Depression and Anxiety-My Story of living with the diagnosis
I don't wear all black; I have friends and family; I see the beauty in each day and usually love my life, but I suffer from depression and anxiety. I hide it well, and I am not who you would expect to suffer from this illness. I am a secret suffereor. I will put on my happy face when you are around, and then cry in the corner when you leave. I will find an excuse to not go out, and make myself sick with worry about what might happen. When I am out I will be charming and easy going-I am the ultimate actress. Co-workers will describe me as having it all together and not being flustered by anything. Those closest to me will be the only ones who know the truth.
This is the story of my life. I spent years wondering what was wrong with me. In college I had trouble forcing myself to go to class and work-when I wasn't there I was alone in the dark. I ate, and still do, when I need comfort and feel anxiouse. I thought I was crazy and was too ashamed to let anyone know the real me. I hated myself and loved myself. I thought I would let everyone down if I wasn't perfect, so I suffered in silance. I can look back now and see the signs, but at the time I only saw darkness. I don't think I am the only one who has gone through this, but in some ways it still carries the stigma of being weak.
When I finished college I moved to Maine to be with my then boyfriend while he was in graduate school. Being so far from family and friends, and having less sunlight affected me in a very negative way. I started getting worse-I couldn't hide and control it anymore. I lashed out at my boyfriend and blamed him for everything; he threatened to end the relationship. I felt so alone.
I finally sought help. My doctor diagnosed me with Depression and Anxiety and prescribed Paxil, which is a SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibiter). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is associated with mood and has been linked to digestion. I do not produce enough Serotonin naturally, so the medication allowed the levels to build up in my brain until they were normal. I hid behind it being SAD (Seasonal affective disorder) brought on by the change in climate and lack of sunshine. That felt safer than saying I had felt this for years-now I had a reason and excuse. I remeber telling my parents and they were shocked and concerned-one even said I would never be able to get a job because mental illness was going to show up on any background checks. I couldn't be deterred, and this point I just had to feel better because I couldn't go on feeling this bad. I was sick to my stomache all the time and stressed about everything.
My provider warned me that it may take up to two weeks for the medication to work, but I felt different within a week. I still had my emotions, but my lows were not so low-the sun had returned. I felt more in control. I stayed on Paxil for around 2 years, and then felt that I was ready to try going off the medication. Life had stabilized, and I felt I had matured and learned some self help techniques to manage my symptoms. I had loved ones around me and knew that if I started to backslide I could return to taking Paxil. I was also concerned because I knew I wanted children, and several studies had started to come out showing how birth defects could be linked to Paxil use during pregnancy.
I began to slowly wean off the medication-which was very important. I forgot my medication once on vacation and began to experience severe dizziness, so I knew I had to follow directions and not go cold turkey. I was sucessful. I monitered myself for emotional changes and negative behaviors, and I asked those around me if they noticed any difference. They didn't.
I stayed off Paxil for a few years-until my then husband called and said he was on his way home from work, oh and by the way he was having an affair with our neighbor who worked with him. My world crumbled. I called my Mom and then my doctor. I knew this would bring the darkness back and didn't want to be overwhelmed. I went back on Paxil and started therapy. Therapy didn't really work for me and I stopped going-I think I should have found another therapist rather than stopping therapy. Paxil helped me handle this time in my life and I was glad that I had the strength to know that I needed help.
I took Paxil for nearly two more years and then decided once again it was time to come off the medication. I was scared, but I knew this is what I wanted. I was successful again, and stopped my medication. My close friends supported me through this time and were a great life line. I spent two years learning who I was on my own, and then started dating again.
My current husband met me while I was off Paxil, and had never known me to be on Paxil. I learned to use self talk to work through issues. What works best for me is to examine why I am feeling depressed or anxiouse-really examine it. Then I ask myself if this will matter in 5 years, in 1 year, next month. If not I let it go if possible, and if I still feel this way I turn to my husband for support. It's odd because now several family members have been diagnosed and are on medication. I think I have a genetic predisposition to produce lower levels of Seretonin.
I had my first child nearly two years ago and I was very worried that I would suffer from post partum depression, or regress and need medication once more. I asked my family once more to moniter me for changes-I know that I am good at hiding signs, but I needed honest people around me who would call me out if needed. Being a new mother was hard-very hard! I was tired, hormonal, and stressed; but I handled it. I don't know if I have grown stronger over the years or just learned myself better, but I have been off Paxil for several years and feel great.
I am open and honest about being on medication and my diagnosis. I never want anyone to feel ashamed or wonder if they are crazy like I did. It isn't the end of the world-it is a biological disorder. It is treatable and you don't have to live on the edge or in darkness. If I ever feel my life going out of control again I know I will seek out the help I need.
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