While my primary focus lately has been treating my symptoms of anxiety, tonight I’d like to talk about another issue that’s plagued me: depression. I’ve been quite lucky, I think, to have only experienced a feel depressive episodes in my life. However, those periods were by far the most difficult times in my life.
I never really thought of myself as depressed, until my latest counseling session. I was talking about a time in college in which I could have really used help, and didn’t seek it. During cross country meets I became very irritable and my performance suffered. I over trained to compensate, injuring myself a number of times, rinsing and repeating. I avoided assignments that seemed overwhelming, my grades went WAY down, and eventually I just stopped going to class. I barely ate, I never slept, and I was just over it. This lasted, realistically, almost 2 whole years.
The more I talked the more I realized that there was something more going on. My epiphany must have been visible in my expressions, as my counselor started leading me to find a word to describe how I had felt. I was depressed.
My symptoms had begun as the normal (to me) worry, difficulty focusing, mild aversion sorts of things. Then the symptoms began to interfere with my life, and I reacted in ways which only caused further harm. Skipping assignments didn’t ease my anxiety, it made it worse. Sitting in my room didn’t help me feel better, it gave me time to overthink. Throwing temper tantrums after races only served to isolate my team. I felt more and more helpless and alone each day.
My senior year, I was finally saved. I had already been on academic suspension, and I had seen a counselor a few times, at my coach’s “request.” At the start of my final semester I got a letter stating that I was being suspended, but I had the chance to appeal. In that moment I felt more ashamed and remorseful than ever before. I felt like I was letting my family down. I felt like every person who ever commented on my potential was hanging their heads as I held this paper in a very shaky hand.
I typed my appeal immediately, and sent a letter to my counselor asking for a statement to help my case. The great and merciful board of very important people took pity on me, allowing me to stay in school. I learned then that shame is a powerful motivator.
As I muddled through the semester, ambitiously taking two history classes at the same time despite knowing I couldn’t handle the workload, I caught another huge break. Dr. Sarah Silkey, history professor and my personal savior, for some reason gave me the boost I needed at just the right time. One day she pulled me into her office after class, and she gave me some much needed advice. (The secret to taking multiple history classes is to skim the readings and save many hours.) She also remarked that she was impressed with my work, but she knew it was half-assed. “Imagine what you could do, if you wanted to,” she said. That one comment was all I needed.
I didn’t realized until now how anxiety and depression build on each other. Anxiety can make you feel down. Depression can amplify feelings of anxiety. I can certainly understand now how important it is to have someone to pull you out of the cycle.
Statistically, you probably know somebody – other than me – who has experienced some form of depression. You likely know someone who has been struggling with anxiety, too. Anxiety and depression are among the most common mental health disorders. Trust me, you’ve probably seen it.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that anxiety disorders affect around 40 million Americans (adaa.org). This estimate includes Generalized Anxiety Disorder (one of my diagnoses), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, phobias, and OCD, et cetera. Co-occurrence of anxiety and depression are also quite common, as depression often develops from untreated anxiety (eddins).
Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people seek treatment for mental health disorders. For some reason counseling is largely considered taboo, rather than being recognized as a medical necessity. Check on your friends. Find them help. Give them hope. One supportive statement can change everything.