Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma, Oh My!

As I continue to study psychology and prepare myself for a future as a clinical psychologist, I am reminded of why I wanted to start in on this journey. I became passionate about a career in psychology because I personally have struggled with anxiety and depression for the vast majority of my life. In my lifetime, the stigma surrounding mental health has improved, but there will always be more work to be done. With that in mind, I've vowed to be open about both the good and the bad to help normalize the bad times for others.

***As always, I do not share the details of what's happening for my protection and the protection of others. Besides, this is not a platform to work out what I'm going through...That's what my therapist's office is for***

In school during the past few weeks, I've been studying more about anxiety and depression. Come to find, it's been quite fitting as I found myself rammed head first into a brick wall of anxiety and depression. And at first, my reaction was to essentially tell myself, "shake it off, Hannah. Shake it off. You're fine." But as time went on and I found myself feeling worse, I knew there was more at play. I couldn't quite figure it out at first. But in time, I recognized that certain aspects of what was causing my anxiety was also bringing up my old trauma.

Trauma is weird.

I spent a lot of time about six years ago working through my trauma with a therapist. I thought long ago that I was past it. I felt that I was somehow "cured." I had finally stopped looking over my shoulder, stopped having regular panic attacks, stopped having the same nightmares and finally could control what happened in those nightmares. I was past it, right?

As it turns out, trauma isn't so simple. Mental health in general isn't simple. It's complicated stuff that takes a lot of work. Despite going through therapy to work through my trauma, it still came up again. The anxiety was so similar to how I had been years ago that it brought me right back. I had nightmares of people coming after me and ultimately not feeling safe. It was a feeling I hadn't experienced in years. On top of it, I've also been experiencing extreme sadness from other events that had been taking place. It's been such a wild mix of such strong emotions that at first, it was all blended together.

Thankfully, through years of work on myself, I've learned how to recognize what has been causing the anxiety, what has been causing the depression, and what has been causing the trauma resurrection. In my current situation, it isn't the same thing causing each of them. Being able to recognize that it isn't all the same helps me to come up with a plan of attack to get through this. Everyone is different, and so what works or me may not work for others. But I'll still share the various things that I've been doing to help myself out. If anything, maybe it'll spark some ideas for others that are finding themselves having a difficult time.

Unfortunately, the term "self care" has become a bit of cliche and the power of that sentiment has been taken away. So I'm going to refer to the ways I've helped myself as "being kind to myself." And that can be both taking action and going out to do something, or it could also be as simple as saying kind things to yourself. That's been the first step in tackling all of this. It's the thing that everyone can do in some way shape or form.

In the beginning, as my anxiety increased, I spent time trying to relax and sooth myself. One of my favorite things to do that brings me some sense of calm pretty quickly is to go down by the lake. Sitting on the beach with a journal in hand listening to the crashing waves always manages to bring my anxiety level down. That day was no exception. It was a bit chilly, but I sat there unloading my thoughts and emotions on to the pages of my journal and gradually found myself calming down.

A few days later, I went out of town and was staying in a hotel for a few days. When I'm at home or some other place indoors, some other things I do to help calm my nerves includes taking a hot shower, drink a cup of tea, and do a face mask. And that's exactly what I did in my hotel. I made myself some tea, did a face mask, and relaxed awhile. When I am at home, another thing that helps to calm me is snuggling up with my sweet kitty boy. He knows when something isn't right and he knows exactly what to do to make things better. This week has been no exception. He's been glued to my side.

As a young person, my biggest coping technique when I found myself having a hard time was to journal. For a period of time in my early 20s, I stopped journaling. There were a few reasons for it, but I've been working to pick it back up again. Every day this week, often multiple times a day, I dig out my journal and purge my thoughts and feelings onto the paper. Often times I find it easier to scribble it all down and release it. It gives me some immediate relief from the torment of my anxiety. Having a love for writing is of course why I use this platform to share about my relationship with my mental health and have an open conversation about it.

This week has been a whirlwind for me in a lot of ways. As the week went on, I found myself becoming depressed. While I take medication every day to help with my anxiety and depression, it doesn't leave me immune to anxiety and depression. The purpose of the medication isn't to make it go away, but rather make it more manageable. So I still experience anxiety and I certainly still experience depression.

Often times when I'm depressed, I want to sit at home alone and cry. While there's a lot to be said about crying and getting the emotions out, it's also good to not be alone. I feel very fortunate that I have friends who are there for me and look out for me when I'm having a hard time. And so I reached out to a couple of them to ask to meet over the weekend. I knew it would be helpful to be with friends. I had plenty of housework and homework to work on, but I knew that I needed to be okay first. My friends didn't hesitate to be there for me and even got me laughing at different points.

I had been so tired of crying and so it felt really good to just laugh for awhile. I'm grateful for the friends that I have who show up, not just through the good times, but during the bad ones as well.

By the end of the weekend, I had finally recognized that some of the most gnarly parts of my week had brought my old traumas to the surface. I go to therapy once a week, but I knew that I would benefit from seeing my therapist sooner. So I decided to reach out and see if I could get in sooner. Historically, I would be intimidated to make that request. I would feel that I was being a burden or a pest. In reality, reaching out is something that is necessary to help myself out. It's a part of being kind to myself.

Thankfully, my therapist was available sooner than our standing appointment. Reaching out and asking for any sooner availability proved to be beneficial. I know there's a lot of heavy stuff I'm about to work through with my therapist, but I know it will be okay. I will be in a safe place talking through things. I'm working with someone who will approach overcoming this difficult time in so many different ways. And I know it will be okay.

No matter what happens, I remind myself all the time that these difficult times are temporary. These bad days are temporary. Everything in life is temporary. And so I often repeat to myself over and over again, "this is temporary" when I'm facing something that is hard. I know I've gone through worse things in my past and will have more hurdles in my future. So reminding myself that these challenges are temporary makes them somehow feel less daunting.

Anxiety sucks. Depression sucks. Trauma sucks. But it's all temporary. And being kind to yourself is a big piece in healing and overcoming the hard times. Life is messy and unexpected. Be kind to yourself. Find ways to sooth yourself. Better days are around the corner.

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