***We interrupt your regular scheduled Ramadan related content for an important message from your host***
I want to have a conversation with all of you about anxiety and depression. More specifically, my anxiety and my depression. It was a topic I wanted to cover once Ramadan was over and done with, but right now seems a more fitting time for me to talk about it.
For as long as I can remember, I've struggled with anxiety. I didn't recognize it as being anxiety that I was dealing with. I didn't understand that others didn't react the same way that I did. It's not until now looking back that I recognize that I've always battled with anxiety on some level. Trying new things was very challenging, new experiences would make me cry, meeting new people scared me, and simply living life felt very hard. I was very quickly labeled as just being sensitive. "Oh Hannah takes things hard," and that kind of a thing. There was a lot of talk about getting thicker skin. It made me feel ashamed for feeling the things that I was feeling. It also made me question why I felt the way I feel when others don't feel so bad all the time.
As I grew older, I began to learn and recognize the pattern of anxiety and depression that was prevalent within my family. It also forced me to recognize what was going on with me. I really don't remember what it was that made me realize that anxiety and depression was a part of my makeup. I also don't remember what it was that made me recognize the pattern within my family. It was as if one day I simply knew it to be true.
While we've made great strides in understanding and offering better options for people who struggle with these things, we still have a long way to go. That said, when I first started to recognize that I was fighting anxiety and depression, the taboo around these things was worse. That led me to keeping a lot of it to myself. I suffered in silence. I was at war with myself. If I was anxious and/or depressed, I would try to force myself to not feel those things. On top of it, I would get so angry with myself for struggling the way that I was. That would only make things worse, naturally.
As I grew older, things only got worse. I thought that one day I would just grow out of it. Maybe it was just puberty? A lot of hormones, obviously. If only it was so simple. I tried desperately to find other things to help me manage my anxiety and depression. It was a huge part of what got me into writing. It was a release. But it wasn't enough. And now looking back, I can recognize how it impacted so many different things in my life. There were a lot of things I didn't try nearly as hard as I could have because it all seemed so daunting and overwhelming. (Yes, one of those things is school. I could have done so much better with school. But life's messy...)
Ultimately, it took a really terrible situation before I finally reached out for help. (No, I'm not going to get into it. For the privacy of all involved, I prefer to keep the details off of a public platform) It took me until I was literally scared for my own safety. It took me until I was constantly looking over my shoulder and becoming hyper aware of my surroundings. Finally I reached out to a therapist. Within a week, I found myself sitting across from her in her office.
For about a year, I worked very hard with my therapist to overcome my intense fear and process that terrible situation. I got myself to a point where I didn't feel like I was drowning anymore. I took this as a sign that I was healed. All was well. I was all better.
I wasn't all better.
Yeah, we tackled that situation, but we never really tackled everything else before that. We never really tackled my anxiety. We didn't even touch on depression. But after hitting such a scary low point, being able to manage my life again felt like far greater progress than I had actually made.
You see, I call myself a "high functioning depressed person." By that, I mean that my depression doesn't look the way that most people traditionally look at it. I don't find myself unable to get out of bed. I don't find myself unable to go to work. I don't self harm. I've never experienced any sort of suicidal thoughts or anything along those lines. My depression looks different. For me, it feels more like I am numb. I don't care about anything. Yeah, I can get myself to go to work. But I really don't care about the work that I do. I don't put my all into it. I get the bare minimum done and go home. Having a meaningful conversation feels exhausting. Honestly, doing much of anything feels exhausting.
After I stopped seeing my therapist, my grandma passed away. It was something we were all anticipating for a long time. She had been very sick for a very long time. But that didn't make it hurt any less. It hurt so much to lose her. And after awhile, I grew really tired of feeling sad and crying all the time. So I tried to block myself from feeling any sadness. What resulted was essentially hitting the power switch on all of my emotions. I was numb. I was completely numb. For the better part of a year, I was numb. I faked happiness and excitement. But in general, I was numb.
It wasn't until a close friend of mine asked me how I was doing in a way that made me stop and actually think about how I was actually doing. How was I feeling? Was I actually okay? Was I good? Was I happy? Was I sad? Was I mad? I genuinely didn't know. Because I was numb. I sat with that realization for only a short while before realizing what I needed to do. I called my therapist. She got me back into her office in no time. Within the safe space that she provided, she helped me figure out how to feel my emotions again in a healthy way. I wasn't numb, but I was able to feel what I felt while not letting it overtake me. It's a tricky balancing act that I am constantly working on.
Then there was the another hit. My grandpa passed. As much as I was anticipating my grandma's passing, I was also anticipating my grandpa's. Only his passing was the one that I knew would hit me harder. I was closer with him. He was such a special person in my life. When I got the call that he was declining, I found myself collapsing to the floor in my bedroom and just wailing. I always thought that kind of reaction to upsetting news was all dramatics. But I found out just how real that reaction is.
So needless to say, that loss was and still continues to be incredibly challenging for me. A few months later, I found myself more depressed than I had ever been in my life. Saying that I felt numb doesn't fully describe what it felt like for me. I would rotate between feeling numb, feeling empty, and feeling filled with only sadness. I started seeing my therapist more frequently than I had been to help me get through it.
Even now, I still continue to struggle with my anxiety and depression. A few months back, I found myself at another difficult hurdle. For years, I swore I would never take medication for my anxiety and depression. There are various addiction issues within my family, so the idea of taking any medication terrified me. You only hear the horror stories of the people who abuse their prescriptions. So I told myself that so long as I could go on living my normal life, I wouldn't ask for any medications. But once my anxiety and depression stopped me from being able to live my normal life, then I would consider medication.
When I found myself unable to handle meeting with friends for dinner one night and having to bail out at the very last second, I recognized that it was getting out of hand. I finally called my doctor. She knew that I was dealing with anxiety and depression. She knew I saw a therapist. And she was more than willing to write a prescription for me. I was the one that kept saying no. So she basically told me, "if you change your mind, just say the word." So I did.
That doctor appointment was one of the hardest that I've ever experienced. They had me fill out a questionnaire to get an idea of where my anxiety and depression was at. It's something I fill out with every physical as well. And with my physicals, everything was fine. Until it wasn't. It was really difficult for me to see how not okay things had gotten. I cried in her office as I sat there filling out the answers. But thankfully, by the end of that day, I was started on my new medication. And I'm grateful every single day for that medication. By the time it fully kicked in, it made me realize how much harder things had been for me for so long. It didn't make it all go away by any means. But it was as if someone was playing music at a very loud volume for your whole life and you finally found the dial to turn down the volume. It felt like someone finally turned down the volume to a manageable level.
So why am I bringing this up? Why did it have to be now? Why couldn't it wait until after Ramadan?
My anxiety has been a little higher than normal. Don't worry, I'm taking care of myself and handling it in a healthy way. But that also means that I haven't been up to writing blog posts as often as I'd like to. I've been doing my best to fill my free time with things that are more self care related. So I'm taking a small step back, but it's just so I can take care of myself. I'm not going away entirely by any means. I just might not be sharing my thoughts and feelings every day like I initially planned to.
I would also like to add that anyone that is also struggling with these things, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'm by no means a professional in this field. But I am someone that gets it and would be happy to stand by your side and try and help you through in whatever way I can. If it's simply listening or helping you find resources that work best for you. Just know you can always reach out to me at any point by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks everyone for listening to me and letting me be a bit blunt about my struggles and my journey with it. Please make sure you all take care of yourselves.