It’s a fair question from those who don’t know what it’s like when depression and anxiety come calling. It’s been chipping away at me for some time, a few years and really only hit me so very hard in the last three years. A bit like going 15 rounds with a boxer and then finding out there’s no end after the 15th. You’re being battered and sometimes knocked out, but you go again.
When I feel myself go, it’s almost like you feel the mood ebbing away from you, negative feelings and thoughts grow, just very slowly. Then before you know it, you’re gripped and in the clutches of depression.
A friend and fellow sufferer calls it ‘A Sneaky Bastard of an Illness’ and she’s absolutely spot on with that. When you are paying attention, you feel it just creeping up on you, the way your mood starts to slip, your mind starts to react negatively, the body loses energy and you start to think that you could do with a sleep. Whatever you were doing will keep until later or tomorrow.
I call it The Slide. To me, it best represents the feeling of the ground tilting, you’re slipping and trying to grab a hold but it’s getting harder to stay still. Lots of things to do at this point, like walking, mindfulness techniques, breathing. Sometimes they just can’t stop it.
When in that place, you lose the will to communicate, you find it hard to concentrate and your mind ruminates (constantly regurgitating the same negative thoughts). You may be anywhere, surrounded by people but you feel isolated, alone, cut adrift. There is no energy, no will to do anything, no real spark as you just try to keep going.
It’s such a lonely place to be, dark with a sense of ominous foreboding. Nothing, just nothing will be right and can be right, even if it was there is no energy to deal with anything right now but you know that crap is not far away. It has your name and is addressed to you.
I haven’t been badly anxious for a while but it does come along and grip you in a most dramatic way. The mind is racing with all sorts of thoughts. Things you haven’t done and need to do right away, things you did in 1993 and still haven’t apologised to that poor person yet, that bill you haven’t paid and someone is going to come round to your house to take everything, including the kids. It’s all going wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it now.
What about your bank balance? Have you checked if that invoice was paid to you? Some business man you are. Get up now and check it you waste of skin before the sky falls on our heads and it will be your fault when it does! GET UP! MOVE! SORT IT! JUST DO SOMETHING!
This dialogue is intense and for me, it’s usually as I’m trying to sleep. There is no way to sleep when you’re in that state and you toss, turn, make noises, all the while breathing is getting shorter, heart pumping fast and very loudly.
You can feel the anxiety build throughout your body too. Everything is tight, your hunched, shoulders bunched, stomach feels knotted and seems like every muscle is tensed, ready for action. You find it hard to sit still, to concentrate and focus. That is exactly what you must do – concentrate, focus, breathe.
Put the anxiety and depression together and you get such differing feelings that is the worst double whammy. On one hand, you have depression saying ‘Leave me alone, I can’t handle this, I’m useless, I’m so tired’ and anxiety comes bursting in with ‘You’ve got to move and sort this out now, this minute, this second or the world is going to fall. You’re going to lose everything and it will be all your fault if you don’t get off your arse right now!’
Pulled in two different directions, the feeling of dejection and a fight / flight response that just sucks you down into helplessness all the more quickly. You’re stuck in the swamp, feet can’t move and you know, just know that you need to get to the other side to put out all the fires that only you can do and you just can’t be bothered. You feel useless, alone, trapped, isolated and ready for your own personal Armageddon.
Yet, some people think that it is not debilitating, all you need is to get going, a kick up the butt, just pull yourself together. Try saying that to someone with emphysema, heart disease, MS – just pull yourself together, get over it. Doesn’t make sense, right?
That’s anxiety and depression. It’s a Sneaky Bastard of an Illness.