“I have anxiety and depression.”
I used to say those words every time I met with a new physician. The secretary would hand me the clipboard with the checklist of mundane details I needed to share before being allowed to cross the threshold into Doctorville. Anxiety and depression were always checked.
I had a “breakdown” at the age of 22.
That word might mean different things to everyone, but here is what it means to me.
I went from a smart young woman to one who could not collect a thought in what felt like hours. I did not have any outward physical symptoms; they were all in my head. I tried to form sentences and found myself unable to piece them together. It happened so suddenly. I did not understand what was going on, and the fear made my head swirl more and more. The fear only gave the feelings momentum. I sat in my room waiting to feel better, but I didn’t.
I was living with my best friend at the time, and she was downstairs watching TV. I was so afraid to walk downstairs and tell her what was happening. I’m not sure how long I waited until I was able to open the door and stand on the landing of our townhouse. I started to cry.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I sobbed.
She was taken by surprise and chuckled, “What do you mean?”
“I can’t think.”
I honestly don’t remember exactly what else was said during that conversation. I just remember feeling afraid and wanting to go home to my family 2,000 miles away.
I caught a flight the next day and returned to upstate New York to spend some time with my family.
I didn’t know if I was going to be able to handle being surrounded by people. I thought if I told anyone what was going on inside my head, they would put me in a mental hospital. The harder I tried to pull it together, the worse it got. I didn’t know what to say to anyone. I felt like I was going crazy… literally. I was afraid of the chaos in my own head. It was like having a million thoughts and not being able to sort them out.
During the three hour drive from the airport, I didn’t say much to my Dad; which was extremely unusual for me. I got in to see a doctor days later, even though I was still scared I might have to go to the hospital. She asked what had been going on. I was very selective in the words I used as I explained. I never let anyone know how much I was drinking or how many other drugs I was doing. It was irrelevant; so I thought. I didn’t want a lecture about drinking and drugs. I just wanted to feel better. Sedatives and antidepressants did that for me…for a little while anyway.
It took me almost eight more years to make the connection between the drinking and drugs and my mental health.
I truly thought they were helping me to stay sane and getting me through those tough days. During those years I tried a variety of prescription anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, of course, on top of all the recreational stuff I was taking. Since I’ve been sober, and had consistent doctor appointments sharing honestly, I have not needed any medication for depression or anxiety.
The cycle of addiction coupled with mental illness can be painful and miserable. It can feel impossible to stop. I made the decision to stop it, to be honest about it with my doctor, and that has opened the door to a beautiful freedom.