Tag Archives: mental illness

The Least Helpful Thing You Can Say to Someone With an Anxiety Disorder

When you have a mental illness, let alone multiple illnesses that compound on each other, you get used to a certain amount of well-intended but inane advice from any number of people that comes with the intention of helping you out of a rough spot. This generally comes and goes in waves. You’ll receive advice from several people over a matter of a couple of weeks then go months with nary a comment on the topic.

Probably the literally least helpful bit of advice I’ve received time and again is this — “Just suck it up, dude.” Or some variation thereof.

I realize this is said with the best of intentions. It’s said with the idea that I’m just sitting back on my ass and coddling myself, using my anxiety as an excuse for not working. And believe me, I wish it was that simple. If it was it would mean that I actually could just push my way through it, set my anxiety aside, and get the things done that need to be done to further the goals I’ve set for myself.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, or easy. What I have, what I live with every day, is a legitimate illness. I take medications twice a day to manage it. And granted, I’m high-functioning at this point, but I’m high-functioning precisely because I have a combination of the medications I take and a set of specific coping mechanisms I’ve developed over the last couple of years to help me deal with my anxiety. I’ve tested my boundaries. I know where my limits are. I know exactly the size of the box I live in. I know what sorts of things I can do and which I can’t. I know what reactions my body and mind will go through if I exceed those boundaries and the kinds of mental and emotional breakdowns I’ll experience if I do. I know this because I’ve spent the better part of two years experimenting and testing those boundaries, gauging how my mind and body react, and then learning how to still function within the limits of those boundaries.

I always appreciate advice and suggestions, especially from people who have been through what I deal with, from people who also deal with depression and anxiety. I even appreciate advice from people who don’t experience those things but who are understanding of and sympathetic to my condition. Invariably, though, the people who tell me to simply “suck it up” are the same people who have never dealt with anxiety on this level, who have no idea what it feels like to have anxiety and panic attacks every few minutes because you’ve over-reached, because you’ve done too much. They have no idea what it’s like to feel your heart race, your head pound, your vision close in on you, your chest tighten to the point where you feel like you’re suffocating, and to feel like you need to either run or die and that even if you run, you’re probably still going to die. They have no idea what it’s like to feel that not just once in a day but to experience it several times in an hour. They have no idea what it’s like to have to live breath to breath because that’s the smallest single unit of measurement that gets you through from one moment to the next.

I appreciate the concern, though. I really, genuinely do. But telling me to just suck it up is absolutely the least useful bit of advice you can give me. It assumes I haven’t already tried to do that. I have. For years. Ultimately, it landed me in the hospital and forced me to drastically alter the way I live my life. I’ve had to claw my way back to form and function, to carefully and very deliberately test my boundaries and know where they are.

You’re welcome to sympathize and empathize with me. I really do appreciate those people who do that. But please, for the love of sanity, please stop telling me to “suck it up.” All that does is prove to me that you don’t understand, that you probably don’t want to, that you think I’m simply being lazy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’ll tell you what — the next time you suffer a crippling injury, like a sprained ankle or a broken leg or a major surgery that lays you out for an extended period of time, remember me and call me. I’ll be sure to advise you to simply “suck it up.” Maybe then you’ll understand, just a little, what it’s like for me.

Caught Between a Lull and Quiet Place

I’m sitting here right now, trying to decide what to do with myself. And I don’t mean just on an immediate, here-and-now, should I pick up a controller and play a game or write a story sort of way, though that’s certainly a part of it. I mostly mean it in the sense of what do I do with myself moving forward with my life? I find myself caught in this lull of a place where I’m unable to find work, much as I need and want it. I’m either overqualified for certain positions I’ve applied for or job postings change scope mid-stream so that my application is no longer relevant to the position or maybe I’m just interviewing badly. I don’t really know, but whatever the case is, landing a job has become this herculean task that has started to feel impossible. And it doesn’t help that my anxiety disorder, while much improved from what it was even just a couple of months ago, still limits and prohibits me from taking on work that is fast-paced and high-stress. I’m working on that, trying to retrain my brain to interpret those panicky fight-or-flight signals as excitement and enthusiasm rather than fear and trepidation. But it’s not easy, it’s a process, and it takes time.

I’ve been telling people recently that if there’s one single lesson I’ve learned above all others this past year, it’s patience. When I got out of the hospital last April 28th (yes, exactly one year ago today), I had the expectation that, for the most part, I’d be better and healthy again within six weeks. And guess what? Here I am a year later, much improved but still struggling in some areas. Yes, I do feel healthier and stronger as a person than I have in several years, in spite of the lingering anxiety. I’m more stable and more self-aware than I have been in years. But I’ve also had to learn that healing takes time, it requires patience because it can’t all happen at once, as much as one might want it to. It takes effort and discipline and consistency to change your lifestyle to accommodate the changes in your brain and body and overall physiology. There are new skills to be learned, new coping methods, new ways of thinking and behaving, new habits to form, all the while wrestling and struggling on a daily basis with the depression and anxiety that started this whole mess to begin with. And the medication that is available for treating these disorders is a God-send, but it can’t do it all. You have to do your part, too.

There are plenty of hard days as you work through things, but as you do you find those hard days occur less and less frequently, even if they never go away completely. But you learn how to do self-care, how to be patient with yourself and not blame yourself for regressing, because that’s what it feels like. Going backward. Teaching yourself a healthier form of self-talk is important, catching yourself when your thoughts turn negative and turning them around into something positive. Inserting reminders that your brain is lying to you, that you have worth and value, that people actually do love and care about you. And again, all that takes time to learn and turn into a habit.

And of course, life doesn’t just stop around you and wait for you to catch up. It keeps on traveling by all lickety-split, almost seeming to laugh at you as it does. You find yourself moseying along at what already feels like a break-neck pace but is more like a cripple hobbling along on crutches. You find yourself watching things happen that you want to be a part of — and just can’t right now. And you either have to learn to make your peace with that or give up altogether — and I don’t consider the latter to be an option.

So I find myself caught between a lull, where I can’t find work and have trouble sometimes finding ways to occupy my free time, and what feels like a never-ending quiet place, because it feels like nothing is ever going to change. I fight impatience on a daily basis, both to continue finding victory over my anxiety and with the frustrating process of finding an employer who will hire me. I also face discouragement and loneliness and criticism — and facing all those things down demands patience. I’ve been learning more and more over the last several months to lean on my faith and rely on my God, trusting that He has a plan for all this and that it’s part of His plan for me right now to be exactly here. It’s a difficult thing to accept most days, but it is what it is and there’s nothing for me to do but accept it and continue to be patient, to wait on His plan. His timing is perfect, his plan for me is flawless, and I just have to trust and hope and wait.

It’s a journey and a process, and I continue to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, and sometimes even one breath at a time.

Here I Sit, Me In My Little Hidey-Hole

It’s 9:30AM, and the day has started without me. I’m ok with this. I woke this morning feeling lonely and alone, as I often do, after another long night of dreams that refuse to allow me to get any kind of proper rest. I grudgingly ate breakfast, not because I was hungry or because the cereal tasted particularly good but because my body still requires calories to function. And I really am trying to function. Or at least to not give in to the urge to give up. Because this is one of those days where that little voice in my head is nagging at me that I can’t do this, that it’s all pointless anyway. It’s not, and I keep shooting back at that voice to this effect. But the argument persists. That voice is an asshole, and it doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up.

I haven’t opened the front blinds yet. I’m not ready to let the rest of the world in. So I sit here on the couch, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood around me — the traffic going by on the street, the workmen in the yard installing the new gas lines, the occasional loud voice of the morning drunk on his way from wherever he was to wherever he’s going. I listen and wish I was well enough to be ready to be out there with everyone else.

But I’m not. Not yet. I don’t know when I will be, and I’m impatient for that moment to arrive. I’m tired of the fight, the struggle, the relentless anchor of my mind holding me back. I know I can be better, do better. I know my own potential, and I’m anxious to live up to it. I was reminded at support group last night that it’s ok to give myself permission to not be ok yet. Recovery takes times, especially when you’ve been living in the kind of personal hell I have been for the last several years. I know life can be better. I just want it to be better right now, damn it! Like I said, I’m impatient.

It’s funny. We who struggle with mental illness have to remind those who don’t that, just because you can’t see our disease doesn’t mean we don’t have one. What we sometimes forget is that we frequently have to remind ourselves, too.

So here I sit, me in my little hidey-hole, listening to the world move about around me. I promise I’ll come out and join you here in a bit, but for the moment I need a little space to gather myself up and assemble the fractured pieces of me into something presentable. It’s just going to take a few minutes.

Baby Steps Toward Mental Health

This tiny tablet is the first step of the next stage of my search to find mental wellness. (How sad is it that I kinda love the color?)


Those of you who also suffer from mental illness may recognize that little pill as buproprion, an off-brand of Wellbutrin. This is the second time I’ve been on this particular medication, but last time it was also the only antidepressant I was taking. I eventually had to switch off of it because it made me feel like I was coming out of my skin. Now, it’s been added to my psychotropic cocktail as an augment to the escitalopram I’m already taking in order to boost my psychological energy. Less than 24 hours being back on the Wellbutrin and my skin is already a little twitchy, my head feels like it’s on fire, and my eyes feel like they could just come tumbling out of my head at any point if I turn too quickly. (But! I’m actually getting things done, and that’s not nothing.)

And still, I’ll take that over the sense of despair and despondency that has clung to me for more than a year now.

I have, in the past year, been the closest to suicide I have ever been in my life. Doing battle every day with feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing eventually takes its toll. The sense of isolation wears on you, grinding away little bits of who you are over time. I’ve been close to giving up more times this year than I can count. Early in the year, I even resorted to cutting — just shallow scratches with a razor blade; I’m not a complete masochist — my hands and arms. I know. It’s not terribly common for a white male in his mid-30s to start cutting himself. But it allowed me to deal out, in small doses, the kind of punishment on myself that I felt like I deserved. It was a short-lived habit, but I’d be lying if I didn’t still have days where I want to cut on myself some more. The pain and heat from those cuts gave me a measure of control over the way I felt and therefore had a paradoxically therapeutic effect. I could stave off the worst of my depressive episodes by parting the skin on my arm — just a little bit — and give myself a tiny reprieve.

I’ve been spiraling for months. The counseling I was in during the first half of the year helped — until I had to back out of it because it was becoming difficult to keep appointments due to increasing busyness at my new job. Literally all the energy I had every day went into my job in an effort to keep from losing this one, too, so the subsequent exhaustion at the end of every day made it easier to justify to myself making poor decisions in my home and farm life, decisions that have negatively impacted my family and my relationships with those around me.

Hence the reintroduction of Wellbutrin into my life. Two very close friends encouraged me earlier this week to visit my family doctor again to see about modifying my medication. Yes, the Wellbutrin still makes me feel odd and a little manic. But after the apathy of the past year (and more), this is far preferable. Per my doctor’s instructions, I’m also working on getting in to see both a psychiatrist, for long-term maintenance of my medications, and a clinical psychologist, because sometimes talking about your troubles with someone who can be objective is a solution, too.

I’d be lying if I said I wanted to do any of this. I hate that any of it is necessary, that I can’t just fix myself and be done with it. But I can’t, and I need help from people more equipped to keep me on my feet. I’m nervous and scared, but maybe also a teensy, tiny bit hopeful, too. Just the fact that I’m writing this down at all is an improvement. I haven’t felt like writing much of anything for more than a year. As much as the Wellbutrin makes my skin crawl, it does seem to give me a little more of myself back, and for that I’m grateful.

Little steps forward, people. Little steps.

Living with Depression

Dealing with depression is not an easy thing to do. I think I’m finally on the upswing of this latest bout — and thank God it only lasted a couple of days this time — but like usual it’s left me exhausted, weepy, and discouraged. I hate talking about it, especially as it’s happening because it’s such a burden — to me, to my family, to anyone around me. Talking about it rarely ever seems to help, so this time I clammed up, retreated into myself, and tried to stick myself into the deepest, darkest, coldest corner I could until it eased off. Even that effort bit me on the backside, to some extent. It was hurtful to my wife, and I think maybe even the girls felt it. It’s hard to be sure. When I’m in the middle of a depressive episode, I don’t see or notice much outside my own self-contained misery. I periodically open these little channels to outside information but only just enough so that I can fulfill an obligation here and there, and then I pinch it off again. And as I said, I don’t really talk about it. It’s hard enough just to live with, and through, it.

I don’t know why these depressive episodes hit me when they do. This time it could have been caused by a combination of getting over a head cold and the onset of colder weather plus the stress of work and school obligations. Or not. I’ve had more stressful periods in my life without a depressive episode, so it could just be that my brain chemistry got a little wonky for a couple of days. Whatever the case it seems to be passing now, and I have hope that this weekend may actually be reasonably decent. Even so, I know the depression will still be there, waiting. Even on my best days, I can feel it lurking over me like a specter, like a shadow in my mind. It taints all my best moments, just a little, because I know it’s not a matter of if the depression will come back, it’s just a matter of when.

My medication is a lifesaver, quite possibly literally. With the slight bump in dosage this past spring, I’ve been stabler longer, but even so, there are still these little blue periods, these low points in my mood that seem entirely unavoidable. I dread them, always, but have accepted that they’re just a part of life, part of doing business while traversing this mortal coil, if I may wax poetic for just a moment. I hate that my brain is such a mess most of the time, and one of my greatest fears is that I will pass this curse on to my children. I can only hope that if such a thing happens, I will be able to offer support and empathy to them and help them along through their own times of struggle.

And that’s it for now. I have other things to do, and I can actually breathe a little again, enough to get some of those things done, at least. I don’t talk much about my depression; it’s hard to know who’s actually willing to listen. But I can write about it, and in some ways that’s better, anyway, more therapeutic. If you’ve read all the way through this, then I thank you for taking the time.