Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Catch My Disease

I've been thinking about posting about this topic for a long time but I think now is finally the time for me to say what I want to say. 

I study psychology and am hoping to one day be a therapist. I'm hoping that the fact that I'm seeing a therapist myself will only add to my knowledge base someday when a client is sitting across from me. As someone with a sizable amount of depression and anxiety, seeing a therapist is extremely helpful for me as I try to sort through what my brain is trying to tell me. 

The depression puts all sorts of thoughts in my head that I know can't be true but they feel soooooo real. Years of trying different medications have led me to find that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't! The brain is too complex to simply bandaid back together. Yesterday I thought about death all day long. Not because I want to kill myself but because if I died in my sleep, or was hit by a bus, I would be sad to leave some things behind, but I cannot describe the relief that I feel at the idea of escaping the thoughts that haunt me on a regular basis.

As a person with healthy self esteem it's confusing to suddenly have thoughts like 

"Everything you do is wrong"

"No one cares what happens to you"

"You're an inconvenience- just by existing"

"You're not lovable"

I know these things are not true. I know myself too well, I know my family, friends, colleagues, and human beings too well to say any of those thoughts are true.

So why do I dip sometimes into a thick, dark illusion where those statements feel so real I can't get death off of my mind?

It's 100% because of a chemical reaction in my brain. There are times when I hate life. Not just "I hate life, why won't this work day end???" But "I hate life, why won't it stop torturing me? Why is my chest so tight? Why is it exhausting just to walk across the room?"

I don't hate MY life. My life is AWESOME! I have a loving, nurturing family, an incredibly sweet husband, an education in what interests me, a job with great people in something that contributes to my education, I live in a great place, have plenty of adventure.... And yet I hate life sometimes. I hate that even though I'm incredibly grateful for EVERYTHING life has handed me, on some days the thoughts grow so dark that I'm afraid to move.

Enjoying awesome Disneyland with awesome Jeff!

I thought I'd add a picture of what a great family looks like!!!

This post isn't for me to vent but to show that bad things don't have to happen for depression to happen. I've been through very difficult times but I don't feel like those things led to depression I feel like depression led me to those difficult times.

To make this relatable I'll share my experience- depression and anxiety really crept up for me as young as elementary school but it was handleable and probably not too different than many kids. I wanted to do my best and always do good things but I was very guilt prone and put unnecessary stress on always doing things right. As I became a teenager and even when I went off to college I still struggled this way but could remedy it by taking alone time, basically walking away from the stressor.

For whatever reason, my sophomore year of college is when the lights of life began to dim. At 19 I just remember things becoming consistently dark. I had no idea what was going on. I remember walking across campus and hoping no one smiled at me because I couldn't smile back. I threw myself into unhealthy relationships, avoided contact with people more often, but tried to hold onto myself, the fun-loving but slightly stressed girl I had always been. Suddenly, I was becoming the stressed but slightly fun-loving version of myself.

But then something came along that I REALLY wanted to do right. In the religion that I take part in young men and women have the opportunity to give a year and a half or two years to being a "missionary". This means being assigned to a location where you will spend all day, everyday, looking for people who are interested in learning about God, family, and the important things in life. I had been planning on this experience since I was 14 years old. Nothing had ever been so important to me. 

Perhaps, with something so important coming up, the desire to do this something right, or perfectly, caused those chemical imbalances to drastically grow.

I realize this is becoming long fast so I'll try to speed things up. In April 2010, I left to become that missionary in Hungary where I was assigned. Hungary was fantastic, beautiful, and a hilarious experience, but it is also where I really learned about anxiety and depression. 

With friends in Hungary!

From the time I got to the country I could feel a tightness in my chest begin. As I said, walking away from a stressor is how I handled things and there was no way I was walking away from this incredible experience. Those who have served a mission for the same church know that even on a smaller scale, walking away is impossible. You are assigned to a "companion" who not only teaches with you, but lives with you and you are expected to stay together at all times (exceptions being the bathroom... That's basically it.)

So... No alone time...

I'll skip a lot of detail but basically, over the next few months my chest tightened and tightened. I ignored it because there was so much to do and I wanted to do it well. I remember one day when my companion and I were biking somewhere and the pain in my chest suddenly snapped. It felt like my chest and then my brain just... broke... I suddenly couldn't speak the language as well as I had (already a struggle) and my chest either ached or just felt cold and empty. 

This happened a few times over the next few months until my body just got sick of it. I wasn't taking care of it so it stopped. For a week I could hardly open my eyes, I could only speak softly, and it would take me fifteen minutes just to sit up. I wasn't sick as in I had a cold or anything. My brain wouldn't support my body in these basic functions. I couldn't eat. My sweet companion at the time would make me take a few bites every night and I just cried because my body didn't want it, I lost 11 lbs that week. I literally laid in bed and stared at the wall all day. I had no choice, that's all my body could do. Needless to say, I felt like a crazy person.

Finally, exactly one week from when this started, my brain woke back up, I sat up and I ate something. I remember crying and asking my companion to make me eat it if I didn't want to but my stomach took it, thank God!

For the next few months my head ached, colors were dulled and I felt like I was walking through a fog. I don't want to make it sound like I handled this well, I was terrified. One of my biggest and most haunting fears is finding myself in that same mental state again. 

By the grace of God and through some very amazing companions, I not only survived my mission but had an amazing and successful experience. The fear never left, the anxiety and depression never left, I had to do things differently sometimes but some of my most cherished friends are a result of that experience.

Here I'll put a plug in for finding the right therapist for you. I spoke to a therapist via telephone (he was in Germany) and he was awful. Or at least an awful match for me. One of the most painful results was that he told me that once I finished my mission and went home the pressure would be alleviated and I would no longer struggle with this depression and anxiety. What bullshit (sorry, I feel strongly about this).

When I went home things intensified with all of the changes and over 3 years later I'm still wishing for death on some days.

This just scratches the surface of the difficulty of battling your own mind but the next few years involved self-harm, self-sabotage, and a lot of panic attacks. Worst of all, my brain now associates religion with panic attacks since that was my focus when things got really tough. I'm just barely getting back the ability to read scripture without panicking. The other things I've had to get creative on but I continue to make progress! Through good family, good friends, good therapists, and a wonderful husband who (before we were married) said "Are you kidding? Seriously? We can do this." when I broke the news to him and asked if he didn't want to continue our relationship. It hasn't been easy but we're 5 months into a wonderful marriage despite the hardships!

I have an awesome husband!

I share my experience for a couple of reasons, they are a mix of altruism and selfishness. One is in hopes that others like me can know that there's nothing wrong with them. Depression and anxiety are things that happen like broken arms and legs. Sometimes something terrible happened that you need to work through and sometimes you just slip and there's no one to blame, not even yourself. But another reason is to make it less scary for others and myself. The less taboo the subject is the less scary it is when it strikes. However, the only way to be less afraid of it is to become educated about it. Understand that a depressed or anxious person is not broken. I can still accomplish incredible things, and I do and plan to continue to, with or without the demon of depression. With or without the thoughts about death. But with a lot of love from God, the good people in my life, and a real understanding that the depression belongs to me, not the other way around.