Trigger warning *talk of suicide
I’m a walking. talking contradiction…at least in my mind. Living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder makes me feel like a complete hypocrite because of my contradictory thoughts. I’m simultaneously stressing out about all the things I want and need to do while I have many thoughts that prevent me from doing any absolutely anything.
When I have a panic attack, it’s like an internal alarm goes off with me. Think of the feeling you get when you wake up late, except you feel it for no reason. I could be lying down on my bed and I suddenly feel like my foundation is being shaken. As the intensity grows, I tremble and crack like there is an earthquake within me. My mind becomes rattled. I feel like I’m drowning on dry land. I can’t get enough air because all the worst case scenarios in my mind suffocate me. Tears pour out and I think my heart is going to burst right out of my chest because the beating of my heart feels like I am getting punched from the inside out. Even though panic attacks typically last about 10 minutes, the aftershocks can last for hours and I feel so exhausted, as if I just ran a marathon.
When I’m depressed, it’s like all the life gets drained from me and my life is no longer my own. A fog creeps into my life and it gets thicker and thicker. Instead of seeing life through rose-colored glasses, all I can see is gray. Like white blood cells attack a foreign object or microorganism in your body, my depression attacks any positive thought. I no longer enjoy life. I no longer function. All my hopes and dreams shrivel up and die like old, forgotten flowers. All I have the energy to do is lie in bed because I’m imprisoned by my hopelessness. I barely shower and my appetite in nearly non-existent because I’m full of the pain that I can’t talk about. I want it all to end because I can no longer picture any other way out.
For the longest time, I was what people thought of as a “strong” person because I was nationally ranked in Tae Kwon Do. Before I broke my knee 3 weeks prior to Junior Olympics, I was on track to eventually try out for U.S.A.’s Olympic Team. I’ve had to spar with other young women in front of thousands of people and I regularly sparred against guys double my size at my Tae Kwon Do studio. When I was there, I felt like a different person because at school I was viewed as “overly sensitive”, quiet, and weak. When I was called on by a teacher to write a math equation on the board, my mind would blank and I choked on my words. Just the idea of giving a presentation in front of my class gave me a panic attack before I became better at public speaking and coping with my issues.
I love to be a cheerleader for others going through similar issues to mine because I never had that. However, I often can’t be that for myself. I have moments where I feel extremely insecure about looking 14 instead of 23 or think that I will always having severe anxiety about driving. I wouldn’t listen to the negative things I think about myself if they came out the mouth of someone else, but because it’s from me, the person who knows me the most, it stings. Part of me thinks that I am unable to take my own advice because I hope other people will support me the way that I support them or that they’re insightful enough to say what I need to hear.
When I first sought help in high school, I was ready to talk to anyone who would take me seriously because my family didn’t until many years later. Unfortunately, because of internal stigma, I could only be honest to a degree. I would pretend to not feel as awful as I did because I couldn’t accept the severity of my struggles. During freshmen year of college, I experienced depression that literally paralyzed me. I experienced conversion disorder, which is when “psychological” stress manifests as “physical” stress, and I had an episode that mimicked a stroke. I sought help at the E.R. of a local psychiatric hospital, but because I couldn’t be honest about feeling suicidal, the nurse sent me home because I wasn’t actively suicidal. I had a Flashback to the moment in high school when my school therapist and guidance counselor agreed that I was “too good” to have issues, so I made a poorly thought out suicide attempt that was stopped by my boyfriend at the time.
I lied to my friends to cover up what was going on even thought I felt like I wanted to scream from the rooftops. I trusted these friends with my life, so the cognitive dissonance I experienced destroyed me. I pretended to go to class while I went to a computer lab instead and lied about appointments with the school counselor. I opened up to them when I sensed they were planning an intervention and received nothing but support. My friends actually shared their struggles with me in solidarity.
I’m grateful that I haven’t switched between anxiety and depression or experienced them simultaneously in years. Looking back, it’s understandable that doctors misdiagnosed me as having Bipolar II disorder as my depression and anxiety symptoms (as well as attention problems) are similar to the seemingly contradictory mood swings of Bipolar II. I later switched from severely anxious to what I had thought was “normal”. I contradicted myself in hopes of that being the magic fix, but what helped me make it through was accepting that dealing with anxiety is my normal. I am an anxious person by nature and will probably always experience some form of anxiety and conflicting thoughts, but so will every other person.
Nicole is a 23-year-old mental health advocate, public health student, and wannabe mental health superhero. She write and speaks about her experiences living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. Nicole is also an Ending The Silence and In Our Own Voice presenter for her local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental illness and is a co-leader for Team Not Ashamed. Her goals are to fight stigma any way she can and increase access to mental healthcare.