Hi there! First, I want to apologize for not writing for so long. It’s been a very crazy couple of weeks, but the good news is, soon there should be a very set schedule to my days, and I will be able to find more time to write.
Today, I want to talk about two things that actually go hand in hand. I want to talk about why having anxiety and depression is so exhausting, and what the difference is between having a panic or anxiety disorder, and having a moment of panic or anxiety. These seem to be two of the hardest things for people who don’t have these disorders to understand, and they actually are pretty interrelated. So let’s dive in, shall we?
The moment that spurred this topic happened a few weeks ago, during my Real Estate Class. When I’m in a class, I always tell the instructor about my panic disorder, and explain which things I have to do differently to be successful, and why. As I was explaining this, someone said “Oh I know how that is, I was panicking today because I thought traffic was going to make me late for class!”
SIDE NOTE: First of all, a big part of becoming okay with my disorder has been learning to forgive people for not understanding it. It’s not their fault that they haven’t necessarily experienced what I go through, and I can’t expect them to fully understand something they don’t live with. I wouldn’t expect people to fully understand all the inner workings and tricks of driving my car if they’ve never driven my car before right? Same concept. So what I usually do is just nod and smile with them, because calling them out for not understanding something in front of everyone isn’t a kind thing to do. It could make them feel embarrassed, which would only feed the stigma of “Don’t talk about mental health” (because someone will jump down your throat if you do.) If the moment presents itself later to have a conversation with that person one on one, I will let them know a little more about my disorder and maybe ask them if they experience anything similar. It could even be that they actually DO have a panic disorder, and just didn’t want to say so in front of everyone. You don’t know what fears and insecurities drive people until you get to know them, so I always try to air on the side of being kind and understanding.
This comment got me thinking, and I realized that something many people don’t understand (because they often can’t see it) is that these disorders are more than just moments of panic. So I decided then and there to write this blog.
The thing that makes anxiety and depression so exhausting is that you never quit fighting it.( I assume this is true for a lot of the other mental health disorders, but I can’t know for sure… leave me a comment and let me know if you deal with this too.) From the moment I wake up in the morning, until I finally lose consciousness at night, every thought I have, every decision I make, every thing I decided to do or not do, every phone call, text, email, every food or drink I consume, is about anxiety in some way. When I wake up, the first thing that happens is my depression suggests that I just stay in bed because nothing I will do today will matter in the long run. (And people ask why I hate mornings. haha) Usually this means that I lay in bed, and watch inspirational videos on a channel I like on youtube, I’ll put it here, if you’re interested, until I get motivated enough to get up. Once I’m up, I head out to the kitchen, for my morning tea. About two years ago I gave up coffee. Caffeine is really bad for anxiety, and once I quit drinking it, I felt more in control than I had in a long time. So I stick with herbal tea, even on the mornings when I only got 4 hours of sleep, because the caffeine just isn’t worth the panic attack later in the day. Next I usually have oatmeal or fruit for breakfast, because those are two proven foods that keep me full but don’t make me feel sick in the morning. Hunger and anxiety are an interesting pair, I can’t be too full, because the full feeling makes me feel a little sick and I’ll have an attack, but I can’t be too hungry either, or I’ll start feeling faint which will lead to an attack. Next I take my shower and get ready for the day. I listen to really upbeat music on Pandora in the morning and try to memorize all the songs, because it keeps me from thinking too hard about my day and keeps my depression from finding a way to convince me to just get back in bed because the day will be too hard. As I get ready, I usually try on three to four different outfits and decide on the one that BEST fits my day, based on who I will see, what activity I’m doing, if the people I see will think less or more of me depending on the way I dress, and I spend a lot of time obsessing over the fact that “I shouldn’t care what people think of me, and I should just be happy with myself,” but all the while battling the anxiety building inside me that I’m not good enough, or pretty enough, or stylish enough. This type of thinking goes on throughout my day, and underneath all of these decisions, and texts, and distractions, and good, non-anxiety producing choices, the anxiety is still there.
Anxiety never goes away. It’s always there, dictating what I should or should not do, showing me all the possible ways that something can go wrong, making me hypersensitive to the world around me. I see the cracks in the sidewalk from my window and wonder if an earthquake hit, would they get bigger. I see the rain forming puddles outside and hope that if it floods our apartment won’t be drowned. I see the dog do something weird and spend the next 30 minutes watching him to make sure he’s not sick. It’s constant. Which brings me to; “What is the difference between this, and a moment of Panic?”
I want you to imagine something for me. Imagine you’re at the Grand Canyon with your family. You look up and you see a child, (your child, or someone elses, either way) walking along the edge of a cliff, giggling, and not knowing the danger. Then, their foot slips. There’s no way to get to them in time if they fall, but your body spurs you into action anyway, and you fly over to them and barely snatch them away from the fall, hold them close, and know they are safe. Now, remember the sheer dread you felt when you saw their foot slip? That is the feeling I have underneath every other emotion I feel, and it is there All. The. Time. There is no moment of relief following a moment of panic. It’s like the child in this scenario is forever frozen mid-fall and you are forever frozen two inches away from grabbing them. It’s always there, and most of the time, it’s completely invisible, because I have learned through the years how to hide it, and how to deal with it. I have learned how to live my life, without letting the panic, and fear, and dread take over. And the only time you see it, is when it breaks through and I have a panic attack.
That’s the difference between “I panicked because I thought I was going to be late” and “I have a panic disorder.” The “Disorder” part means that my panic button is stuck down, and no amount of prying can get it unstuck.
So you can see, then, why people who suffer from these disorders are tired all the time. I fight all day long, every day, even though you can’t see it, the battle is raging. It’s a constant battle, and in order to live a fulfilling life, I have to win more battles than I lose. When I lose a battle, we get to have a Panic Attack, which I would like to avoid at all costs.
My therapist and I recently came up with a great analogy for this, and I’ve used it as the title to this blog. Pretend that everyone has a bucket. And each night as we sleep, our bucket gets refilled with water. Mentally healthy people have a good solid, stainless steel bucket. People with mental illness have a great bucket too, but in the bottom of their bucket they have a hole called, in my case, anxiety. Some days the hole is small, and some days it’s big, but there’s always a hole. Now, as we all go through our days, during each exchange we make, each text we send, every meeting we go to, we pour a little water out of our bucket. At the end of the day, we need sleep to replenish the water, because our bucket is now empty. But for those of us with a hole in our bucket, our water level goes down much faster, because we lose some water during the whole day through the hole. Now depending on how big the hole is that day, we could lose all the water in our bucket in the first two hours we are awake. Which means we go the rest of our day, with no water to pour out in other exchanges.
If we think about the water in these buckets as emotional energy, we can see very clearly that those with a hole in their bucket are going to get tired much faster than those without a hole. If we are conscious of the holes in other peoples buckets we can be more understanding of them, and help them to refill their bucket. You can ask them what they might need to recharge, and then help them do it if you can. You can offer to let them skip the meeting and have it tomorrow, or you can say “Hey, why don’t we stay in tonight, and we can go out to the bar next Friday.” You may be surprised at how grateful we are for those little things.
For those of you who have holes in your buckets, it’s OKAY! It’s not your fault that you have a hole in it, and while there are things you can do to make the hole smaller, like therapy, making good food and drink choices, staying away from drugs, etc, it may never completely go away. Find people who are accepting of your limited energy and who help refill your bucket, and don’t worry about people who don’t.
Do you (or someone you know) have a hole in your bucket? What are some of your ways of coping? Do you want to know more about how my anxiety affects my day? Comment below!