Sometimes it gets really hard for people suffering from mental illness to explain what we are going through, even to the people who matter the most in our life. It can be because we are afraid of not being understood, or being judged, or we just can’t find the right words.
I’m currently going through depression with symptoms of anxiety and panic. It sounds like a dish of gourmet cuisine. When I tell people what I’m going through – not that I’ve told so many people yet – they get surprised: “How can you feel depressed and anxious at the same time? Aren’t depression and anxiety the opposite of each other?”.
No, they are not. They can come together, and man, what a strong team they form. Depression kicks me down, it punches me until I’m down on the floor, incapable of getting up. At that point, anxiety gets in the game: it starts jumping on my chest and screaming in my ears. Every now and then, panic throws some cold water at me.
I have talked a lot about my panic attacks and my anxiety disorder. When you are anxious, it’s feels like every step you take might be the last one. It’s like being in a state of constant danger. You brain keeps on shooting noradrenaline up and down your body, and knowing that nothing is going on is not enough to slow down your heart rate or calm down your breath. You have this constant feeling that something bad is about to happen to you. It’s not being pessimistic, it’s not being “an anxious person”.
Panic disorder is similar to anxiety, but it’s not the same thing, and not necessarily if you have one you will have the other one too. Panic lasts less, but it’s more intense. When you get a panic attack, you have this absolute certainty that you will die in the immediate future. You usually have a precise image of how it’s going to happen, and you are left in a state of pure terror.
And then there is depression. Last time I suffered from panic attacks, I was scared of depression. Now I’m actually suffering from it and I can say that it’s every bit as bad as I had imagined. I think I feel more uncomfortable speaking up about depression, because there is more taboo around it. People who have never suffered from it think it’s like sadness, but stronger. Many people think you have to stay positive, and if you do it will leave, you just have to be strong. When I tell people what I’m going through, many answer “Yeah, I understand, sometimes I feel down too, but then I think of this and that and I cheer myself up”. I can’t tell you how many comments like this I read on social media. “Sometimes it happens to me, too”. Well, no, it does not.
What actually happens to you is that you feel very low, maybe you feel very very very low, maybe you feel desperate, but in the limit of mental health. Sometimes you will feel apathetic, you will feel nothing, but in the limit of mental health. I think many people don’t understand this limit. It’s not a clear-cut limit. I actually spent a couple of months on the edge, feeling strongly demotivated, but thinking I was in the limit, that I could handle it, before I had a couple of depressive episodes, and then officially entered in the realm of full-time depression. In those months I tried to drink the discomfort away and struggled to “stay positive” even in the hardest moments, but it didn’t work.
Depression is not sadness. I know that we have come to associate the two things, but they are far away from each other. In fact, sadness is good. If you feel sad it means that you are feeling something. If it hurts, it’s ok, it means you are alive. But when you are depressed, you are not completely alive. When you are depressed you are apathetic. You don’t feel anything. If your depression is combined with anxiety disorder, you will feel anxious, but you won’t feel anything else. When you are depressed you feel like you’re dead inside. Depression takes away everything. You vitality. Your self-worth. The things you used to like become indifferent. Everything feels like a huge effort. You get to the point of thinking that you are only living in order not to hurt other people. It’s awful to read, right? Imagine how it is to feel this.
Depression oppresses you in a way that you can’t understand only because “sometimes you feel down too”. As I said in some other post, there was a moment when I actually felt that I had passed to another stage, I felt that I couldn’t make it on my own anymore. I actually felt that my brain wasn’t working properly anymore, I felt that those thoughts were not mine. I have felt down before, but there is a whole world of difference between that and being depressed.
I would have really liked to get through this without medication, I’m not a big fan of drugs, but I had to accept that I needed that help too. Positive thinking was not enough to bring my brain back to its normal function.
Now the medication is starting to make its effect, I’m back to eating and I can smile and even though I’m still scared as hell, I can feel that I’m alive. And I’m not alive because I have to, but because I love it.