Cami glances to her left. Back to center to the laptop screen in front of her. To her right… all the way over her shoulder. Back to center. It’s morning and outside birds chirp and the sound of morning traffic on the busy thoroughfare is almost a white noise in its consistency. Slowly she sips coffee from her mug which declares in all red cap letters:
MORNINGS ARE FOR COFFEE AND CONTEMPLATION
It’s morning and clearly she is in contemplation.
She leans into the laptop imagining its a camera and whispers, “This was not the mental health issue you were looking for,” before withdrawing into a normal seated position.
Now that the scene is set and you can all see that I’m clearly my playful and painfully dorky self, let’s talk about the state of my mental health. Why? Because I care. Both about my own mental health and about yours. And also the mental health of that person you know and love who struggles with anxiety and/or depression that you totally don’t know how to help.
Because depressed people can be scary. Anxious people can be scary. You never know what they’re going to do. So, you know, maybe it’s just easier not to look. Or to do that thing where you put your hand over your eyes and peek between two fingers at the screen when the grisly part of the horror movie is on?
I get that. I watch anything involving teeth that way. Just so I can close my hand AND my eyes in case anything I don’t think I can handle comes on.
Watching a friend struggling with mental health issues — and yes there are so many more than I just listed — can be grisly. It can also be… So. Incredibly. Boring. Because their feelings, or their lack of feelings, can take up so much space. You may want to shake them and say “KNOCK IT OFF” or not speak to them until they can get their shit together. Or if it’s you, yourself… you may want to not speak to yourself until you get your shit together.
Here’s where we cue Cami storytelling mode…
We’re still in this global pandemic. Things are a mess. It’s been 6 months now and I, the lifelong anxiety sufferer finally admitted the medications I had been on for two years were no longer doing the job they once did. At all. (That happens sometimes. Your neurochemicals are no longer behaving in the way they once did, for better or for worse.)
Wow… look at me trying to detach from this situation by saying they’re your neurochemicals. They’re not. I don’t know what’s up with your neurochemicals. I don’t even know what’s up with my own. But I’m calling myself on that avoidance. So…
My neurochemicals are no longer behaving the way they once did. And I don’t even need the for better or for worse, I can tell you it’s for worse. How can I tell?
Well my home is in a more significant state of disarray than ever. My work has suffered. I’m short with my family. I’ve been avoiding dealing with some of my friends. I’ve been obsessing over things I don’t normally obsess over. I haven’t been taking very good care of my plants. Also, I smell. Like… this is the worst time to be a smelly human. My partner and my offspring are locked up inside a house with me for 6 months and I choose this time to be lax about my hygiene? Bad move. Except it’s not something I chose. It’s just something that fell into place because I didn’t care and I didn’t realize how much I didn’t care.
I’d also been sleeping A LOT and I bring that up because for a lot of people that is a sign that their mental health is in decline or crisis. For me it’s just that I like sleep A LOT.
Back to those neurochemicals. I spent most of my life shouting into the void that I would never be put on anti-anxiety meds. That my brain is my own and that I will just work through it. And then a couple of years ago I got brave and I told my anxiety to shove it and talked to my doctor and asked for help. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done because one part of me was raging against all the other parts of me and all of those systems of self are deeply interwoven. To harm my anxiety with medical intervention instead of just therapy and coping strategy, was to harm all of me. It wasn’t true, but I was convinced that it was.
Okay. Enough background. Fast forward back to the pandemic. To stinky, bumbling, messy, zombie Cami. My anxiety had a tight enough grip on me once again that I was convinced it was my fault that the medications weren’t working. I tried everything I knew to try in my playbook and nothing helped. So I did the super hard thing again and made an appointment to talk to my doctor to admit that this shit that was working no longer works and I am once again an anxious mess who has panic attacks every time I leave the house and yells at people on the street for coming too close to me without a mask. Who is so anxious I can’t think straight. And please can you help me fix this?
And so the cycle of trying on new neurochemicals begins again. And what I’m doing now seems very much to be working. So much so that I am painfully aware that it wasn’t just anxiety.
You see… I’ve always had anxiety. But I’m not depressed. Ever. Except when I am. And I was so entrenched in my own narrative as a person with anxiety disorder and panic disorder that I couldn’t even consider there could be more going on than I thought.
This is where I remind you that I am not a mental health professional. I don’t even play one on TV. I would love to be an advice columnist but that is beside the point. I’m just one of the many suffering from anxiety. And as it turns out, situational depression.
Depression was not the mental health concern I was looking for. But there it was.
So why did I write out this long babble of thoughts and feelings and neurochemical ramble? Because I want to make the invisible visible. I want you to know, if you’re suffering, you’re not the only one. I want you to know if your loved one is suffering, you’re not alone and they’re not the only one. And there’s hope.
This morning, after some adjustment to the new medication and tweaking when I take it, I woke up clear headed. I got up and took a shower before starting my workday without really thinking about it. I put in my contact lenses. I put on clean clothes. I felt normal in the best possible way and it took some contemplation to understand how truly special that feeling of normalcy is to me.
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, anger or any combination thereof please reach out for help. To a friend, to your family, a doctor, clergy member, or a counselor. In the US you can call 1-877-726-4727 (Monday – Friday 8am to 8pm) for help locating mental health services available to you in your area.
If you feel overwhelmed and like you may harm yourself you can find local resources to help you here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the National Suicide prevention hotline 1-800-273-8255 (24 hours a day 7 days a week).
Note: medication isn’t the answer for everyone. It hasn’t always been the answer for me. It may not always be the answer for me. I hope it isn’t. I’m just sharing my story as it is. Right now.