a crazed client with the most insane demands. I was hardly holding it together as it was. And then the text came in.
My cousin had been battling Stage 4 colon cancer for the last two years. He was a Superman — crazy smart, always in amazing shape, incredible positive outlook on life — the whole package. It had been incredibly hard to believe when he was originally diagnosed, but because of his amazing health, I always held on to the hope — and it was actually almost BELIEF — that he would beat it.
He was six months younger than me and larger than life. We’d both lost our parents when we were young — I lost my mom when I was five, and he lost his dad (my mom’s brother) when he was 12. They both died from metastasized melanoma, so we’d had the fear of THAT cancer hanging over us our whole lives.
So back to The Text. It was from Gordon’s sister, my cousin Kate. She wrote that the doctors felt there was nothing else they could do to help Gordon, and he didn’t have much time left — it could be months, weeks or maybe even just days. Tears were spilling down my cheeks as I stared at my phone. And I felt something in me come loose.
In a fog, I drove straight to the airport, crying the whole way. I continued bawling through security and on my whole flight. I got home and hugged my family way too tight, crying the whole time. I wandered around the house crying — trying not to freak the kids out with my total anguish, but also wanting to be around them. I cried until I fell asleep and then woke up and it all started again. I was still a complete basket case after two solid days of this, so my husband kindly asked if maybe I should talk to a doctor.
A friend gave me her therapist’s name so I could talk to a professional. I scheduled the call and the moment we got on the phone I started crying — really, really hard — so hard I could hardly speak. When I finally was able to talk, I actually was able to laugh a little and then I dove into a 15 minute diatribe about everything that had led me to this point of utterly Losing It.
I signed on for a few sessions. I cried a LOT. The therapist listened, and provided amazing insights and ideas for coping — not just with this traumatic news, but with life in general. It was really crazy because it became obvious pretty quickly in these therapy sessions that I’d been dealing with anxiety and depression for awhile without fully realizing it. The signs had been there, but I think a lot of the time I blamed it on PMS or just the exhaustion of life. I came to realize though, that over the last few years, it had become pretty crippling. It was insanely exhausting to do the simplest things, especially social stuff. I’d started crawling back into my bed a lot — once I got the kids out the door and done some work. Sometimes a crazy darkness would engulf me and I’d just want to sleep to hide form it. I knew in my head that my life was wonderful, but I would just get so depressed. It was really crazy. And was all the more brutal because I didn’t want to seem weak or less than the happy-go-lucky, fun person that I loved to be.
The therapist and my doctor agreed that my total meltdown that day — brought on by intense work stress, travel stress, and then my cousin’s news — served as a trigger to finally push me to my breaking point. It was like my own personal constitution could hold it together for only so long and handle only so much, and going past that point made it all fall apart.
Which is one of those things that was definitely a ‘blessing in disguise.’ It obviously sucked to completely lose it and to spend three days excessively crying — seriously only NOT crying when I’d finally fall asleep. BUT… it was the impetus to getting help, which I now realize I’d needed for a long time!
My therapist was incredibly pivotal in helping me understand what I was going through and also what I needed to do to get back to being a healthy participant in the life I love. These specific ‘techniques for dealing’ were so incredibly helpful to me — and hopefully will be to any of you who struggle with anxiety, depression, or even just getting through life in a happier way!
(1) Set boundaries.
I have always been really bad at this. I talk a big game, but then my total fear of confrontation and general desire to please would kick in and I’d agree to take on more than I should. Which isn’t hard to do when you have kids, as there’s always SO MUCH TO DO!
I realized that by overcommitting and trying to do way too much, I was undermining my contribution because I was totally wearing myself out. But it is so incredibly important to know yourself, and know how much you can do and still remain sane and happy.
(2) Take time out.
I realized in my ramblings on the therapist’s ‘couch’ that I’d designed a life that had zero breaks. I know that’s pretty much the nature of life these days but some of us can handle it and some can’t. I was now in the ‘can’t’ camp.
Like so many of us crazed parents, I’d jump out of bed each morning, get the kids ready and off to school, then dive directly into work and all the busy-ness of the day, then dinner and homework, then more work, then bed. The one thing I’d always been extremely strict about was sleep — so that probably staved off a breakdown for awhile, thank goodness!
But there’s only so much Rat Race a body can handle, and what the therapist helped me realize was that it’s okay to take breaks! Such a funny thought, but our lives aren’t set up for breaks… except vacations. But at least for me, it’s so much healthier to take breaks throughout the day. As in true breaks where you stop what you’re doing and turn your brain off for a bit. I honestly can’t believe how much better I feel with these quick breaks in the schedule. Plus the kids love that I actually sit down with them now and then!
A huge part of this situation has been coming to terms with needing medication. I had thought a few times over the years that maybe I needed to try something to help me with the anxiety and depression, but I think I didn’t think what I was going through was ‘bad’ enough. And I also was incredibly worried that I would be an unemotional zombie and not myself if I took mental health medicine.
But you know what? I realized when I hit Total Basket Case status that it was definitely worth trying, and — surprise! surprise! — I still had a personality! And the most important part of it was that the medicine (and therapy) allowed me to deal with my cousin’s terminal cancer and spend quality, upbeat time with him over the last months of his amazing life. And not as a basket case mess that I was originaly, but as the upbeat spaz that he knew and loved! Also to note, I am forever grateful for everyone’s support as my family and I were going through that.
(4) Talk about it.
I feel so incredibly lucky to be dealing with all of this NOW, when there is a big push to help understand mental health issues, and getting rid of the stigma that it holds. I know I for one felt a relieving sense of solidarity when I read about Kristen Bell going through similar things to what I was experiencing. Reading and hearing her story made me realize I should share mine, in the hopes that it helps anyone going through it or helping their loved ones with it.
Kristen Bell is once again shattering the stereotype that mental illness defines a person. Bell wrote an essay for TIME…www.huffingtonpost.com
She wraps it all up so well:
“Nearly one in five Americans will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life, yet many people don’t seek treatment for these issues due to stigma. Candid, public conversations like Bell’s help to eradicate a negative stereotype that has no sense of existing in the first place.
‘Depression is a problem that actually has so many solutions,’ Bell wrote in TIME. ‘Let’s work together to find those solutions for each other and cast some light on a dark situation.’”