I’ve been pretty open about my daily life as someone who lives with anxiety. I do have enough readers and I do know that what I say has helped others reach out and feel less alone. What I haven’t been as eager to be open about is that, as long as I can remember, I’ve also had at least one depressive episode per year. It’s nothing so extreme that suicide is contemplated, but it’s definitely more than just feeling sad.
The anxiety has been a struggle this year. A big struggle. At some point last year I switched from Zoloft to Celexa. The Celexa never really did much. In retrospect, this was a terrible decision, but as I felt the creep of anxiety increasing, I was desperate to stave it off. This spring, I ended up switching to Prozac and Buspar (seriously one of the stupidest names ever). That’s when the sideways slide into depression really began.
The thing about depression is that I don’t notice it’s hit until the dark thoughts begin. Maybe this is normal, but since we don’t talk about the reality of mental health openly very often, I don’t have anything else to go off of. Someone pointed out today that we should talk about mental health the way we talk about physical health– like asthma (which I have) or allergies (which I also have); it’s a chronic condition. Most of the time these things are under control. Sometimes, the medications that I take to manage the asthma, allergies, or anxiety aren’t enough, though.
Starting in April, and through May, I was trying to help my grandmother recover from a very serious illness that needed weeks of hospital and rehabilitation center care. I mostly got through it ok, but I was without one of my teachers due to maternity leave, and some of the things about owning a business really got very seriously neglected to the point where I wasn’t capable of doing more that just showing up to teach.
It’s manageable to own a business with anxiety; the act of doing things to promote and grow and run the business become fantastic ways to soothe the nerves. If I’m doing something, I’m less anxious. It is, however, impossible to run a business once a full-blown depressive episode hits. Returning phone calls? It seemed like too much work. Reach out to providers and partners in the community? Nope, I’ll stay balled up in bed instead. Check out what others are doing to get a feel for the market? Thanks, but the mean voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough have enough fuel for their fire. And as I did less I felt more shame, inadequacy, and doubt about my ability to run a business.
Depression lies. The narrative in my head got darker as summer began. I grew desperate. I did meet with my therapist, but that didn’t help. Finally, in late June, everything came crashing down. I never got to the point of suicide being an issue, but the screening forms for anxiety and depression were startling; since I work so much with mental health through the nonprofit, seeing the scores on paper was scary.
I was so desperate to feel better. The anguish of the sadness and hopelessness grew. I’m lucky that I have wonderful friends and family did everything they could to keep me afloat. But still…
I don’t remember much from the last week of June and the first week of August. I remember feeling an overwhelming desire to check myself into a mental health unit and be hospitalized, but I also rationally knew that beds are very hard to find, and going through the hell of finding a place to be didn’t sound appealing. Again, if it was an asthma flare up, the steps would be obvious; if I got to the point of not being able to breathe, I’d go to the ED. There would be plenty of beds I could stay in while I got the meds I needed to be able to breathe. This simply is not an option during depression or anxiety flare ups.
This is what’s so bleeping frustrating about our system: while the barriers to care have slightly improved, as has been studied over and over, it’s still hard for anyone to get access to mental health for people with more minor challenges; for someone is crisis, a helpline isn’t enough. The mental health infrastructure just does not exist. We essentially have a two-lane road made of a mishmash of bricks, asphalt, concrete, and gravel that really needs to be upgraded to an eight-lane highway. Politicians like to talk a lot about “improving mental health”, but money isn’t going into building the clinics and hospitals and coverage and creating easy access to the mental health care providers that families need when they reach a point of desperation.
I am getting better. I am better. I went back on my old-old meds, and they finally kicked in July 10th. Yes I remember that day because I needed to make sure I placed my marker back into the passage of time rather than just float through the days and months as I had before. The fog is still lifting, but I am finally getting back into the groove of life, or parenting, of running BabyLove and the non-profit. I’m getting there. I had so many friends and family, especially my husband, who held out their hands so that I had something to hold onto until I had the strength to hold on myself. I have anxiety and depression, but that’s not all who I am, and if you’re in the same place I am, it is not all who you are, either. My value, your value, is still there. We’re still here. Let’s stay here and help each other get through this thing called life.
Finally, if you are reading this an need help, you can find local and national resources over on NAMI Minnesota’s website. More work is needed to fund these community mental health response teams, though. We need more funding, more training in our state and in the US to make sure it’s as easy to get the right care for severe depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns as it would be to get help for an asthma attack.