It feels like drowning. Like honest to goodness you’re never going to be able to breathe again drowning. It feels like your heart is going to beat itself right out of your chest. It feels like your brain and body have turned on you. It feels like nothing will ever be normal again.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been balancing on the line between living and anxiety, between getting out of bed in the morning and never moving again, between “I’m fine” and “I don’t know who I am anymore.”
For many people living with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or any other mental health disorder, this is what every day feels like. It’s forcing yourself to get up, out of bed, hoping the ground is still there when you try to stand, making yourself get dressed, and act as society expects. It’s eating when you have no appetite. It’s telling people the bags under your eyes are from stress and school and work. It’s scary.
When I was a freshman in college, there was a morning where I woke up, makeup smudged around my eyes from the day before, looked in the mirror and had no idea who I was looking at. For just a second, I couldn’t recognize who the person staring at me from the mirror was. It was probably one of the worst moments of my life. And it wasn’t until I was home for the summer, crying on the floor, with my mom beside me, that I realized I needed help.
At first, I felt silly and dumb. I wanted to do this on my own. I thought I could fix this without anyone else. But I wasn’t getting better. My depression and anxiety weren’t things my antibodies could fight off with some good chicken noodle soup and rest. This was something that I needed to talk about and treat.
So I got help. I went to a therapist and my doctor. Instead of telling me I would immediately be okay, my doctor said, “This isn’t your fault, you know. There are genetics and chemicals in your brain that are messed up. This isn’t like healing from a scrape on the knee. This is like healing from surgery. It takes time, you need medication, and you need help. And that’s okay.”
“No one can heal on their own.”
It was something I never thought of before. To me, my depression and anxiety were things that I needed to deal with in silence, things that could be brushed under the rug and ignored, things that I made myself feel.
Deep down, I knew it wasn’t my fault, but hearing it from someone I trusted, and someone I knew would help me feel better, made me believe that my depression was not something I made myself feel. My depression was, and is, real, living inside me, and fighting against me every day.
I’m very open about my mental health – my articles here attest to that. If I feel that my depression and anxiety are getting in the way of something or one of my relationships, I tell that person. And luckily, with the leaps and bounds that we’ve made in the past few years with the stigma around mental health, people understand. They don’t treat me differently. They don’t constantly ask if I’m okay. But if I need to cancel plans unexpectedly, or if I’m unresponsive during lunch, they know why. It’s nothing personal, I tell them. And they know that’s true.
But even with all this openness, I still struggle to express how I’m actually feeling. All the people who know about my mental health still get “I’m fine” as an answer to how I am. I never want to tell them when I’m having a bad day, when my hands are shaking, when I feel like I’m drowning.
This semester started off in a rough place for me. And it only got worse from there. Most days, I have to stuff my hands in my pockets so people don’t see them shake. I have to set three alarms because I’ll inevitably turn them off so I can stay in bed when I was a morning person just last year. I have to write myself notes to remember to do things (shower, go to class and work, email my professor, call my mom) because I might forget them otherwise in favor of going to bed. And worst of all, I stopped taking my meds.
Some people can manage their depression with a healthy lifestyle – exercise, lots of Vitamin D, water, good food – but I am not one of those people. I have to take my meds. But for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to take them.
It took my dad hugging me and telling me to “take care of myself” and my mom calling me a few days later to ask how I was feeling to realize that I was self-destructing.
So I wrote a to-do list: Call doctor, call therapist, take meds. These things will help me, I know. And I called. And I took my meds. And I started to take care of myself again. My depression and anxiety are worse than ever before. And I know that. But still, when I take my meds in the morning, I don’t feel weak. I don’t feel silly. I don’t feel dumb. I feel strong, and empowered, and ready to heal.
Here’s the point (which is not only a personal reminder, but a reminder to all): asking for help is never weak, it’s never silly. If you feel like you’re drowning, or like you’re broken, or like this will never get better, ask for help. Talk to someone – your roommate, your family, your friends, your counseling center, anyone. No one will shame you. No one will say you’re wrong. No one will say anything other than, “Okay, let’s take care of you and start your healing.”