Depression and anxiety are odorless, tasteless, and often undetectable.
I’m 36, and for most of my life, I have struggled with depression and anxiety.
I wish I would have known what was going on sooner and looking back, I wish someone would have told me what was going on to where I could have understood the why, the triggers, why me then, rather than in my 30’s.
Don’t get me wrong, as a teen, I bounced around from therapists to therapists, but what they said in each session always seemed like a blur, it felt like they were more concerned with telling me what to do, getting me to stop the actions of it all, rather than explaining to me why I was the way I was. Furthermore, I had never heard about this anxiety thing.
And depression, depression is confusing. One day you are OK, then the next you are not. One moment you are all in, and the next confused as all hell. Depression is not just you on a couch, unable to get up. Depression is you in the world, trying to be “normal,” but never feeling like you fit in.
Depression is sneaky. Depression un-motivates you, even though inside you want to do it, you want to do it all. You envision yourself being out there and being fabulous. Except you never get further than thinking about yourself as fabulous. And those thoughts are quickly interrupted with feelings of disbelief, disgust, sadness, regret, and doubt. When you lie in bed at night, it tells you how much of an f#*# up you were that day.
Depression leaves you crying for no real reason other than you feel like you are stuck in hell you can’t get out of.
Depression makes you feel like you have a split personality and want the merry-go-round to stop because you can’t do it anymore.
Depression is odorless, colorless, and like winter, you don’t realize it’s here until it’s here.
Addiction was my coping mechanism. If I didn’t have to feel, then I didn’t have to deal. But sadly, that was an even greater hell than would have been the feeling part.
I have worked much of my life not to let this rule me, control me, be the beast that takes over. But depression’s friend, anxiety, often sweeps in and can easily add to the pot.
See anxiety is dumb, stupid, it cares about the littlest things that mean nothing in the bigger picture we call life. But at that very moment, it does a great job of making it a big deal.
Anxiety likes to keep you analyzing the past, picking apart your decisions while simultaneously judging the future that hasn’t even happened yet. All while it keeps you frozen in the present.
Why am I sharing this all?
Because I haven’t struggled with this my entire life, I have fought it almost my whole life.
I have spent more than 20 years knowing these things lurk in my shadows. It has been partly because of this that I do what I do, shares what I share, and know what I know.
Many ask me what I did to overcome anxiety, depression, and a life strangling eating disorder. And honestly, the truth, I was desperate to live. Desperate to live without such a heavy shadow every single day. I wanted a life, I felt I was meant for more. And that pushed me. Every time someone told me it would never happen, it forced me to keep going, even though I had no idea when or if “this” would all ever end.
I’ll just say it, there is no magic pill, no- I did this one thing, and like magic, I was better. It was a total culmination of lots of things, lots of thoughts, lots of help, lots of beliving when I didn’t believe it.
I had to wake up ready to stand up and say, “no.” And tell me that the voices in my head are telling me lies. And much of that I did behind closed doors because I feared people wouldn’t understand. Because from the outside, I looked fine. Because depression, anxiety, and even addiction is like an injured arm that can function without a cast. Those around you rarely notice, and quickly forget, but you feel it and live it every day.
Please know this: depression and anxiety are so confusing, so misleading, and they are liars. And although it is how you feel, it is not who you are.
You cannot listen.
Fast forward to today, I may be on the other side of that mountain, but I still struggle. I still feel those feelings, just not as strong. At times I still feel down, foggy, or feel the need to get all addictive Kung foo on myself. But now, I know what to do. I have strategies, affirmations (I know that sound silly, but it works), positive, safe people, and I know my triggers.
People ask me often: “Hope, what did you do to change it all?” And to sum it up, I decided to do something, anything.
I can still remember the first time standing in my parent’s kitchen, I was in my late teens, and I stood holding onto the pantry cabinet doors staring at all the food on the shelves. I stood there scanning each item, going through how fast I could eat them, and the time it would take to do so and then purge before my mom got back from the gas station. But that day was different; I chose to do something. It was so uncomfortable, my anxiety was raging, and my eating disorder mind was arguing with me not to do it. To stay put and eat that food.
That day I chose to do something different. I closed the cabinet doors, ran into the garage, and as she was pulling out, I yelled, asking to go along.
The feeling that ran through my body at that moment as I stepped into the van and closed the door was a relief– Relief and success. I did it.
Sitting in my mom’s van, I experienced first hand the other side of anxiety. I was so anxious about doing something other than acting in my eating disorder, self-harm, drugs, or staying frozen. At that moment, I got to experience the full impact of what it was like to work through the anxiety and safely come out on the other end. And over the next several years, I just keep at it. Through lots of failures, lots of pep talks in my bathroom mirror, it got easier.
Today I still struggle with anxiety and recognize when I start to feel the effects of depression (especially when the seasons change), I now do something about it. I still hear those voices, but they aren’t as loud and no longer have a stronghold.
Now when I feel those feelings, hear those voices, or think those thoughts… I get up and do yoga.
I go for a walk.
I step away.
I call a friend.
I talk myself through what triggered whats was going on that day.
I use my sauna.
I go to the gym.
I hug my kids.
I eat healthy foods.
I take my vitamins.
I self talk.
I stay away from toxic people.
I don’t buy triggering foods (sugar).
I drink water.
I hug my husband.
I tell him I’m having a bad day.
I remember it’s not my fault, but I can do something to help.
That is my list. I want to encourage you to make your list of what you can do, who you can call, where you can go, what you can remind yourself of. And if you don’t do it, if that little voice in your head says, “don’t do it,” I want you to know that the voice you are hearing is a liar. The first step to not listening is to write the damn list. Do it even if you don’t want to do it.
3 Steps to Take Today to Start to Manage Anxiety:
- Create awareness and learn your triggers. Paying attention to what my triggers were…was triggering. But once I started to identify what was spinning me out of control, I could begin to control it. Yoga helped me a lot with learning how to be in the moment and practice awareness. And in all honesty, I believe yoga is an incubator for your everyday life, and what you experience on the mat is what you are experiencing off of it, it is just a safe place to feel it. That awareness helped me to start to face it and feel it on and off the mat.
- Make your list. I know it seems so simple, and that is because it is. Get out your paper and make that list. Write down all the ways, all the safe people, all the things you can do to help you shift. In the beginning, it was just “getting out of the room.” And then, I began to see that my list above, when implemented regularly and effectively, keeping anxiety and depression at bay. Don’t wait to use your list for when you feel it, use it every day.
- Schedule it in. I started with yoga, all based on a suggestion of a co-worker in my teens. I loved it. But that didn’t replace the mounting anxiety before each session I was feeling. Each time Wednesday night rolled around, my anxiety would flare. I would even engage in addictive behaviors before managing my anxiety and stress to show up. But slowly, that changed. And I showed up because I scheduled it. I paid the money and went each week with my mom. Someone to keep me accountable, to say, “it’s time to go.” Is that a walk with your neighbor? Yoga with your sister? Dinner with your husband? A phone call every Thursday night t 8 pm? Whatever it is, schedule it, and tell someone else, invite someone else to keep you accountable. To help walk you through it when anxiety flares. This is what I did, and I know it will work for you.
Furthermore, when people ask me what pushed me to keep going, why did you stop? What was my “why” to keep going?
I tell them, my “why” is me!
It’s me. I have to choose me. I have to want “me” to succeed. I have to want me to cross the finish line. Because without me, I can’t help anyone. No one to do all the things I am meant to do in this life.
Everything I do is because of me. It is not to be selfish; it is because I NEVER EVER want someone to have to feel, experience, or live through what I have and still take inventory of.
My past is my reality check, but also my reminder that this shit is real. And I’m still here because I wasn’t willing to give up. That is why I do what I do. Not to say I am cured. But to say it doesn’t have to rule your life.
But you have to want it. You NEED to be your WHY.
I can tell, when I stop choosing me, I start slipping, I start disconnecting with my kids, I struggle, I want food, I neglect myself, my goals, my life. I can feel myself getting sucked in.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, addiction, or depression, please don’t just post a 1-800 number on Facebook, CALL THEM.
Ask them if they want to go to yoga, go for a walk, if they need a hug, take them for coffee, and feel something other than helpless, hopeless, and broken.
I’m sharing this as a reminder to myself of those same things and hoping it helps someone else too.
Today I choose me.
PS Please know I am OK! I’m sharing because this is a part of who I am, and if my voice can help another, I choose me so that they can choose themselves too. I’ve come out on the other side and want others to have the chance to do that too.