How do I begin my story? I finally have my hands or finger tips on a corner of the internet where I can pour my thoughts out into. I’m a private person typically but here I am writing to no one and everyone at the same time. I usually journal but lately I have too many thoughts and my wrist simply can’t keep up. Not well at least.. if I want it to be legible, I miss half the stuff I want to get down on paper. Honestly I should be in bed right now but here I am blogging. These ideas man, they won’t let me sleep. I feel like I need to record my history for my own sake. I want to know that I left a small mark in the world even if I’m the only person that ever sees it.
My story with depression and anxiety begins all the way back in eighth grade with a boy. Don’t all of these stories start with another person? And why is it that it’s usually someone we fall in love with and get hurt by? Maybe that’s just me but it seems like that’s how all my stories begin. I’m happy to say that’s changing now but we’ll get there.
Eighth grade. Go back in time with me to 2008 when I was entering my 8th grade year. I was about the same size I am now, 5’3, although I am very proud of the one inch I’ve grown in the last 7 years. Wait a minute. It’s been 7 years. How can that possibly be? It’s hard to believe that everything is popping back up so many years later. Anyway, I was about the same size, same features but I look older now, and awkward. I had experienced my first taste of popularity in 7th grade but that was also the peak of my loneliness. I survived 7th grade trying to avoid people wanting to be my friend, trying to be like me, trying to take me away. This might sound vain and I can promise I’m not gloating. It was hell. I was surrounded by people who didn’t care a thing about me just the status I had struggled long and hard for because when you’re 13, all you want is to be wanted. I was convinced that if I was popular, my life would be perfect. That plan backfired on me harder than I could have imagined. When the saving grace of summer finally rolled around, I spent most of my time at the local park with people who happened to be there. I kept to myself and enjoyed my newly claimed privacy. Thank God no one could drive then.
In walks a cute sophomore boy from out of state. My awkward, younger 8th grade self was smitten. Absolutely smitten. Here was a man who took time to listen to me, get to know me and make me feel like I am a person, not a status to be obtained. My heart danced when we kept in touch even when he returned home for the school year and eventually began a relationship. I’m not sure if you can even call it that at that age. It was more of a teenage I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-but-I-just-want-a-boyfriend-because-that’s-the-cool-thing-to-do type deal but in the moment, I was convinced I was going to marry the guy. I can’t help but chuckle at my naivety. It was almost cute reflecting on the lovey dovey stages of the first couple weeks which led to a month which led to the first argument. Seeing someone you care so much about snap at you and say hurtful things is a painful experience. At 13, I was crushed. We made up and continued on with the relationship, not actually resolving anything. A couple more months of lovely dovey went by and then the names began. The compliments turned into insults. Excitement turned into fear. I turned into nothing. The verbal and emotional attacks began slowly at first followed by nice things to make me feel better then quickly morphed into a daily routine that I eventually accepted. Like I said, I was convinced I was going to marry him and believed him every time he told me he had changed. The truth is, when people say they’ve changed for you, they haven’t really changed. They need to change for themselves and find that intrinsic motivation, otherwise, it’s all a show put on especially for you. It’s like that worm in a peanut can trick I played with as a kid. I remember the first time I grabbed it and believed wholeheartedly that there would be food inside. When the lid came off, the worm sprang out and smacked me in the face. I cried and learned never to open up things like that again without holding it as far away from me as possible. It seems trivial to compare the beginning stages of verbal and emotional abuse to a silly children’s toy but that’s how it felt. I went into the relationship thinking it was great but before long, the lid came off and I was hit in the face. I told myself I wouldn’t open the lid again, I wouldn’t put up with behavior like that anymore but eventually the lid came off again. I tried to fight it and defend myself, but after months of being told I was ugly, not worthy of love, fat, and a waste of space, I began to believe it. The worm hitting me became routine. The worst comment I remember hearing was something along the lines of, “Alison if you break up with me now, no one will ever love you again. I am the only guy on this planet who will love you. You’re lucky I am here”. I was about to turn 14 when I heard this and I began spiraling. I no longer felt the lid hit me when the worm popped out because I felt nothing. I lost motivation to fight for myself and began to accept the truth that he was saying. I lost motivation to maintain my friendships because I didn’t believe I was worthy anyway. I lost motivation to look nice and adopted black as my color. I lost motivation to live and began to flirt with suicide. The suicidal thoughts were comforting because they provided a way out. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, I just couldn’t connect or feel joy in anything I did anymore. Life was meaningless and I just didn’t want to exist if it meant living like this everyday. I didn’t know God at this point in my life and hadn’t bothered to make many real friends and felt truly alone. My routine was wake up, talk to him, go to school, text him as much as possible, go home, wait for him to call me, pause for dinner, continue talking to him, sleep, repeat. Nothing else mattered. I allowed him to have absolute control over me and accepted the abuse that came with that.
I know the word abuse can be strong. I know there are people who may roll their eyes at the word and think, “Oh it’s not that serious”. I don’t blame you. It took me years to be able to say it because 1.) I was so young, it’s impossible to experience anything like that at that age 2.) once I said the word abuse, it made it real 3.) I didn’t want to become another statistic of women who had been abused. For the age portion of this situation, I don’t think it’s fair to put a cap on what age abuse can be experienced at. Abuse is abuse no matter who it is directed towards or afflicted by. Coming to terms with the fact that abuse was something I experienced was heartbreaking. How did I let myself accept that kind of behavior?
Continuing on through 8th grade, I lost all of my friends. I surprisingly still did well in school mainly because I would do all of my homework in class and avoid talking to people at free time so that I could go home to talk to him. If I didn’t prioritize him, I would get yelled at. Not that it mattered because there was always something to yell at me for. This was my life from November to June. Every day got darker and longer, the words got harsher and stung more but I was feeling less and less. This was my first true experience with depression. The anxiety didn’t kick in until later in life. On June 3rd, 2009, the end of 8th grade, I stumbled into church with little prior knowledge of God and Jesus. I had gone to several church camps for kids but wasn’t mentally capable of believing in a being that was greater than my parents. Now here I was back in a place I didn’t understand with people I didn’t know very well all because of a whim. But the story of meeting God is for another day. I want to tell my story of anxiety and depression.
After this great conversion point, I let the man who had brought me so low in my life go. I walked away without looking back and haven’t looked back since. I remember receiving the occasional text message in the following years and struggling at first, but with time, I learned the beauty of hitting delete. That summer was the most liberating summer I had ever experienced. I read the Bible as often as I could trying to learn more about this God I was finally beginning to understand. The more I learned, the more I fell in love with Him, myself, life and the world. It was a miraculous over night healing of my depression then but little did I know, it would rear its ugly head every once in a while to say hello. It was a roller coaster of depression for the rest of my high school years but I became quite adept at pushing down any emotions and keeping my emotional barriers high. I don’t blame myself at all for doing this but am now paying the consequences for leaving my emotions buried. I’m learning very quickly that if you don’t take care of something from the beginning, it will come back and bite you. I figured I could run forever but I forgot that I’m human and I get tired.
I am now halfway through my sophomore year of college. I’ve put the last 7 years behind me or tried to at least. I finally had to stop running and face the past.
My first anxiety attack was February 6, 2015.
My second anxiety attack was February 8, 2015.
My third anxiety attack was February 11, 2015.
I remember clearly every single attack. I remember where I was, who I was with, the sounds I heard, everything. How do I explain an anxiety attack? I don’t know. It begins with a tingle but not the cute butterflies that comes when a handsome boy walks by. It’s a warning, so subtle I ignored it the first time. The tingle happens again. I ignore it, thinking I must have eaten something weird. Then in a moment of conversation, the wrong thing was said and the ice berg I didn’t know I had inside of me completely tipped. A hundred different waves of emotions came crashing over me as the ice berg was tipping, not just drenching me, but carrying me away with it. I swirled, I sank, I got caught up in the waves, I felt paralyzed, and I drowned. I drowned in every single emotion all at once, dying a hundred different deaths. With each death, I felt more and more paralyzed, my lungs restricted, sweat began beading all over my body, my hands shook and I sat wide eyed staring at the wall as if it had become the most interesting thing in the world. The waves were ripping me apart on the inside so much so that my body could do nothing but sit there silently, too overwhelmed to even blink or swallow. Eventually the tide went back out and I slowly began to regain myself but that process took about 3 hours the first time. I drowned and felt like I was dying with every second that passed by. I had lost myself completely. I had lost control of my mind, body and heart. It’s hard to catch or fix something that breaks into so many pieces all at once from so many places. My thoughts swirled out of control, obsessing over a small comment, obsessing over the past and replaying thousands of memories all at once, surrounding me with images of pain and things I wanted to forget. My heart broke with every scene I was forced to watch and there was no stop button for me to hit. My body was frozen in place by the grip of the waves as I slowly drowned. How do you recover from that? The truth is, you don’t. I didn’t recover. I survived.
Until the next anxiety attack 2 days later. The same feeling occurred when I began to think of my busy week and schedule. I felt the tingle and noticed it this time. I had been living in high alert of the next tingle so it wouldn’t catch me by surprise again. This attack began slower than the first one but again, the waves were too strong and began to swirl all at once, drowning me again when any sort of defense I had tried to establish was broken. This time though, I was obsessing over my to-do list, my failures in the past, my failures for the upcoming week and me not being able to complete the tasks I needed to get done. My heart was so ashamed at my inability to stay on top of my assignments and lack of time management skills. My body froze again and remained frozen. This attack lasted about 30 minutes but I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. It took me days to recover before the next one hit me. I tried to get help for this one but sat frozen in my room, sobbing tears I couldn’t hold back while a friend sat with me. I had no idea what was happening to me. I had been in control of my emotions for all of my life. I knew I was a high stress person but I had always been able to use that stress to succeed and get things done. Now, the emotions were completely out of my control and I was terrified. I still am terrified. I had about a week left to wait until my counseling appointment on February 17, 2015. That week was living hell. I crawled through every day afraid of the next anxiety attack, afraid of what might happen to me and those around me. I had become irritable and was afraid of snapping at somebody. Everything angered me, nothing looked appealing, I couldn’t get out of bed most days and I didn’t understand why nothing brought me joy anymore. Being a psychology major, I couldn’t help but try to objectively analyze myself to see what the problem was and quickly identified anxiety. When I got to my counseling appointment, I was a wreck. I was a shell of a woman, walking around like a zombie, avoiding people and situations I knew would upset me. I had lost complete interest in life. I had lost my appetite. There were days where I woke up and physically couldn’t get out of bed because I felt paralyzed which resulted in me beginning to miss classes. I was completely different. After speaking with my counselor, we addressed the issue and I began to talk to her about medications, continued counseling and the next steps. She helped schedule an appointment for me at the health services here at my school to undergo a medical evaluation to see what my condition was and what we could do about it. I filled out a series of forms that described everything I had felt going through the last week and a half and it scared me to know that almost everything I circled on the form was completely different than what I would’ve chosen two weeks ago. How did I lose myself so quickly? Where did I go? It all felt like an out of body experience and I was sitting there watching myself go on auto pilot struggling just to get through daily life before I get to hide in the refuge of my room. I’m not a huge crier, but I wept watching myself spiral and disappear, helpless to stop it. I was in a relationship at this point that really wasn’t helping me go anywhere which was causing more stress. The weekend before the medical evaluation, I ended the relationship. The weekend was back and forth, back and forth, creating more stress for me to undergo and I realized I was at a stage where I needed to take care of myself. I needed to be selfish and that was okay. Coming from a girl who believed she wasn’t worth anything for most of her life, I am extremely proud to say that I was proactive and put my well being first. I was terrified of walking alone because I was used to having a man by my side. Being single was and still is kind of terrifying for me. I don’t have that one main person to turn to anymore so I am forced to run into God’s arms. I can honestly say these last couple days have been the most liberating, freeing days I’ve ever experienced. I am standing on my own two feet holding no one’s hand but God’s. I finally see just how powerful He is and how silly it was for me to stop pursuing Him because a boyfriend was easier to pursue. Things ended on as good of a note as they can be and I am okay with that.
Moving off that tangent (which I will probably write more on), my medical evaluation was February 24, 2015, only a couple days ago. I took more tests and talked with the doctor I had been paired with for this journey of anxiety. She asked great questions, went through the usual list of symptoms to check and gave me another form to fill out about how I was feeling. I had no clue this was a depression test. After the test, she showed me the scale and I was diagnosed with moderate depression and high anxiety. The depression aspect hit me hard and took me completely by surprise. I thought depression was something that I had moved forward from and I was just dealing with one new problem: anxiety. It took everything in me not to burst into tears right there in front of the doctor. We discussed the options for moving forward and went over several steps to take towards the healing process. We discussed medication and she wrote me a prescription for Paxil. The description describes it as medication for depression, general anxiety disorder and panic disorder. I’ve grown up believing medication like that was for crazy people and that I needed to be stronger than that. I was angry that I couldn’t just get over it myself. But I had become desperate enough where I agreed to medication and am now undergoing treatment.
Since I’m in a leadership role here at my school, it’s my responsibility to serve a floor of 46 girls including my partner and I. Honestly, without this role as leader, I wouldn’t be getting the help I need. I never would’ve began counseling again, admitted I had a problem or began medication. Self care has never really been something I’m good at but I decided to be proactive for the sake of my floor. I need to work on myself and become whole so that I can give without causing damage. My pride was one of my worst enemies during the beginning stages. My pride told me to get better, feel better, BE better and that I didn’t need anyone or anything otherwise I was weak. After spiraling more and more, the high horse I had been riding rode out from underneath me and I started falling. Sometimes I don’t feel like I’ve stopped falling but I do know that I am not afraid to be vulnerable and say I am not okay. A leader isn’t perfect and I am learning to extend grace to myself.
My first day on Paxil was easily one of the craziest days I had had. I made the mistake of overdoing the supplements recommended to me with the medication. I couldn’t hold down food and took vitamin D, B 12 and Iron with orange juice and water. It’s not surprising to me that I became incredibly nauseous halfway through my 9:30 am class. By the time my 11 am class rolled around, I couldn’t focus on anything. Looking at the screens gave me a head ache, I couldn’t sit still and my heart began to race. My professor is incredibly understanding and aware of the situation. I made sure to talk to them because I want to keep them in the loop and have their support. She let me go early and gave me a hug. I love going to a private university because the classes are small enough for me to actually form a relationship with my professors. After I got my hug, I practically ran to the health center looking for my doctor. I’m pretty sure I terrified the receptionists. I don’t know how I would react if a girl came bursting through the doors like she was being chased by a madman with hair that looked like it hadn’t been combed in days, frantic eyes and shaking hands. I slurred my words and tried to tell them I needed my doctor because I was on medication and I was convinced I was dying. They calmly told me they would get my doctor and even offered a private back room for me to lay down in. It’s almost humorous looking back and realizing how crazy of an entrance that was. 🙂 It’s like the piece of corn (Read the blog link I’ll post at the bottom to understand this reference). After sitting in the waiting room for about 5 minutes, my doctor appeared and to me, seeing my doctor was like seeing an angel descend from heaven. We began talking and we laughed over the scare I gave the receptionists before describing my panic to her. She smiled calmly and asked if I had taken the vitamins on an empty stomach. My cheeks flushed and I couldn’t help but smile sheepishly and admit that I had gotten too excited and took it way too hard on my body. She reassured me that it was only day one and my reaction was perfectly normal. I walked out of there totally calm and laughed more at how confused the receptionists looked. In walked crazy, out walked normal. Ish.
The rest of the day was one giant roller coaster. I felt joy. Then sadness. Then confusion. Then nervous. Then nothing. Repeat. Shuffle. x2. x10. -1. +95527. x500%. +1. I felt everything all at once so strongly that it felt like nothing. What does that even mean? To my logical brain that appears in my glimpses of sanity, it makes no sense. I have no idea what is happening to me. I can explain the chemicals and go on about serotonin but my emotions are something completely beyond me. The best way to describe me now is disconnected. My body is completely out of sync. My mind for example, is completely unpredictable. My mind right now is my worst enemy because it collapses into anxiety and nervousness with no warning and stresses to the point where my physical body can’t move. It obsesses over unnecessary thoughts, hurtful conversations, painful comments, my failures, and basically anything that is bothering me at the moment. The obsession is unreal. I don’t normally care or think so much about things like that but lately, my brain can’t focus on anything else and is analyzing each situation all at the same time on hyper speed. I literally feel like my brain takes over my body and I lose control. When I “come back”, I have to clean up the mess I made when my brain went for a joy ride and crashed. This craziness in my mind is the reason why my body is the way it is. Physically, I feel like crap a lot of the time. Before this season of life, I loved food with a passion and was infamous for being the snacker that would eat your whole bag of chips even when you offered one. Now, I have no appetite whatsoever and have to force food down my throat because it sounds so repulsive. I even turned down chocolate. You know it’s serious when I turn down chocolate. It’s literally heaven and I turn it down every time. Because my body can’t hold food down well, I’m nauseous almost 24/7, have a constant headache and am dehydrated. Walks that used to be easy for me are now endless mountains I can’t climb, stairs are hell in concrete form and sleep is nearly impossible. On top of this, my heart is completely shattered. I think. It feels shattered in moments then in other moments, I feel like it is being held so closely to God that it feels whole. It goes back and forth depending on how much of a grip I managed to get over a potential anxiety attack. Once in a while I think of someone that was very dear to me and feel sad. The good memories run through my head and I feel my heart break over again but somehow, this is always over ridden with another type of heart break I had never felt before. Like I said earlier, this can feel like an out of body experience. Sometimes, I escape from the anxious part of my brain into a silent part and just look at myself. My heart breaks watching myself suffer. I feel so much empathy for myself and want to do everything I can to help. It feels like I’m watching another person go through this and want to be there to walk through it with them till the end and make sure they’re taken care of. It’s the strangest thing having my heart break for myself. This is the first time in my life where I loved myself enough to care so much to the point of heart break. That to me is the greatest heartbreak I’ve ever felt and it makes me smile. I know that’s weird, heartbreak makes me smile. Don’t worry I won’t laugh at your heartbreak (much) but this heartbreak is a sign to me that I am moving forward and loving myself more and more. The last part of me I wanna talk about is my soul. Through all of this, my soul has been great. I feel immense peace in my soul and comfort knowing my God is holding me so tightly. I feel all of these emotions at the same time; no one over powers the other, they simply hold hands, divide me up evenly and take over their respective parts. The more I run into God, the more I need Him and the stronger my soul becomes. It is so odd feeling so good yet so bad at the same time. I’m just waiting for the filling of my soul to overflow into every other aspect of my body, mind and heart so that I can be me again. I look forward to the day when I wake up and feel excitement for the day. I can’t wait to drag myself out of bed because I’m exhausted and lazy, not because I’m paralyzed by anxiety. I’m excited to wake up one morning and find life again, to find me again. I miss her a lot and I want to take better care of her from now on.
This ends the beginning of a long journey. I’m terrified and confident at the same time, excited and nervous, broken yet becoming whole. Yet through all of this, I can say it is well with my soul and mean it. That’s something depression and anxiety will never take away from me.
Here’s a blog that better describes some things that I can’t explain.