Disclaimer: Not sure if I have ever touched on this subject before and I really don't want to go back and look through everything I've written. So, if I have, I'm just going to go a lot deeper and if I haven't, thank goodness I'm starting from the very beginning. Either way, I hope you enjoy this and I hope that it (in some way) helps!
For just over a decade (probably a little longer), I've suffered from depression and issues concerning anxiety. The depression, in my opinion (of the opinion of a medical professional) is doing a lot better. However, the anxiety, not so much.
Quite frankly, I think the anxiety caused the depression. I can remember being in middle school and going to a school dance and not really feeling like being around all my friends. I sort of hung on the wall. Then, it flipped in my brain that no one wanted to hang out with me. That made me feel depressed because the only thing I could think about was I'm a likable person, so why don't they want to be around me?
Let's fast forward to high school. I think my high school experience was great. Don't really have any horror stories to share with you and that is a really wonderful thing. I was a cheerleader my junior year. I was involved in activities my first two years. Senior year, I was really focused on college applications, while still being very sociable and involved on committees. Honestly, there were a few depressing days, but nothing out of the norm (at least for what teenagers of my generation dealt with).
Maybe it was college where life hit me in the face. Let me tell you the first thing I discovered about college - for every 10 people you meet that are awesome, there is that 1 person that knows how to get up under your skin. Yep, met that person a few times. Yes, I had a boyfriend that I left in high school (probably literally should have left that relationship too, but that is for another post). Life sort of flipped upside down at home, even though I was away in college. Here is what I wish someone should have told me before I left high school - no matter how much you study, college is still going to be stressful.
There is the stress of fitting in. The stress of figuring out how to get around campus and make it to class on time. The stress of maintaining a certain GPA because you have scholarship money. The stress of working 3 part time jobs while trying to finish a major and a minor (would have been 2 minors, but I had to drop one because I wouldn't finish my classes on time for the time I wanted to graduate). There are others, but I will just make the assumption that you get the point.
I guess you can see how anxiety took over my life. I found myself having anxiety concerning my friends and if they really liked me or if they were just going to go away (luckily, they haven't). I had anxiety about classes and taking tests. I had to keep my quiz grades and homework grades up because on test days, I just couldn't do my absolute best - at least not what I wanted to do in some classes. It wasn't until a professor noticed the trend that I took the initiative to talk to someone about my test anxiety.
Yes, test anxiety. Absolute madness, right? Not really. For me, it was the gateway for us to start figuring out what had been wrong with me all these years. After getting some professional help, I realized anxiety had damaged my life more than I thought. I'm not a shy person, but I found myself being alone in a crowded room for many years.
As I settled into my new normal, I felt like my feet were finally getting on the ground. The rest of the college years were amazing. All the while, being monitored by a doctor to make sure I was progressing and not necessarily being healed, but learning how to live with my anxiety and not allowing it to spiral into a depression. I had a bit of an extended college career (and I'm ok with that), but I did graduate with my degree and minor at a GPA I'm proud of. Even that year after college I was not working in a field that allowed me to use my degree, I was absolutely fine.
I got a new job in less than a year after graduation (which during the time I graduated, that was really amazing). I moved to a new state and I started to get settled into my life. Work went well and I started climbing the ladder...and then the ladder broke.
I found myself being really stressed at work. I just started thinking back to what I had learned in college and just trying to handle the situation the best way I knew how. Here are the mistakes I made with that logic:
1 - I wasn't in college anymore
2 - My environment had totally changed
3 - I was a different person
The things I had learned just were not working for me anymore and that didn't help my situation. It took me a while to realize that (ok, a few years in fact), but I got there. However, during that stressful time, I found myself trying to escape.
Let's talk about escaping because it has different meanings for me. I felt like I had to escape work. Every opportunity I had to get out of the office, I left. My boss needed an errand ran, I was the person. Then, when my brain finally could not take it anymore, I tried the ultimate escape. Yep, that escape plan. THEN (yes, that needs to be emphasized) I had extra anxiety on top of what I already had because my escape plan didn't work. If you are not sure what I am referring to, I ask you to listen to The Great Escape by Pink (@Pink). Fast forward to the following summer, I was able to escape that job. Here's what really hurt me though - I really loved that job, but for some reason, my anxiety did not let me enjoy it as much as I wanted to.
So, I'm in the new job and having a blast...and then the bottom fell out. Like for real, it flooded. I'm currently a hydraulic engineer and I design drainage systems for roadways and bridges. Needless to say, it got a little bit busy, but I was able to handle it. It was the stuff outside of the job that was hurting me.
Everyone around me was (and still is) getting married and having babies. Yes, I'm in a relationship, but I'm not getting married or having kids (at least not right now). It started to really hurt and I can remember not sleeping one night and sending a text to a friend of mine before 7am on a Saturday morning. To this day, I'm so thankful she answered her text because honestly, I'm not sure how my life would be right now if she didn't. After she allowed me to have my meltdown, break a plate she no longer wanted, took my to a festival, called someone for reinforcements, let me hangout in her bed for a while, and just talk (some of that is in the order it actually happened), she sent me home, but she kept checking on me.
Sidebar: If you're dealing with depression and/or anxiety, it is so important to have some strong friends around you.
Ok, let's get back to it. January is a hard month for me and this year, it was the absolute worst. If you need a reference to this, check out my post The Lost Boy. Really don't want to talk about it again, so that is why I'm referring you to the link. However, that day, I spiraled out of control and it was very evident that I needed help and it was time for me to get help.
My pastor talks about his battle with anxiety and I truly respect him for that. I was going back through some old sermons and he said something that made the most sense. He said (roughly), we take medicines if we have heart problems or any other physical issues, so why it is so wrong for us to take a medicine for our brains? Immediately, something in my brain changed about the stigma behind having to be medicated.
In the African-American community, we do not talk about any form of mental illness. When we do, we talk about it in a very negative connotation. Actually, we're not supposed to talk about it because we are crazy or less than a person. Well, I'm here to hopefully start to break that stigma (at least within my generation).
In February of this year, I told a really good friend of mine, I'm ready to get back on medication. I knew that was going to be what helped me and I'm not ashamed of that. I've been medicated for about 2 months and I can UNASHAMEDLY tell you that I feel fantastic!!!
I'm happy and I feel like I have a balance that I have not had in a few years. Have my doctor and I talked about coping and not being medicated one day? Yes! But right now, we both agree, medicine is the best thing for me right now. Here's the kicker, she believes I have social anxiety (yes, still have test anxiety too). How weird is that for me to love being around people and being in a field that requires me to be around people, but yet I have social anxiety? It is weird, but I'm dealing with it because it is my truth.
In the past two months, I've only had one anxiety attack and that is awesome! Do I sometimes still get a nervous energy around some people? Yes. However, I'm ok. I'm learning how to deal with this version of my new normal and I take steps forward every single day.
So yes, I literally take a chill pill. Now, if you're dealing with depression and/or anxiety and don't like that I called it a chill pill, here is what you need to know about me - I really don't care. Calling it my chill pill is another way I cope because I can find humor, instead of pain, in calling it that. I'm not ashamed of this battle anymore and quite frankly, it has made me so much stronger.
If you think you or someone around you is dealing with this, please get some help. There is help out there. Life can and will get better. If they don't want to go alone, offer to go with them. The most important thing is to be supportive and to be understanding. It's time to be honest about how and what you are feeling. That is the only way things are going to change.