I have anxiety and mild depression. Just reading that sentence brings tears to my eyes. Why? Because I am filled with shame.
I know shame well; we’ve become close these last few years. When I started experiencing bizarre and unexplainable symptoms that made me feel like I was dying, my lungs were collapsing and/or my back was breaking, I had no clue my body was having a panic attack. Since 2010, I’ve had anxiety. Since, well, probably high school I’ve had mild depression but I wouldn’t have admitted that nor seen the signs in my behaviour back then. But I’m all about being real with you guys and my depression has always lurked in the background. Maybe that’s part of the deal when you’re a creative soul. Look at the artists of yore who’ve taken their own life in one way or another, who’ve lost the battle with their demons: Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Sylvia Path, Ernest Hemingway and more recently, Chris Cornell. Maybe mental illness is the price we pay for being vulnerable and needing the outlet for our sensitive souls to show up and shine bright. And of course, the vicious cycle that ensues from following that predestined path: the need for approval, celebrity status, the loss of privacy, more money the ever imagined, the public criticisms etc. Or perhaps it’s just the way we’re wired in our brain. Or maybe it’s the pressure we feel from the constant bombardment everywhere we turn that causes us to panic. The incredible energy medicine teacher, Donna Eden, believes “our energy systems evolved in resonance with our anatomy and our environment over millions of years, but the environment has changed radically since the advent of industrialization. We evolved for a world that hasn’t existed for centuries. This, however, is but a blink in the evolutionary eye, far too short a period for natural selection to have updated the arrangement, so we adapt to the industrial and the postindustrial world with energy software that was designed for living in the wild.” This resonates with me. Just in the last hundred years we’ve seen rapid advances in technology, medicine, infrastructures, commerce and more. It makes sense that these changes are affecting us in ways our physiology can’t keep up with. And yet, I still sit here in shame all the while looking for a reason beyond being labeled “mentally ill.”
No one wants that label. No one wants to admit that he’s mentally ill, that her thoughts are sick or his brain is firing the wrong synapses.
The stigma and the judgment that’s very much still prevalent feed the already present shame we feel for having it. Even I find myself passing silent judgments from time to time! I follow a mentally ill person on Instagram and once in awhile I’ll see one of her posts and think, “She’s crazy. How could she say all this? Doesn’t she know she sounds looney?” Terrible, right? So because I do it, I assume others do it too.
My anxiety comes and goes, as does my depression. My last depressive episode lasted three months and that was last summer. Since September 2016, I’ve been great. My anxiety stops in once in awhile, kind of like that neighbour you know but don’t really know and she only stops in to borrow a cup of sugar every few months? It’s like that. I rarely get panic attacks anymore either. I was beginning to think I was “cured.” I was using a journal to keep track of my life and habits so I could use it to determine my triggers and prevent full blown attacks/episodes. It is a life changing daily exercise that takes minutes before bed and one I highly recommend. Anyways, I was implementing all the tools: yoga, meditation, journaling, healthy eating, gratitude awareness, exercise and more but a few weeks ago I could feel the anxiety and depression trying to barge in. I had to find the STOP button immediately.
I went back through my journal and saw I had been missing a lot of yoga, a lot of podcasts and a few exercise sessions. I was like that sober alcoholic who after five years thinks she’s cured so she can have one drink. I believed I was “over” it and therefore, began slacking on my wellness.
Subconsciously, I probably thought I didn’t need to do any of the work that kept me level headed as much anymore. I was doing so great, right? But the reason I was doing so great was because I was dedicated to a daily regime that was keeping me healthy.
When I’m in an episode, I become reclusive. I’m not a good friend because I can’t allow myself to feel like I’m burdening anyone no matter how much they claim to understand. I become quiet yet irritable. When I told my husband I thought the lack of yoga was contributing to this teeter-totter of anxiety/depression, he replied, “then just do the yoga.” IF ONLY IT WERE THAT SIMPLE. I snapped back at him for not understanding and then Shame took over and I completely shut down. I was ashamed for my irritability and my lack of communicating effectively. I was ashamed I couldn’t put into words what was swirling through my mind like a kaleidoscope. I was embarrassed to even be having the conversation at all with my level-headed, even-keeled husband. I was ashamed that this man married someone who had changed so much since that blissful day four years ago. I was ashamed that he felt helpless to help me and confused about my sudden decline. I was ashamed that my daughter probably recognized something was wrong with Mommy but since she only understands My Little Pony and facial expressions, what could she do? I bet she felt helplessness, even if she couldn’t articulate it. She probably realized Mommy was letting her watch an obscene number of movies because Mommy couldn’t parent. I was ashamed we watched so many and that we ate process, packaged food for three days because I couldn’t muster the energy to cook. I was ashamed for how I was feeling. I was ashamed for not feeling how I should feel in this life I’m blessed to live. I was ashamed my thoughts were sick and I was ashamed I couldn’t pin point an exact reason or trigger.
Like broken bones or blurry vision, we want answers to explain the symptoms. I made myself dizzy trying to understand where the anxiety/depression stemmed from: My hormones? Feeling helpless to help my husband when he’s stressed out? The time of year? The lack of yoga and exercise? My friend dumping me because she felt the friendship was one-sided? The family A-bomb my mother dropped on me? The lack of podcasts and Personal Development/Self-Help reading? I can’t help but think, if I had a prognosis, the shame wouldn’t be there. I would have a diagnosis like patients who find out their symptoms are those for cancer or MS or kidney stones. The shame would disappear and I could confidently say, “I suffer from occasional anxiety because my hormones under a full moon have too much progesterone and not enough estrogen and well, that’s a shit combo for that kind of lunar energy but hey, that’s how she goes!”
Shame makes anxiety worse; one, we bottle everything inside and let it fester and two, we avoid the conversations with those who do know because we fear judgment.
We avoid telling people we’re on medications or that we can’t participate in certain events because big crowds scare us or driving on highways make us feel like we may crash. We avoid mentioning anxiety or depression for fear people will label us unstable or crazy. So oftentimes, we suffer in silence.
But I pulled out of the Darkness before it could suck me in completely because I have the journal that told me, “yep, you missed five days in a row of yoga and exercise and Kelsey, you know how good they make you feel.” So I added in yoga video (specifically for anxiety) before bed for a few days. What a difference that made! I also went back on my meds. I use a product available at the local health food store called 5-HTP and it saved my life last year and it did wonders again this time. I only took it for five days but it gave my brain that kick start it needed to get back on track. I cut out alcohol and junk food too. I avoid coping with food and alcohol these days and instead turned to my journal to write it all out. I also began taking my shoes off at the park with my daughter. It sounds so simple but how often do you actually allow your bare feet to touch the ground? Just you and Earth, tickling your toes? I felt more connected and grounded while at the same time realizing I am such a small blip in this short lifetime in this vast Universe. It was simultaneously humbling and beautiful. I went back to my favourite podcasts and committed to listening to one a day and also committed to reading ten pages of PD every night. The reading and listening to my mentors helped to get my brain thinking differently when I couldn’t initiate that change on my own. Learning got my head out of the anxiety field and got it into the contemplative healing field. Trust me, that’s a far better field to be playing Life on.
As with all hard things in life, we have to put in effort and we have to do the work.
Whether you want a stronger body or better grades or that promotion, you have to work at it. You don’t get to wish for it and it somehow magically happens. You need
determination, grit, sweat and probably some tears to meet your goals. My goal is to be an unapologetic advocate for mental health. Which is hard to do when you feel like the word shame is stamped upon your forehead. But I hope as I continue to grow, overcome, and live my best life, the Shame will subside. Similarly, I hope with blogs like this and posts from others in a similar situation, we can break down the barriers and stigmas and forever delegate Shame to the bench and enter the healing field with confidence, pride and determination.
United we rise,