When I’m facing bouts of depression and anxiety, sometimes it’s hard to see things outside myself. And if I’m spiraling, it becomes almost impossible. If all you’re trying to do is hold on and survive the next minute, hour or day, it’s easy to forget that you aren’t the only one going through this. But as statistics show, you are not even close to being the only one. But I’m different, I would tell myself. No one is suffering in the same way I am. And I know why I thought that so much when I first faced depression. Even now, years later, there are still moments where that’s in the back of my head when I’m in a tough spot. I never viewed myself as a person just like everyone else, so the way I spoke to myself was extremely terrible (it’s still not great now, but it used to be much worse).
This is the third December that My Brain’s Not Broken has been around, so we’re now at the third time I get to write about mental health around the holidays. The first year I wrote about how mental health does not take time off for the holidays, even if you do. Last year I focused on using that quality time with friends and family to check in and see how your people are doing. Since I don’t want to get repetitive, I’d like to take a different direction, about the anxiety the holidays can bring and what you can about it.
Whenever someone weans off a medication, there are side effects to the process. Whether they are mental or physical, going from taking any medication consistently (or daily) to not taking any at all will come with different outcomes. Part one of this post spoke to the physical side-effects I’ve noticed most – mainly, that my energy levels are different and I am much more tired than I used to be. Now I’m here to talk about the mental aspect.
I’ve been of a kick on this blog writing about worry and anxiety recently, and it’s opened my eyes to the ways I approach my anxiety disorder. Over the years I’ve developed some good strategies to cope with my anxiety and be productive despite its effects, but there’s one area where I still struggle: I can’t slow my thoughts down, and I can’t remember the last time I had that ability.
Writing last week’s post about my constant worry made me think of plenty of things (not hard to imagine, right?) But since this isn’t a therapy session, I didn’t want to dive into figuring out why this happens. What I thought would be more helpful is sharing what I’ve done to combat this constant worry since I don’t think I’m alone here. Regardless of any diagnosis, plenty of people deal with this issue. Obviously, some have it worse than others (hello!), but we can all use the same strategies to overcome the problem.
Every so often, I look up the symptoms of my mental health disorders. Usually, I do it if it’s been long enough that I can’t remember the last time I did it. Sometimes I get lost and end up in a DSM wasteland (that’s the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders), but I try not to get too deep into it because I am not a mental health professional.
Anyway, I was doing this last week when I decided I hadn’t checked out the symptoms of GAD in a bit. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, aka GAD, affects 3.1% of the entire U.S. population, so it’s not like it’s an entirely foreign disorder. But since everyone is different, certain symptoms of GAD can impact people more than others. For me, it would be the ‘excessive anxiety and worry’ symptom that strikes time and again.
TW: This post discusses suicide
Typically when I post about suicide/suicide prevention, I focus on the issue in America. That’s mostly because when awareness weeks/months happen, it’s mostly about the topic of suicide as it pertains to America. So when I decided to write about World Suicide Day this year (which I’ve never done before), it was one of the first times that I looked at suicide as a global issue. And yes, it is a global issue. Just see what the World Health Organization has to say about it.
The reason that reading about suicide statistics in the United States was troubling for me in the first place was that it had me thinking that the situation was worse in the United States than it was elsewhere. But as I looked up statistics, facts, and figures from other countries, I learned this is just as big of a problem all around the world. And while strategies for suicide prevention have improved in a big way, suicide rates have not decreased in recent years. In fact, it’s estimated that around the world there is a death by suicide every 40 seconds. Every. 40. Seconds.
Just as it was last year, this year’s theme is ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide’ and I truly believe this theme says a lot about how we need to approach the issue – everyone, anyone can be involved in suicide prevention. Whether it’s checking in on a co-worker or giving a friend a call when you think they might be struggling, we all have a role to play in lifting up those around us and making sure they’re doing okay. But make no mistake, it is not up to just one person – we all have a role to play, and it can come down to three key actions to take:
- Knowing and recognizing signs of someone at risk
- Reaching out to someone in need
- Finding out what resources are available depending on the situation
There are plenty of resources that can provide the best information with specifics on this, but those are the three key takeaways that I wanted to mention because a ton can flow from those three main points. It looks easy on paper, and it some ways it is. But the topic of suicide is so nuanced and complex that the actual discussions can be anything but easy.
It starts with educating yourself, and that’s why days of awareness like today exist. I included so many links today because even though I’m not an expert myself, I know where to turn for information now, and it’s been extremely helpful.
One more thing I think you should do today. If you’re on Twitter, go check out the #WorldSuicidePreventionDay hashtag and give it a read. It might be hard, it might be upsetting, but it will also make it clear how big of an issue this is.
This is real. This is happening. And we have to fight it.
I bite my nails. When I’m nervous, when I’m thinking, when I have nothing else to do, I bite my nails. I know it’s not a good habit, and I know I should stop (and I’ve tried before). But it’s a bad habit, one of many I know I have – just like most people.
Why do bad habits exist? You can take the scientific approach or settle for something more experience-based, but where you end up is that there’s something that sparks these habits. Take me biting my nails, for instance. What caused that? My instinct is to say that my anxiety is at the root of it all. And while that might be true in this case, it also leads to a slippery slope of blaming everything on my anxiety.
In the past, I have been quick to blame my shortcomings on my GAD. I am not good at meeting people, so I blamed that on social anxiety. I watch too much TV because I told myself I was too anxious to sit down and read a book. I would eat food until I was sick because it kept the anxiety at bay. The point is, I developed poor habits and made poor decisions that I would chalk up to just being an anxious person. And whether you think that’s right or wrong to do (personally I’d say wrong!), it’s not a healthy mindset to develop.
I can’t help feeling anxious when meeting someone new. But I can develop strategies to use when I meet those people, and I can turn to my friends for help. I can’t help but feel trapped in my anxious thoughts. But I can use the techniques I’ve learned from years of practice and therapy to get out of that trap.
I can’t help but have bad habits. I’m human. But I can make sure that these habits are as harmless as possible, and that they don’t threaten my ability to be a good person. I can learn not to blame everything on my anxiety, and remind myself that there is a difference between being an anxious person and being a person with an anxiety issue.
Sometimes self-improvement isn’t always about the things we do, but the things we don’t do. And I’m learning not to chalk up every misstep on my anxiety. It’s one small step toward becoming a better version of myself – anxiety and all.
I absolutely love live music. I’m not the most musically proficient person (I played the saxophone in middle school and sang in a boy choir until puberty hit), but something I discovered when I reached adulthood was that I love going to live shows. Since a majority of the bands I like are smaller acts, that meant I was hitting small clubs and intimate venues in tons of cities listening to my favorite bands and songwriters.
I’ve had different concert buddies over the years, but there have always been people willing to go see shows with me. One constant concert pal is Kevin, who I’ve seen tons of shows with. We had a particularly crazy stretch where we saw three concerts at three different venues over the course of eleven days. And it ROCKED.
It’s hard to describe what going to a live show does for me. I think the biggest thing is that, for a few hours, it seems like nothing else matters. It’s just me, the people around me, and the band putting on their show. Everything else takes a back seat. All my problems and worries are set to the side while I immerse myself in the music.
An annoying symptom of depression is that sometimes you don’t enjoy things the way you used to. Over the years, that loss of joy has happened with a lot of things. I have fought to enjoy things I once loved, and don’t enjoy certain activities quite like I used to. So when I do find something I love to do, I hold on to it as tightly as I can.
We all have things we love to do – activities, pastimes, whatever you want to call them. There are things out there that make us feel alive, at peace, content – happy. Oftentimes, after we do those things, we think to ourselves I should do this more.
And you’re right. You should. Not just because life is short and you should make the most of your time (though that is a good reason), but because you deserve it. You deserve to do the things you love because it’s another reminder that you’re a human who loves things – just like everyone else. We all deserve it. So what’s stopping you?
I love to travel, write, and see live music. What are the things YOU love to do? Let me know in the comments!
I apologize a lot. I mean, a LOT. I’ve done it so much that it’s like a reflex now – I say sorry without even thinking why I’m doing it.
And I apologize for everything. If I’m running late, I say sorry. If I misunderstand what someone said to me, I say sorry. If I don’t do as good of a job on something as I think should, I say sorry. I know it’s not what I should be doing, but I do it anyway. I don’t even consider whether or not I am actually sorry – it’s out of my mouth before I have time to think.
The one thing I apologize for constantly, and above all else, is my mental health. I say sorry when I can’t meet up with a friend because I’m depressed. I apologize that I wasn’t more social when I’m out because my anxious mind is doing cartwheels. If I have a panic attack in front of someone, I’m more concerned with whether or not that person is okay instead of trying to calm myself down. It’s not good for me – and I want to stop.
I want to stop because of all the people who have told me not to say sorry. They don’t want me to apologize for my mental illness – they just want me to be okay. And over the years, I missed that. I prioritized things incorrectly, and it stopped me from dealing with my mental illness in a healthy way.
Yes, apologize for the mess-ups. For the mistakes you make. But don’t apologize for who you are. I was ashamed of my mental health for a long time, and it held so much power over me. Now that I’m not ashamed, that power is gone. Yes, it’s still something I deal with, but I’m not afraid to deal with it. I’m not sorry. Hope that’s okay.