Have you ever stopped and looked at your life, fully realizing all the amazing things that you have done, are able to do, that could be in store for you in the future and then, out of nowhere, everything is wrong? Let me clarify what I mean by wrong: you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin; you don’t feel like you belong; the people that surround you that are either family or friends who have become family, all of a sudden cannot do anything (or do nothing) without it being wrong; and you decide that it would be easier to not “be” until whatever this madness is passes?
This is something that happens to me far more often than I would like it to. It makes me feel weak, feeds into my self-doubt, and makes me want to retreat as far into myself as possible when that’s actually the last thing in the world that I want. As something that is unfortunately a recurring problem, I now know this is anxiety and depression rearing it’s ugly, unwanted head. I have been working to manage these two ‘besties*’ for years now. I recently switched medications and that has brought an onslaught of attacks that had previously been managed okay…until they weren’t, hence the medication change.
I first had to go off my main anxiety medication entirely before starting a new one. As someone who is as “straight-edged” as they come, who has never done an illegal drug in their entire life, and really only knows so much about drugs because of my job, I never thought I’d have to contend with withdrawal symptoms. I was wrong. SO WRONG. They’re hell. I don’t recommend it. And honestly, if I ever have to go off my meds completely again, I might just take a sick week to save myself and everyone else from that. My doctor didn’t warn me about withdrawal symptoms either…perhaps he thought this wasn’t my first go round in this arena and so he didn’t think to mention it, but the first week I was completely off of the medication, I literally thought I was going insane and felt awful for those around me. Thankfully I kept a close friend in the loop about everything as a backup (the whole “hey, my meds are changing, so if I act super weird, let me know” thing) and he turned to me one day and was like, “I think you might be going through withdrawal…you should look into that.” A trusty Google search later and the majority of the symptoms I was experiencing (crazy nausea, irritability, being irrational, mood swings, intense anxiety, etc.) all were written in the warning label. Awesome.
Back to my original point, which was prompted by the following events:
I am a residence life professional and just attended the ACUHO-I Annual Conference (I literally started writing this on the flight home). I have been fortunate enough to attend this conference for the last three years and look forward to the 4-ish days being surrounded by other ResLife professionals, meeting new people, learning new things, and feeding my professional soul. This year, the conference was in Seattle, WA, a city I have wanted to visit since I watched the season of the Real World that was filmed there years ago.
On top of this, the group from my institution grew this year and I was no longer the sole live-in professional of the group. Per my planner nature, I started looking up fun things to do or restaurants to visit should we have any free time
months weeks in advance. I was pumped for this pseudo-mini vacation from the day to day and couldn’t wait for it.
So on Monday afternoon when I started to feel ‘off’, you can imagine how frustration, anger, and annoyance at myself started to grow. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it all started to become too much, but I do remember trying to find a quiet, hidden spot in the convention center to sit down and try and get my shit together. Being a convention center full of almost 1,500 people though, finding that spot was hard and I knew I wouldn’t make it back to the hotel without a complete meltdown. So I found a relatively quiet spot behind the bookstore they had set up, where the only passersby were ladies going to the restroom. I sat on the floor and ate a crepe** and then just tried to breathe and not let my mind take over everything. I was texting the same friend who had figured out I was in withdrawal before and was trying to calm down, but nothing worked. The next educational session was starting and tears were streaming down my face. Totally professional for me to go into a session like that. So I did what anyone would do…I typed, “fuck fuck fuck fuck” to my friend, got up, and just left the convention center. I knew going to the hotel would likely make things worse, so I walked in a different direction hoping to distract myself. For the next hour or so, I walked a bit, went into stores (Barnes and Noble is always a safe haven, so I started there), and tried to calm my nerves. For the most part, it kept things at bay. I noticed that I still kind of had a tremor thing going on in my hand, but I chose to ignore it, went back for the rest of the educational sessions that afternoon, and tried to “be normal.”
Unfortunately, it all came back later that night when my group was heading to our regional reception and then one sponsored by one of our vendors. By the time we got to the final reception location and everyone else made a mad dash for the food line, I felt like I was going to be sick, with a side of sobbing. I found my way to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall where I berated myself for feeling this way- this was literally a trip of a lifetime to a place I’ve always wanted to go and here I was, locked in a bathroom stall trying to keep my makeup from making me look like I got punched in the face. Two members of the group came to in to check on me (or pee and then checked anyway), but I couldn’t do anything except feel embarrassed. What was wrong with me? Why did this have to happen? Why did it have to happen now?! I couldn’t figure out those answers then, so I told myself my usual mantra in these situations: “fake it until you make it,” came out of my stall, checked my makeup and walked out. I ended up having a lot of fun after that, but I knew it was hardly the end of this little adventure.
Since I’ve been back home, it’s only continued.Work ended up being a great distraction yesterday and I had one of the most productive afternoons I’ve have in a while…but then it came time to come home and after putting my bag down and changing, I crawled into bed. I left my apartment for the first time today at 8:45pm because I hadn’t eaten all day and figured I should get something. I wish that when I crawl into bed in a little while, I’ll wake up and everything will be different, but I know that’s not how this works. I know that I’ll likely have to continue to put on my “fake it until you make it” face for a while until whatever this is passes. But before then, I wanted to write this all down. I know it is far from the last time I experience this and I also know that a lot of people still don’t understand it.
Years ago after I first started talking to my PCP about my anxiety and depression, she pointed out that it was something I was always going to deal with. That it usually came in cycles, if nothing else, than in the form of there always being ups and downs. I understood then, as I do now, that this isn’t, never was, and never will be temporary or something that is easy to fix. But I struggle the most when I’m in those downs to understand that an up will come. It is far too easy to hear the bad that is clouding your brain, rather than the good or even the hope.
More than that, though, I hope to remember that anxiety and depression will strike whenever they damn-well want to, even if that means at an awesome professional conference that you look forward to for a really long time. And even if it does, it doesn’t make you a worse professional for having to step out and try to collect yourself, no matter how many times it takes.
On the off chance that you’ve read all of this, I have some final thoughts:
- If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or some other mental illness: you’re not alone and the ups do come, even if you forget what they look like for little while. Try to reach out. You’re not a burden, even if your head keeps telling you that.
- If you know someone in the above category: don’t ask them what they need, don’t try to fix them or the situation…be there for them. Give them a hug or a pat on the back and tell them that you’re sorry that they’re going through whatever they’re going through, but that you think they matter and you care about them. For more insight, check out this website or this graphic (from sethadamsmith.com).
*’besties’ because they always seem to love to hang out together, like 13-year-old girls who spend every possible moment together talking about love interests and makeup and whatever else they talk about
**delicious crepe- it was butter and strawberry jam and the stuff dreams are made of
***the title is an homage to my math degree…the graph of a cosine starts at the apex of the curve, before going down.