While anxiety and depression often occur concurrently, they are two completely different experiences that are often lumped in under the same umbrella. And while they tend to walk hand in hand, they’re like fire and ice.
On days when I am feeling anxious, I sometimes wonder whether I would prefer it more if instead I was feeling depressed. I tend to oscillate between the two, and find myself wondering which is worse. To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to say. They’re both freaking terrible.
Anxiety is like fire. It’s very physiological. It’s your heart racing, your breath growing shallower, tingling sensations in your hands and feet, sweaty palms, twitching and shaking and jittering, and the desire, at least in my case, to physically jump out of your own skin.
With it comes racing thoughts of impending doom. Irrational thoughts, like for example, “what if I go crazy?” or, “what if I never amount to anything?” And these thoughts create the emotion of fear which, when exasperated, creates the behavior, the racing heart, the sweaty palms.
And because you experience these very real, and sometimes very debilitating sensations, the fear takes on a life of its own. You become engulfed by the flames of your own “what ifs.” It’s awful. Your head is spinning constantly, your heart is racing. You feel trapped in your own head. And it’s such an isolating and claustrophobic feeling, because all around you, life is continuing on as normal.
Depression, on the other hand, is this coldness. This icy feeling that comes over you, and leads you to believe that everything is bleak and hopeless. Thoughts like, “what’s the point of everything? Everyone is just going to die anyway.”
Depression is a deep, dark hole filled with regret, and shame and guilt. Where anxiety makes you jittery and overly excited (in a bad way) depression makes you exhausted and tired and weak. Depression makes the simple tasks of everyday, like taking a shower, seem so difficult. Motivation is a hard thing to come by when you’re depressed. And tears come for no reason at all.
For lots of people, myself included, the anxiety started first, and the depression was a secondary co-conspirator. Because I was living with untreated anxiety for so long, I began to feel like I was going to be “stuck that way forever,” which led to this feeling of utter hopelessness. And when you feel anxious and hopeless at the same time, it’s a recipe for disaster. You’re in the middle of fire and ice. Your sensations are completely messed up. It’s a tug of war. It’s as close to hell as you’ll ever be.
And as a matter of fact, once you start dealing with the anxiety, the depression peels away.
Anxiety and depression are not turned off by color, or creed, or social status. There are no bounds. Power and money, fame and fortune do not keep mental illness at bay. Mental illness can affect anyone. But there is a hereditary link, a genetic predisposition and so it typically runs in families. If you’re a sufferer it’s likely you won’t have to look too far to find a relative who deals with the same demons.
And that can be comforting. But it can also be discomforting. I don’t want to pass these genes on to my future children. The thought terrifies me. And as I write this, I’m getting rather emotional about that. I just wouldn’t wish mental illness on anyone.
I have a good grip on my health and I am coping very well. I am what people refer to as high functioning. Basically, in a nutshell, if I didn’t openly admit to having these emotions and to my own distress, no one around me would be able to tell it’s happening.
But it took a lot of work for me to get where I am. A lot of work on myself, and a lot of effort. A lot of trial and error. A lot of positive self-talk. And A LOT of support. And support from people who really didn’t get and still don’t understand what the heck I’m talking about. Wondering, you know, why does she have these feelings?
And sometimes I wonder if people think I am just a drama queen making all this up. But then, I think, who cares what people think. This is my life.
I really wish I had an answer. I have it good. Really, really good. But I’m hyper sensitive, hyper emotional, and I feel emotions, I think, on a different wavelength than a lot of people. I mean, I have no way of proving this to be true but it’s a working theory of mine.
Usually I’m just normal. I don’t have mood swings. I’m usually in the middle, just okay. But when I am upset, I get down and it takes a while to get back up. When I’m happy, I feel wonderful. I even forget how bad the anxiety can be. And I really like it when anxiety is taking a vacation out of Mandy Town.
Anyways, with the layers of stigma, beginning to peel away, things are getting easier. That’s a fact. Having a mental illness in 2008 versus 2017 are two completely different things. More and more celebrity type role models are coming forward with their stories. Bell Let’s Talk is doing a wonderful job. People are starting to open up, and are starting to stop suffering in what has been, for far too long, silence.
And here I am, sharing my story. I wouldn’t tell anyone in 2008. When I first told my now fiancée, I cried for an hour thinking he would leave me, that I was damaged somehow. More tears are coming to my eyes now. I was a lost, little girl battling the weight of the world. Man, I have come so far since then. But that took work, and a lot of reading, and science courses to try to understand my own brain.
Educating yourself on your condition is so important. Knowing what’s happening to you when it’s happening allows you to kind of step outside your own body, your own mind, and look at yourself as a system. And I think that that’s necessary. It helps you to stop blaming yourself. Your system just needs a little rewiring.
So, a long story short. Anxiety and depression both suck the same amount, at least that’s how I feel. But they’re both manageable and you can preserver. I can’t imagine that anyone’s anxiety has been worse than mine. When mine is bad, it’s excruciating. So, if I can do it, I really believe everyone can.
You don’t know the strength that’s inside of you, until you find yourself trudging into battle.