Dear Anxiety and Depression
About two years ago while 20 minutes into my 35 minute drive to work, I experienced a sudden rush of anxious energy. I knew I felt strange because my heart was beating rapidly and I felt like I had done something terribly wrong but I wasn’t sure why. Suddenly, I realized: I left the fucking stove on. On the lowest setting but ON. The gas stove was on in an empty house. My house was going to burn down and it was all my fault because clearly, I am a crazy person. Luckily, I had left for work with more than enough time to turn around, run upstairs, turn the stove off, then head to work again. I decided I wouldn’t tell anyone. My mom probably didn’t want to hear how I almost left us homeless. Plus, how do you explain leaving the stove on other than “I’m a careless idiot who is Jon Snowing my way through life. I know nothing?” But then it happened again and again and again. My mind was so overwhelmed and preoccupied with trying to stay afloat that I would forget important things, like not to leave the stove on.
Finally, 35 minutes into my 35-minute commute, parked and ready for work, I realized once more that I had left the stove on. I sobbed in my parked car as I tried to find the courage, to find the courage to call my mom and ask her to rush home after work to turn the stove off. I realized there was something terribly wrong. Yes, it took way too many incidents for me to finally admit that, but nevertheless, I did. This was when I discovered I suffered from, or was experiencing debilitating anxiety and some depression. Which contrary to popular belief, is a lot different from general nervous energy.
I saw a therapist for some time and tried really hard to do some yoga. I tried to drink lot’s of tea, work out, eat well, meditate. Anything you could think of that could naturally help ease my anxiety, I have probably tried. These quick fixes had often blinded me into believing that I had everything under control. These quick fixes are also clutch for when you don’t want people to know you are actually, literally, for real, falling apart. Believe me, when you’re leaving the stove on and leaving the house consistently for several months, you’re falling apart.
Over the past two years, I’ve learned that anxiety looks different for everyone. For some people, it’s constantly hyperventilating, crying, freaking out, etc. For other’s it’s silently, slowly dying from the inside out while maintaining a picture perfect hustle. That’s what it feels like anyway. One of my favorites (who you’ll hear me talk about all the time) is the great @Jengotch. She is the founder and creative director at @shopbando. Jen is very open about her mental health, which has personally helped and inspired me in more ways than I can count. She is my best friend in my head, but my best friend nonetheless. In one of her recent Instagram posts, she shared a very interesting analogy that a friend shared with her regarding depression/anxiety.
That really hit home for me, because these “feelings,” these experiences and emotions aren’t something you casually ask the universe for. I mean, I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who think “gosh, today and every day for the next lifetime I want to feel totally and absolutely psychotic.” It’s just not a thing to be desired because it is painful, draining and overall consuming. There have been days, few and far between where it has actually taken me hours to get out of bed. All I can do is think about the thousands of things that I have to do that day. All I can feel is guilt for something that I cannot control. You literally feel like a garbage human for something that you cannot immediately change. You feel like trash for not being able to have a text conversation with a person who you want to speak to. You have no problem with this human. You just can’t bring yourself to press keys on a screen. You cannot engage.
All of this has been so hard for me to understand. I grew up in a family and culture where these feelings aren’t real. They aren’t spoken about because if you even mention some of the things I described above, you’re crazy or they’re just demons you can pray away. You can’t take medicine for it because too much Midol on your period will fry your brain, so why would you even think about taking something to help you function like a normal, semi-okayish human being?
When I am feeling anxious or depressed, I (and I have found that many) experience actual guilt and shame for feeling sad. Because mental health has only recently been openly addressed by many, it’s hard to explain to your friends why you just don’t want to go out. You don’t hate them, but where you are mentally and emotionally is not a place that is welcoming to new experiences or living.
What I have found affects my anxiety the most has been my work. I am a hustler by nature. I am a part-time nanny, full-time photographer and full-time editor in chief here at Lady Hustle Mag. I’m a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, and I’m sometimes a human. Point is, I do a lot of shit all of the time. My calendar always looks like a rainbow threw up on it, and my phone is always going off. Someone ALWAYS needs something from me and I am burnt out 97% of the time. I used to have a really hard time saying no to people, proposals, projects, and ideas. I thought, “If I say no, this person will hate me and although I couldn’t give two shits about what anyone thinks of me, I don’t have the energy to deal with someone being upset. So I’ll work.” That’s what I do. That is my coping mechanism. I work. When the work is done I work some more. I work hard, and I do all of my jobs well. Actually, that’s a lie, but I try to do all of my jobs well. When anxiety and depression hit, for me, it literally feels like the end of the world. I know, I sound dramatic, and you’re probably thinking, “Just say no. Have a few drinks, shut up and go read that novel written in 4th-grade grammar about that Grey guy.” No thanks.
If you want to know what anxiety and depression feel like for me, it’s working really hard to buy yourself the car of your dreams. Buying the car and then sitting in the parking lot because you cannot remember how to put the car in drive. You know you’ve been driving for 10+ years. You know this is why you meditate, do yoga, eat hella green foods, exercise and try, so that when you buy the car, you can drive the car. But anxiety hits and you can’t even remember what PRNDL stands for, and that shit fucking sucks. It affects everything that you do at that point. It affects every single relationship you have. If I can’t drive the car, how am I supposed to go to this gig? How am I supposed to go on this date? How am I supposed to get anywhere? How am I supposed to pay my bills?
Hold your breath for a bit. Do it. Don’t die or anything, but just do it.
It’s having access to air and forgetting that you know how to breathe. It is scary, it is sometimes brutal, and it is hard to live with. I’ve been feeling something awful the past few weeks. Just last week I went to the supermarket and ran inside for about seven minutes. Came back to the car to find that I had left the car on. It’s leaving shit on. It’s being up for several days straight because you cannot turn your brain off. It’s staying awake through an Ambien. It’s having no choice to but to work through it because a million things depend on you, but most importantly, you depend on you.
I just had a birthday. My 27th to be exact. I also had the flu that week, but on my actual birthday, I was feeling pretty okay-ish. Yet I had zero desire to see anyone, do anything or even try to be a human. You should know that in the past, I’ve basically treated my birthday like a national holiday. I LOVE birthdays. I love celebrating my existence and the existence of others. I love the attention and the company, the cake, the music, the parties. I love it all. But this year, I woke up and I cried, and I ended the day with a full on anxiety attack that my boyfriend was kind enough to talk me through. On my birthday, I felt like the worst human ever and I had no idea why.
So in celebration of being on this insane journey, and our #ladyhustleletterproject, I’ve written a letter to my anxiety and depression. Or as we call it here, “A letter to the thing that tried to kill me.”
You’re an asshole. Not like the cute name calling you use when your S.O. proves you wrong and you want to be a brat. Rather, you are the real “you hurt my feelings” kind of asshole. You are conniving and deceptive. You are exhausting and overwhelming. You make me feel like a crazy person and then you make me feel guilty for feeling crazy. You are as comforting as salt in a wound, and you are as discreet as the humongous cracks in public restroom stalls. You’ve stolen life from some of the most incredible humans I know, and you’ve proven that your timing is so off it’s impressive.
I won’t be able to explain you all of the time. I’ll lose relationships because of you and I’ll trash a project or two from the occasional mental breakdown, but I refuse to let you win every single time. I’ll need help that I’ll oftentimes be too proud to ask for, but I’ll ask for the help and I’ll work through it. I’ll do the yoga, the meditation, and the exercise. I’ll do all of the shit that helps, but most importantly I’ll be honest. I’ll be honest with my friends, my family and myself. You’re a real thing. You’re a real actual fucking thing, but I won’t allow you to be bigger than me. I’ll address you, and I’ll share my experiences because society has painted you as this awful ugly thing we should never speak about. You’re a piece of shit for making me feel like a piece of shit when I know for a fact that I am magical.
Yet, you’ve taught me so much these last few years. You’ve taught me to be vulnerable, to be present, and to be still. I don’t have it down yet, not the least bit, but I’m going to spend forever getting it down. I’m going to remember to breathe and I’m going to take all of the time that I need to remember how to put the car in drive. Sometimes you’ll be a mere over-magnified shadow and other days you’ll be the girl crawling out of the tv in the film “The Ring,” and that’s okay. You’ll never eclipse my greatness, and you’ll never be too big for me to take on because even if it feels like you are, I’ve got help.
You are the worst but that just means I’ll always be better.
Go kick rocks,
You should know that I have sought professional help (I know, it sounds like I’m crazy). Because a lot of these symptoms shouldn’t be taken lightly. So, if you or someone you know is suffering from depression and or anxiety, visit resources like http://www.pleaselive.org/, or call a helpline like 1-888-NYC-WELL. Also, Google is clutch. If you’re a friend, significant other or relative of someone dealing with the above, please be patient, kind, and understanding. Most of the time we are scared of scaring you or too ashamed to ask for help. Ask questions, do research, and lend a helping hand in hopes it is well received.
To my friends suffering from the above, it gets better. Sometimes it get’s worse and then better and then worse again. But with proper help, you can not feel like human garbage most days. It isn’t perfect. It’s a messy, feely, all over the place journey, but it’s your journey, and you deserve to take it whichever way you find is helpful and non-harmful for you.