Emotions are like a wave. The wave rolls in and the wave rolls out. It might be a big tidal wave that washes anything in its path to shore; or it might be a small wave, causing a tiny ripple. The wave, in this instance is my depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve lived with both mental illnesses for years – depression for 2 and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) for 7. I use the wave metaphor all the time, as it helps me visualize. I can see it forming, cresting and crashing in my brain. And I know that eventually, the wave will wash away, back to the depths from which it came.
I take medicine every day. I see a therapist, my naturopath incorporates stress points into my monthly acupuncture appointments and I take supplements to help my stomach, which sometimes feels like it’s being wrung out like a washcloth – I call this my anxiety belly. I plan my day extremely carefully, opting to avoid stores during peak-hours as crowded places make my anxiety really turn up. I plan my bedtime carefully, making sure I get 8 hours of sleep – being over-tired makes my emotions go nuts and from there coping with them becomes impossible.
My brain often looks like a very crowded Internet browser – usually it feels like I have 100 tabs open at all times. Tabs that are flashing, binging, crying for attention. Tabs that make it impossible to focus on anything but the chaos and noise happening inside my brain. The noise can be deafening. At times like this I go inside my head to try and shut some things down; normally most of the tabs are not even reflective of reality, and that’s one of the things no one tells you about anxiety – it is a very good liar. Anxiety can tell you that something is wrong when really nothing is. It can tell you that you’re not good enough, you’re not loved and you’re not important, when the logical side of your brain knows this is all untrue (I picture the anxiety monster like the oil man from Fern Gully, Hexxus, creeping along, poisoning everything). Trying to sort through these tabs is exhausting, and that’s why I’ve become a self -care champion.
GAD and Depression are a lot more than just mental symptoms – they’re very physical. There are aches, exhaustion – after endless hours of sleep – and brain blocks, making every task seem impossible. Some days even showering seems daunting. Having to stand and wash your body can be painful when all you feel capable of doing is laying still, trying to silence the noise. But regardless of how you feel, taking care of your health is important. For me this means running a bath each night, allowing myself time to read, giving myself time to write and understanding what my body needs. My therapist is always pushing me to listen better to myself – to feel my feelings and not shove them down into my core for them to surface later.
Self-care differs from person to person, but the biggest lesson my therapist taught me was that staying home for a day in bed is perfectly okay. Let yourself have a day to yourself, if your body is asking for it. One of my biggest struggles was actually letting myself do this –I know from experience that there’s a lot of pressure to not let the wave drown you, to stand tall and get out there. I continue to feel this pressure, but I’m slowly removing the guilt and taking more time for myself. I’m the only person who can answer what my body needs. And because I’ve started to do this, I’m a better friend, daughter, sister, co-worker and teammate because of it.
There are many parts of depression and GAD that I cannot control. The wave will come no matter how careful I am, and sure enough some days it will crash and bang and bring all kinds of matter with it. Some days I’ll be a body but not a person. I’m occasionally lost inside my head, desperately trying to clean up the tabs. I’ll always come back though. I’ll always resurface and be the funny, kind person that people see. I’ll laugh again and I’ll want to go outside and do all the things 26 year olds do. The ocean of depression and GAD is a deep one, filled with tons of caves to get lost in and many obstacles to overcome, it takes months or years to cross this ocean and the best life raft I’ve found is my family, friends and therapist, all making sure I don’t sink.