Trigger Warning: Anxiety & Depression
The best way I can describe my mental illness is that it is a dark cloud, hanging over me, attached by a string. Some days the cloud is only a light gray hue and I hardly notice it. Other days, it’s pitch black and leaking acid rain, or it expands into a dark fog clouding my vision and surrounding me. On the worst days, it’s a combination of the two.
For a long time, I tried to hide it. I’ve shown signs of both anxiety and depression since I started school. When I was eight years old, there were days I wouldn’t speak and walked around the playground kicking around wood chips. I would jump out of the shower because of anxiety attacks over my fear of anyone I loved dying. My mind would spiral and I couldn’t grasp the concept of how the world could keep turning if I lost anyone I loved.
My best friend growing up had been diagnosed with anxiety and received medication and counseling for it. I thought that getting medication meant she was really sick, and I didn’t want to be sick. I finally told my doctor about it when I was in my early teens and she recommended I seek out counseling. My mom seemed really interested and talked to her about all the options… until we got home. After a week went by, we never talked about it again. Finally, I got the courage nearly eight years later to seek help on my own.
I would never admit that being depressed was anything more than a temporary feeling. Or that I was anxious at any time other than in an instance where I believed any “normal” person would identify with that feeling. Those were the moments where the anxiety wasn’t so daunting because I didn’t feel alone in it. I began saying I was anxious in the scenarios, even if I wasn’t just, so I could practice admitting to it.
But even if I wasn’t admitting to it, the dark cloud hung over me wherever I went. Instead of admitting to it, I found distractions. I would fill my schedule with work, school, sports, and just about anything to prevent me from having a moment where I was alone with my thoughts. If that moment were to arise, I’d be too exhausted to even attempt confronting my inner thoughts. Instead of going to therapy, I would write. I tried any coping mechanism I could think of. I used to go for insanely long walks where I would leave early in the morning and not come home until the sun started to set. I would listen to the sounds of the cars passing by, or wind rustling the leaves. I tried to talk to friends, but after a while, they didn’t want to listen. Most of the time, the conversation would quickly shift to whatever topic they were concerned about. In those moments, my anxiety would kick in and I felt like a bother so I stopped talking again. I started using dark humor to talk about things that happened because then it felt less like reality.
A lot of what I’d seen as escapes eventually became toxic. I worked multiple jobs at once and sometimes there would be problems with management that would become another thing I carried with me. At one of my jobs, I experienced a lot of bullying which worsened my self-image. In school, I never had one friend for very long, and after a bad relationship ended I almost entirely withdrew socially junior into senior year. My coaches weren’t very motivational and I would see cut playing time as a personal attack. I’d convince myself it was because I wasn’t good enough so then I would exercise to extremes. All of these things, on top of others, resulted in a repeated mantra that I was “not good enough” or worse that “I could never be good enough.” This mentality lingers within me to this day. I know it’s wrong, and I’ve worked on countering these negative thoughts, but the negative thought is still instinct.
I worked twice as hard to hide my mental health struggles the worse they got. The louder the mantra that “I’m not good enough” became in my mind, the harder I worked to hide it. I’d force myself to keep plans I didn’t want to. I’d be the one to ask a friend, “Hey! Are we still on for today?” praying something would come up and I’d kick myself if they said something along the lines of “Yes, I almost forgot.” I became my own worst enemy and caused the worsening of my mental health through my efforts to ignore it. Instead of seeking help, I piled on more and more responsibilities so I wouldn’t have the time to address the growing cloud looming over my head.
This caught up with me many times over the years. I’d force myself into a breakdown or end up locking myself away, avoiding interaction for days or even weeks. It took months of my friends convincing me to finally make the call to CAPS last semester. Even then, I still needed a friend to hold me accountable for making the call.
I’ve gotten more comfortable admitting to the fact that I struggle with both anxiety and depression since. This comfort with admitting to my struggle hasn’t changed the expectations I still carry for myself to not show signs of what I’ve always seen as a weakness because of it. I still carry the same expectations that I have all my life to hide the effects of it. I refuse to cite the actual reason I was unable to do something as having been a result of either an anxiety attack or a more difficult day of depression. I’ll force myself to power through those days where the cloud is pouring rain and has expanded into a dark fog around me.
My journey of accepting my battle is just beginning, even though I’ve been fighting it since I can remember. Acceptance is the hardest part. Being kind to myself as a part of this acceptance seems nearly impossible when I’ve spent more time being my own worst enemy. One day I hope that I will no longer feel the need to hide the effects of my anxiety and depression. I hope that I can feel accepted while carrying all the parts that make up who I am. But most of all, I hope that I’ll stop hiding the parts of myself that I feel ashamed of.
*Edited by Emma Hoechner.