Chronic anxiety-depression is a selfish, self-centered disease.
It procrastinates, paralyzes, and isolates. You’ve let so many people down, they’ve just stopped caring or asking. It strangles any love you have left with doubt and paranoia. It exchanges genuine excitement for stomach-churning fear. Stimulation becomes agitation and exhaustion. Possibilities are all your problems in disguise. Every cloud, inconvenience, and misfortune manifests especially for you.
Anxiety disorders have different flavors for every one of its victims. For some, it has rendered them intensely anti-social and alone. Others are prisoners of their own minds, bound by the bars of strange, delusional thinking patterns. And many are slaves to intricate, obsessive-compulsive rituals. Perhaps there’s a Neapolitan of all of the above, who knows.
(I just had this strange idea that psychologists and psychiatrists should diagnose patients by discovering what their favorite Nirvana songs are. “Heart-Shaped Box” is my jam…whatever that might mean.)
Me? I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) with a glaze of depression and a hint of OCD. I was properly diagnosed about five years ago because in my formative years I received absolutely no treatment. I just thought everyone was going crazy on the inside like me, but they handled all this intense anxiety better because they played sports. For almost thirty years, GAD festered in my brain until it stuck so many holes in my hypothalamus it probably resembles a cribbage board by now.
Recollecting my former pathetic life day after do-nothing day, I wonder how I made it; I really should have become addicted to hardcore drugs or killed myself long ago. What’s really funny is that those other possibilities stressed me out even more, so I just became depressed and slept a lot instead of getting high or eating a pistol. So, in an unexpected way, I guess anxiety actually helped things from getting worse? (This is a weird paradox…)
It’s frustrating to explain severe anxiety and depression to more normal people who assume that “everyone experiences this kind of stress” or that “you’re really no different than anyone else.” Perhaps this might help: You know that intense “fight or flight” response your mind, body, and stomach generate in a real emergency or other scary situation? That’s me all the time. I am tuned to red-alert almost every minute of every day — even while I’m sleeping (or trying to sleep). My mind is constantly bubbling with unrealistic, negative possibilities, and all the while I’m calculating all the exits and escape clauses. My muscles are tensed for hours and my senses are raw with input. And this is all, usually, over nothing nearly requiring these physical and mental reactions.
“Four inches of snow is coming? Well, we’re all going to be snowed in and unable to drive anywhere for days. The power lines will fail. Better buy a week’s worth of food and one-hundred pounds of salt RIGHT NOW! In fact, never go anywhere ever again!”
“Did you just start up your car? Well, you do know you just used a quarter-ounce of gas, and that will decrease your mileage by .01%. Now, you better pull out of the parking space with maximum efficiency so you don’t wear the break pads down too much. Turn the radio volume up and close the windows so you can’t hear any suspicious noises because your car is about to completely fail any moment.”
“Remember that random thing you bought two years ago that you haven’t used in a while? QUICK! You have to get out of bed at 2:00 A.M. NOW to find it and make sure it’s still there. I think it’s in the basement on that one shelf. And what about that other thing I bought — where is it? And does this vacuum still work? I need to take pictures of all this stuff to catalog it for the insurance company. There could be a fire tomorrow!”
Those are just some examples. Believe me — I have many more embarrassing, hilarious thoughts and actions.
So, I act, think, and half-sleep like I’m living on the smoldering borders of an actual war zone pretty much all the time. One cool thing about my condition: When I actually need that instant adrenaline rush and super-concentration in a real emergency, I handle myself perfectly! That’s because I’m so accustomed to being “in the moment,” so to speak.
Then, what do you do? What works to solve these issues? For many like me, there’s a lot experimentation…
In no particular order: I’ve played and wrote a lot of music. Read a lot of books. I’ve taken some psych-med combos. Got bloated on SAM-e. Exercised. Saw a therapist. I’ve tried to push myself into situations which might force myself to heal or take risks. Hung out with friends. Got religion. Got a girlfriend. Went to school. Got another pet. Ate healthier. Tried deep-breathing. Cried a lot. Absorbed myself in video games. Bought more things. Picked up some nice boots, etc., etc.
God, there is so much I’ve tried…so much that didn’t work. And then you beat yourself up because you think you haven’t done enough — that you haven’t challenged yourself, and you’re just too weak and afraid. It would be nice if every step forward built positive momentum instead of just causing more frequent stumbles.
And that’s when the deepest, mind-bending depression creeps in. You retract miles inside your leaden skull with pinholes for eyes, your body contorted in raw pain. You just want to hibernate inside the darkest, softest, silent hollow for months. There is a logical comfort to this depression stage: At least my racing mind can finally slow down.
But not this time, and not ever again.
At this juncture, I’m going to keep trying and failing at healing my mind for as long as I have to. It may take years, but succumbing to depression is a worse defeat. It’s the closest thing to being dead, it infuriates your loved-ones even more than your usual self, and you don’t even get to take advantage of the sometimes-serendipitous anxiety benefits. I mean — at least we care about a lot of things, obsessively think about many unique possibilities, and pay a lot of attention to detail no one else sees or cares about! I’m sure some companies have positions ripe for the anxiety-riddled person!
I realize my brain is broken, and I have to keep carving at it with these crude, crumbling tools. So, I am going to fail, and I’m going to plan on failing as long as I fail differently through trying new things. So, if something isn’t working for you, change it!
Yes, I’ll try a that new med, or look into mediation, or take a nifty vitamin, or talk to some different people. I don’t care what it is, but I’m not going to allow myself to give up. You shouldn’t either — it CAN get much better. In fact, by this time next year, I might be experimenting with acupuncture or electroshock. (Perhaps there are even some home-kits because I’m cheap.) These techniques might work for a while, or they might not work at all. But you can’t give up. It’ll at least keep you busy, right?
So, keep trying and keep failing, but don’t ever stop doing “something” because living with overwhelming depression sucks worse. Plan to fail and move on to the next big (or little) thing. Talk to more medical professionals, find people who have healed, and get together with people who are trying to heal. Every round you learn something new about yourself — what works for you and what’s crap.
As anxiety and depression disorders take a myriad of forms, so do the “cures.” So, keep failing differently and love yourself for at least trying. Who knows, you might find a miracle that works for you, or at least a temporary relief that helps you tolerate life.
Supposedly, these are all just “first world problems,” anyway. It could be worse!