This is the post I alluded to yesterday. We’re about to get heavy up in here, kids. You’ve watched the blog go through some changes in the last few weeks. Behind the scenes, there’s been another type of renovation going on.
I first shared my struggles with anxiety and depression last August when I wrote Owning It versus Being Owned. I was sick and tired of hiding the shame I felt for dealing with these conditions, so I owned up to them. Writing that post was extremely therapeutic and allowed me to feel open enough to share my thoughts on my emotional wellness through my journey on finding happiness in 2011. While significant life changes occurred between that initial August 2010 posting and this summer (training for my first half marathon, my parents divorcing, changing jobs), I was managing my stress levels and winning the battle.
Then my grandfather passed away. As much as I tried to cope head on at first, I started distracting myself from my emotions. I threw myself into half-marathon training, attended as many networking events as possible and continually worked as hard as possible to develop business for my new employer. But that didn’t last long: I started pulling away and hiding not only my emotions, but myself.
On a particularly dreary day in September – both outside my house and inside my head – I saw this tweet:
I immediately clicked over to the Intuitive Bridge blog to read Bridget’s post entitled The Difference between Trey Pennington and Me. In it, she writes:
My depression has a stealth brutality to it. Along with exhaustion and sadness, I get a healthy dose of shame and inadequacy.
When my depression comes back, I feel like I’ve failed. I know cognitively that having a depressive episode is not failure. It’s my body experiencing disease.
I’m telling you this because if you are experiencing this right now, you’re not alone.
Even though the experience weighs you down and it feels like there is no end, there will be a day when the depression lightens.
If you can just take care of yourself until then, and wait it out, you’ll be happy that you did.
As I read, I quickly realized I was heavy into a depressive episode of my own. I wasn’t living up to my high expectations of myself and the guilt I’d put upon myself was too much. Case in point: I almost talked myself out of running the Air Force half marathon as I was standing at the starting line, only to prove my negative thinking wrong with a nearly 20 minute PR. (Also, check out this Hyperbole and a Half called Adventures in Depression for a light hearted version of exactly how I’ was feeling.)
On the anxiety side, the “monkey brain” was in full force. I was constantly worrying about everything: my ever changing work responsibilities, getting enough mileage in, my relationship with my husband, if my dog was getting enough attention. Something new also appeared as social anxiety kicked in. I was constantly rescheduling/cancelling appointments. I let phone calls go to voice mail, ignored text messages and struggled to put email responses together in a timely fashion. The rational me knew this was the irrational me running the show, but she couldn’t do anything about it.
Before reading that post I recognized I needed help, however I already felt too far gone. But it was that post about Trey Penttington’s suicide that kept me from spiraling further. I finally had the first sense that I wasn’t the only one battling these horrible thoughts and feelings. I knew drastic times called for drastic measures, but I was scared and overwhelmed. Whenever I’m overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown, I always think of Sean’s post Does Fear Overpower You? Fight or Flight? In it, he wrote:
I am telling you that you can harness fear as a motivator to get out there and get in the game, to push yourself further than you have ever before, further than you ever thought possible, to use fear as a positive force instead of a negative one. Use fear as a motivator and not an inhibitor of change.
Uncertainty had been driving the vessel of my life and I couldn’t be afraid of the unknown any longer. And for the first time in a long time, I knew what I had to claim back my life and my health. The first step: I resigned from my job. There were no ill feelings on either side from my departing. We both knew my interests & career goals were not longer aligning with my job responsibilities. I relinquished my job duties and took on a new one – finding myself by battling the depression and anxiety once again.
In reality, the path to finding health requires a lot of work. I knew this was the case on my journey to a physical well being through many years of weight loss, but building mental and emotional health is just as much as a practice. It means dealing with all the sh*t that you’ve hidden away. It means calling those friends and family you’ve avoided to reconnect to realize you are not alone. It means checking out a dozen self-help books on meditation, mindfulness and stress strategies from the library. It means being able to say “I’m not okay, but that’s okay.”
I’m doing much better than I was a few months ago. That wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many, many people. Your interactions – on any level – have kept me feeling alive in a time when I just wanted to fade away. From the yoga sessions to the girls-nights-in, from the Twitter conversations to the family dinners around the kitchen table: those moments are the reason why I am here today – your love kept me going. I am eternally grateful for you all.
I don’t know what’s up next for me or for my family, my career or this blog. And for the very first time in my life, I’m okay with that and I am THANKFUL to not have a plan for every single little part of my being. I know there will be bumps along the way, but I’m better equipped to deal with them now. A depressed, anxiety ridden person won’t be residing in this body anymore – a happy, healthier me will enjoying life instead.
My plea to you: If you or someone you know is struggling with emotional health, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Not sure where to start: connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
EDITED TO ADD: Via a concerned commenter, I realized my mention of returning to therapy got lost in my editing the post. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment was my actual first step in the process (happening before the job resignation). Unfortunately, it took longer than expected to find the right one that could give me the tools I needed to fight this in a way that would work for me. While self-help books are a nice supplement, there’s no replacement for professional help. Remember his/her point: I am NOT a medical or mental health professional. I am just doing the best I can to describe my experience as responsibly as I can. I apologize for my oversight and thank that commenter for his/her posting.