Mental illness seems to be getting a lot of airplay these days. While we’re still far from a place where it is accepted and legitimized as a genuine health issue, at the very least we’re hearing more about it. Just the other day, we shared a Facebook post about 15 celebrities who have come forward to share their own mental health struggles as a means of helping others. There’s no question that this exposure is a huge step forward in helping to erase the stigma associated with mental illness.
Depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, ADHD, eating disorders – these, among many others, are the hard hitters. The ones that grab the headlines and demand attention, as they should.
But there’s one we hear less about. An insidious condition that wraps its claws around its sufferers and holds on for dear life.
It’s anxiety. And it sucks.
I’ve been very open about my fight against depression – but I’ve been less vocal about living with chronic anxiety. I think it’s easier to talk about depression; easier to describe the all-encompassing sadness, the struggle to motivate, to feel happy. Describing anxiety, often depression’s partner in a debilitating dance, is difficult at best.
Lately, I’m finding my anxiety difficult to control. It robs me of sleep, steals my appetite, makes me short-tempered and tearful. It’s exhausting, and that exhaustion is depressing.
Anxiety makes you feel like your thoughts are on a treadmill that’s gaining speed.
What starts as a simple thought gathers baggage and gains momentum until it becomes a tornado of worst-case scenarios. Then the doom sets it. Your mind convinces you that the tornado will leave a trail of destruction. Bad things will happen. You’ll be stuck feeling this way forever.
The middle of the night and early morning are worse. When it’s quiet and there are no distractions, I ruminate; my mind spinning in circles, my heart beating out of my chest.
Anxiety is often misunderstood. When it overrides the depression, you might think of me as a model of efficiency.
I fill every second of my day and move from activity to activity with impressive speed. I’ll exercise too much. Cook up a storm. Binge on tv shows. Drink a lot. An anxious phase can mimic an up. But the reality is, I’m in a race against myself. If I keep moving, maybe I can keep the shit storm of thoughts away and give my mind some peace. The truth is that when I’m in this place, I’m completely overwhelmed and incredibly tired.
In the past, I’ve wallowed in this place, waiting impatiently for it to lift. I’m sick of it though. Tired of feeling like I’m in a race I don’t want to be running. So I’m taking some steps to help myself out of the rut this time: I’m spending a lot of time at my yoga studio and seeing a therapist who specializes in holistic psychology. He’s teaching me about mindfulness and meditation, about using my breath to calm my mind. I’m pouring my thoughts and feelings into my journal. I’m talking to my husband and the friends who get it.
A caveat: Asking for help makes me feel like a pain in the ass. I know I’ve lost friends because I’m perceived as needy and tiring. It’s like I’m walking a tightrope, carefully trying to balance my need for support with not being a burden – which makes me anxious, of course.