What does it feel like to be so low that you can’t leave your bed, yet at the same time your mind’s going a million miles per hour freaking out about everything you’re not doing? I’m changing my outlook with affirmations, but I also want to share my experience with mental illness.
I’ve experienced depression since grade school. I vividly recall walking through Wal-Mart with my mom and younger brother after school when I was seven years old. Partially quoting Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I looked up at her and said, “Mom, I’m only seven and I’m tired of living.”
A strange look crossed her face when she shushed me, telling me not to talk like that. “You don’t say things like that.”
That statement should have led to a trip to a doctor, but it was another lesson on how I should not be honest about my feelings. I was told to stop exaggerating. So I wasn’t honest about how I felt inside. I began smiling like crazy when I got my braces off. The sadness got pushed down. I tried hard to be like everyone else, while dying inside. As an adult, my days became muddled by this inexplicable fog. I got to the point of suicidal ideations and plans many, many times. Thankfully, I’m still here.
Anxiety feels like when you’re in seventh grade. You’re gawky and awkward, and your hands and feet are too big for your body. You’re standing at the front of the class for your book report. Your heart’s racing, and you’re shaking a little. You start sweating, and eyes bore into you. This is what I like to call my default setting, because I feel this way all the time. The best depiction of anxiety in a movie was how Miles felt in Into the Spiderverse when he first started having Spidey Sense. “Who’s Morales?” had me on the floor, because anxiety has made me say some really dumb stuff without fail. “It’s a puberty thing.” LOL!
I started having anxiety in 5th grade. My bullies were extra cruel then, and I had a very mean, dismissive teacher. Prior to developing anxiety, I was a straight A student. Without warning, I started failing math and science, two subjects that never gave me trouble before. Still there was never any mention of going to a doctor or a tutor. Instead my dad used the tried and true method of most West Indian (and so I’m told African) parents for homework. It was yelling first, slamming a hand or fist on the table, then beatings with a belt or sometimes fists, if I did not understand, got a question wrong, or the worst sin of all… forgot my homework at school. Prior to these after school abuse sessions, I never forgot my homework in the previous four years of school.
I became anxiety-ridden to the point that I could not function because of a sense of dread and impending doom. It’s a terrible feeling. Usually I was on the verge of tears or all keyed up for seemingly no reason. Frequent stomach aches and strep throat plagued me around that age. Anxiety attacks became these internal events that I got used to after a while. I still recoil from loud noises from fireworks and thunderstorms to people yelling unexpectedly or slamming things. When people make fists around me, I automatically get nervous. Getting slapped on the butt playfully also induces panic. It shakes me to my core by taking me back to a place where I felt very unsafe and terrified.
This is why my relationship with my parents is strained. I feared them, instead of trusting them with my safety and well-being. It’s something we’re working on now, I’m happy to say.
Therapy and medication helped immensely. In therapy, I learned several breathing techniques and how to ground myself. My go-to is counting all the legs on a chair and name all the colors that I see. I like the breathing technique where you take a deep 4 second breath, hold it 7 seconds, then exhale slowly. It effectively reduces my heart rate. The medication does some magic in my brain that makes me noticeably less anxious. My hands don’t shake as bad.
Honestly, I wrestle with depression daily. I might have to for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t scare me anymore. The best depiction I’ve seen of depression in a TV show was on Big Mouth on Netflix. There is a weird comfort that I feel in giving in to the fog and sadness. They showed that comfort, something I have struggled to explain to others in the past, flawlessly. The trick for me is finding one small positive reason to get out of bed. Sometimes it’s simply brushing my teeth for my mega-watt smile. One things I won’t do is bully myself out of bed or bully myself for staying in bed. I am nicer to myself nowadays, and somehow one foot follows the other.
My biggest success so far is that I am honest with myself and others about how I feel at any given moment. I don’t push my truth down. If my answer makes other uncomfortable, I don’t care. I won’t lie to myself anymore. That’s progress.
If you have either anxiety or depression, I hope you find the strength or courage to tell someone that will really listen to you and understands you. Neither of these illness mean that you’re weak, or damaged goods, or any of the other mean things we say to ourselves. Take the time to do something nice for yourself once you calm down after an anxiety attack. They’re embarrassing and awful, but it’s not your fault. I used to eat ice cream afterward, but now I eat pickles and watch Disney movies. Those movies are an important part of my calming process, I’m not ashamed to admit. They remind me of times I felt safe and happy. Say something nice to yourself instead of blaming yourself. Do whatever brings you to a happy place! It’s not dumb if it works.
And most importantly? Remember to love yourself. Depression or anxiety aside, brain chemicals that you have no control over don’t stop you from being amazing and worthy. I’ve learned and internalized this recently. I hope you do, too.