In a recent recording for a yet unaired episode of the Pub podcast, we discussed mental health in graphic novels & web comics. One of the things we celebrated in these works was normalizing these issues and I thought, hey, as a (mostly) reformed sad person, I could talk about my own personal relationship with depression/anxiety on the off chance it helps someone somewhere, even a just little.
My main problem has always been anxiety, something I’m pretty sure is genetic and has no logical cause. Since I was a kid, curbing my anxiety was based on the safety net of my parents and my home. When I would go sleep over at friend’s house, once we laid down at night and everyone fell asleep and I was alone in a strange place, I’d basically have panic attacks. I couldn’t breath and my stomach hurt so bad I would make myself sick. Honestly pretty normal for a little kid, but the trouble was I never grew out of it.
My parents got divorced when I was thirteen, and the safety net of my home/family structure was disrupted allowing my anxiety to run free. I became incredibly depressed and my coping mechanism was joking about suicide. I thought I was being edgy and funny but I wasn’t. I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to process what was happening and a concerned friend alerted a counselor and I wound up in therapy. Once I started talking about the jokes I started to realize I wasn’t exactly joking. No, I didn’t really want to kill myself but I was desperately hurting. Confronting that hurt instead of making light of it (in very poor taste) helped me work through the restructure of my family unit. I got used to two houses, to my parents separation and the safety net was strung back into place. I was in a good headspace for the rest of high school and college. (or as stable as one can be in those tumultuous years)
But when I lived alone for the first time during my early twenties, I unraveled. Now, keep in mind, I hadn’t made the connection between my safety person/safe space and my anxiety yet. I thought I had just been a dependent kid and had simply reacted badly to my parents’ divorce. All around pretty normal behavior.
When I lived alone, my anxiety became overwhelming and frustratingly, it had no cause. My apartment was shitty but it was safe. I had no reason for the panic attacks that at one point plagued me daily. I felt like I was being crushed. I cried on the floor for hours at a time for no reason whatsoever. I would rush to the bathroom to keep the tears back at work. When I was home, I would put Mythbusters on the TV and let it play over and over again every night just for the comfort of something familiar. It eroded me. I found myself going to bed at night and hoping I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. I would never call myself suicidal, I could never imagine inflicting that kind of pain onto my loved ones no matter how much pain I was in, but I recognized I was at a pretty serious stage and decided to get help. I went back into therapy.
Honestly, just having someone tell you that this behavior was normal, that it happened all the time to all kinds of people in all different circumstances was a relief. I mean, of course I logically knew that already, but it made all the difference having someone in a position of authority on the subject confirm it to my face. Slowly, I got a little better. In the meantime I had started dating and eventually moved in with my now boyfriend. Having a safety net restored helped me a lot but it didn’t solve all my problems. It was a band-aid. It had always been a band-aid. I developed stomach issues during my father’s sickness and death, though I hadn’t realized they were connected. They never went away. After every gastrointestinal test under the sun came back normal, over the following years I started to notice a pattern. When I was hyper anxious, my stomach was worse. Travel was a huge trigger, even vacations with my boyfriend were a guarantee for panic attacks and stomach issues. I would get so bloated that I looked nine months pregnant, my skin on my stomach pulled so tight it hurt. Even going to visit my mother had me waking up in the middle of the night, rushing to the bathroom to throw up.
Did you know that if you don’t have enough serotonin in your system, you get anxious? Did you know we have serotonin receptors in our STOMACH? Because I didn’t. I finally sought out a doctor with my hypothesis that my stomach issues were actually anxiety issues and I was right. They put me on medication to help me retain the serotonin I was losing too quickly and it was amazing how quickly things changed. I could have been angry if I wasn’t so relieved. All this time, all these problems, and a little white pill once a day made my life manageable again. Sure, I still get anxious sometimes, but it’s nothing like it once was.
Long story short, it does get better. Don’t give up, and don’t be afraid to get professional help. Medication is sometimes necessary and there’s nothing shameful in that. If you’re struggling, you are most certainly not alone. <3