(Disclaimer: Before I discuss a few of my experiences battling anxiety and depression, I wish to make clear to my readers that I am NOT against the use of anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medicines. I had side effects from a few of the medicines I was prescribed, but I am also very sensitive to medications in general. I think that medicine can be great to help sufferers of depression and anxiety. What matters is that you find something that works for you!)
Anxiety has been a presence in my life since I was six years old–depression since age eight. At the age of 27, I still fight both illnesses. My depression and anxiety became so severe at age 12, I was placed on my first anti-depressant. The only thing that tiny, white pill did for me was disrupt my sleep. They tried me on other medications, but yet again, I was having intense side effects. One medicine’s side effects gave me migraines so severe that I was bedridden for several hours until the medicine wore off. Frustrated with the side effects, I decided to stop taking anti-depressants altogether.
Throughout my high school years, my mental health fluctuated. Some days I did well, yet others I was barely able to function. After graduation, life seemed to improve. I attended college in the fall and managed to feel somewhat normal. My first semester at college was a success, so I planned to attend again for the spring semester. I ended up having to drop out due to an illness unrelated to my mental health. After I recuperated, I made the decision to get a job until I decided on a major. My first few months working were great, but my life became a mess when I learned the news my sister had suddenly passed away. My sister and I were always very close despite a 13 year age difference. She had a history of heart problems, but they couldn’t pinpoint an actual cause of death. After I lost my sister, I lost a part of myself. I had dealt with anxiety before, but I had never endured a severe panic attack until then. I was so upset that I couldn’t breathe. Sweat poured down my face, I lost feeling in my face, arms, and chest–I felt like I was going to either pass out or die. A few months prior, I was prescribed a medicine to help resolve my tension headaches as needed. The medicine also doubled as an anxiety medication. I took the prescribed dose and in a matter of 20-30 minutes, I felt calmer.
A couple of weeks flew by without another attack. Was I in the clear? I was still struggling to function as I attempted to cope with the loss of my sister. About a month later on Thanksgiving, my grandmother was rushed to the hospital and had several blood clots in her lungs. We had also noticed that she wasn’t acting like herself, but we figured maybe she had endured a stroke. The doctors instead informed us that she was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. The news was devastating. Within the next month, we had to move her to a nursing home where she could receive the care she needed. My previously managed anxiety began to unravel. I tried to hide my battle with anxiety at work, but it was quickly starting to show. I began having severe panic attacks at work. Overwhelmed, I sought the help of my doctor once again. He placed me on Paxil, but the weight gain was horrible. In just a few months, I had gained over 20lbs. It didn’t help lessen my panic attacks and now I needed to buy bigger clothes. My medicine was switched to Prozac, but the weight gain continued. I finally found Wellbutrin which helped me get through the tough times. I began to feel stable and after time, I was able to stop taking the medicine.
How am I these days? I am better than I used to be, but I still have a long ways to go. Anxiety, for me, is something that can be dormant for days, weeks, or even months. Sometimes certain things like large crowds can trigger my anxiety, but other times, I can’t pinpoint the “how and why” of my problem(s). Depression, on the other hand, is something that is more of a struggle for me. Some days I wake up feeling fine, but other days I don’t want to even get out of bed. I have learned that what I put into my body can really make a difference. Alcohol, which is a depressant, really stirs up my depression at times. I’m not saying that I stay away from alcohol completely, but I don’t drink as often as I used to. My best advice is don’t drink when you’re sad…don’t drink when you are mad. Processed foods should be avoided altogether. Whole foods provide the nutrients your body needs to function. Refined sugar and simple carbohydrates can take their toll on your mental and physical health. I have also started an exercise regimen to aid in my fight against depression.
Mental health issues are not something that should be kept private. There are so many people who think these issues make them weak, but it’s a sign that you’ve had to be strong for too long. There are some people who don’t understand mental illness, but there are plenty more of us that do. If you are needing help managing your depression, please talk to someone. We all need a support system whether it be a friend, family member, doctor, therapist or even someone online who has the same problem. I’ve included some links to some helpful sites below.
I know that life gets tough sometimes, but please, please, please remember that you are not alone. If you or a loved one are dealing with suicidal thoughts, please visit The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.