MHAM Post #16: Hope

I met Hope, the writer of this piece, when we were in middle school. We were, I don’t know, 14 maybe? To this day, I still remember how, when we first met, I thought she had it all together.

No one has it all together, obviously, that’s the whole point of these posts this month. But it’s just so interesting that you still can’t help but assume that about people sometimes. 

Hope has been one of my friends for a very long time now. She’s the kind of person who I used to spend every second of every day with, and I’d still never get sick of her. But even now, we can go months without talking, and the minute we do, it feels like we picked up right where we left off.

That’s something I really appreciate about her. I think there’s a kind of unspoken understanding between the two of us. We just know how each other’s brains work, like we’re on the same wave length or something. 

I know being vulnerable isn’t always Hope’s favorite thing, but I think she’s such a talented writer that I just had to ask for her help this month. She writes in a way that makes people who can’t understand, understand. That’s what I enjoy most about this piece. It’s not as much about specific experiences, as it is about making a concept make sense to others. 

I’m sure all of you will get as much out of this as I did. Check it out: 

I am not generally an open person. It takes a lot for even those I am closest with to truly get me to open up. In fact, I am having a hard time even writing this because of the sheer idea that someone who doesn’t know me will read this and I’ll be exposed in a very vulnerable way. But I have faith in the idea behind why I’m writing this and because of the fact that it might make even one person more comfortable with themselves, or help them realize that there are so many (normal) people who have these types of feelings/problems/issues – whatever you want to call it – that helps a little bit.

I found out about anxiety when I was much younger, although at the time I didn’t have the explanation for it that I do now. I do remember waking up suddenly in the middle of the night, not able to take a full breath, feeling like the walls were closing in. I remember feeling a terrible pit in my stomach, a feeling I have become quite familiar with, thinking that there must be something wrong but for some reason not being able to recognize just what I was so fearful of. I often feel that when people think of anxiety, they immediately associate that word simply with worry. I can’t tell you the frustrating amount of times I’ve been on the other end of, “Well why are you so worried? Just calm down.” If that was a viable solution, I would have been cured years ago! The best way that I can describe anxiety in my case (disclaimer: not the same for everyone) is an overwhelming sense of fear. It’s a fear in the worst way, because you’re not even sure what it’s really of, and in the rare case that I can pinpoint it, it’s usually something that I know in my brain isn’t valid, or even something that warrants this type of reaction. The part that separates anxious people from those who aren’t is that even though you know and can tell yourself you shouldn’t feel a certain way, it will never help or cause it to go away.

On good days, panic attacks are just a few minutes long, they’re slow to come on and I can recognize hours beforehand that they’re creeping their way up to the surface. On the worst day, my calcium levels spiked from breathing so hard and fast that my hands froze up in a weird position that resembles claws, my muscles in my face became paralyzed and my speech became slurred because my jaw went numb (my mom thought I was having a stroke and took me to the ER – a fun day). There are some days where my biggest success has been getting out of bed. There are periods when I go days or weeks being physically and emotionally exhausted from having constant feelings of anxiousness and depression all day, every day. It’s during those times that I can feel myself becoming disinterested and detached from everything around me because it’s so much easier to just go home and wait it out. *Note: I have found it hard to explain to someone that the reason you’re so tired is because of worrying so hard. Although it is a mental issue, the effects manifest themselves physically because your brain feels like it is on a constant treadmill of fear and worry. Something that may seem so minor to someone else, becomes a giant source of gut wrenching uneasiness, which branches into 100 different little anxieties which all bubble up until they become as horrible and thought consuming as the first.

There have been times when I was so scared to get on the train or in my car, I couldn’t go to work. I’ve counted down the seconds to leave a meeting because I know that for whatever reason, any second I might start hyperventilating and crying for no reason at all. It’s a terrible feeling when you have to explain to someone that you “just feel off” but have no good explanation as to why. What does that even mean? To someone else it may seem that I’m just feeling too lazy to carry through on our plans and am blowing them off. But to me, it means that at that moment, the only safe haven that I have is home because at least there I can curl up in a ball until I feel normal again.

In the grand scheme of things, I am so lucky to be who I am and have all that I have-my health, friends, family, the list goes on. In some moments, in the midst of a panic attack or a particularly depressing episode it’s hard to recognize all of the things that I should be grateful for. Some days it’s much easier to focus on the negatives which can drown all of the good out. Treading through the topic that is mental health (that even today has such negative connotations and at times, very little understanding throughout society) is a confusing and painstaking process. I’ve only just recently found a medication and the right dose of it that works for me, and that’s after many years of visiting doctors and talking to professionals.

My hope is that with more open dialogue and open minds, people will feel more comfortable talking about these issues and that society will become more receptive to learning about them.

MHAM Post #5: Allie

Usually when I describe joking about my darkest moments with friends, I am referring to Allie (better known to me as Mcveety). She’s the person who always helps me lighten the mood with a laugh. She gets me on a wave length that not many do, and I’m so lucky for that. 

When I thought about making this month a collaborative project, Mcveety is one of the first people I asked to help. Something in me just knew she’d have a good experience to write about.

In her piece she talks about what her diagnoses mean to her. She also shares a harsh wake-up call she recently experienced, and how it has influenced her outlook moving forward.

I am happy to share her words here: 

Anxiety is, two hours ago, having to call your mom from where you were pulled over on the side of the road to talk you off the ledge because you could feel a panic attack coming on. Anxiety is your mom having to come home early from work to find you in the fetal position on the kitchen floor, unable to tell her what’s wrong. Anxiety is, at 7 years old, laying awake the entire night because every single little noise you hear you HAVE to go make sure your little brother is still alive and well in the next room, because you are deathly afraid something will happen to him. Anxiety is having a half hour conversation with a professor and not remembering what was said because you were in the middle of a panic attack and you tend to black out during your worst ones.

I do notice that I referenced my mom a lot. Other than the fact that she is my favorite person in the entire world and I literally couldn’t function on this earth without her (no literally like she fills out my FASFA for me), she has – earlier than I can even remember – always encouraged me to express my feelings. She has always made me feel that my feelings are valid, simply because that’s the way I feel. No other proof or evidence needed. That’s why, growing up, I never understood this unnecessary stigma against mental health issues. I literally came out of the womb with mental health issues. Like I wouldn’t be shocked if I was birthed and looked at my mom and said “girl u fucked”. But my mom never made me feel like it was something that made me different. It was the just the way I am.  And I truly never realized that not everyone else was like me.

Entering my spring semester of my second year of grad school, I slipped into a very deep depression. My grades were slipping, I never showed up to clinic, I was constantly crying. The catalyst was a breakup with a boy I had real feelings for. I couldn’t recognize my self worth. I didn’t understand why I felt the way I felt and he didn’t feel the same way about me (I have now subsequently realized that he MUST be gay, because I am an ethereal goddess with zero flaws). This is NOT an excuse for my depression – it is simply just what set me off. This large event had happened, and I was alone in Connecticut, a place I knew I would not thrive and didn’t belong, and I was just stuck.

However, I had been this low before, so I knew the actions I needed to take. I called my therapist and started back up with my weekly sessions, and I expressed to my primary care doctor that I wanted to start back up on my anti depressants and anti anxiety medication. I was extremely proud of myself that even at my lowest of lows, I took action. I did something to make myself stronger. 

After taking all of the above necessary steps, I also scheduled a meeting with one of my clinical supervisors to explain why I had not been at my best. When I thought I was in a safe, judgement free zone, I explained to my clinical supervisor what was happening in my personal life. I explained in detail what I was going through, how low I was feeling, and that I was finally taking steps to correct it. 

What she said to me next was when I realized that not everyone in the world is as understanding as my mother. She looked at me in the eyes, after I had spent the last 45 minutes inconsolable in her office, and stated, “everybody has mood swings”. Frankly, I was appalled at her behavior. Here I am, genuinely spilling my heart out across her desk, and she had the audacity to equate my clinical depression with MOOD SWINGS. 

Now, I have had my fair share of mood swings before. I am a girl, I have a period every month, I am also a self proclaimed drama queen. Hell, I have fucking mood swings every day when I get slightly hungry. Mood swings are not – by any means in the history of all the world – equivalent to your depression. If you are suffering, there is something that I need you to know: OTHER PEOPLE ARE NOT IN CHARGE OF TELLING YOU HOW YOU FEEL. YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID BECAUSE THEY ARE YOUR FEELINGS. 

My professor’s words were shocking to me. They literally rocked me to my core. But after a long time and a lot of self reflection, I began to legitimately feel sorry for her. And frankly, for her children. I am sorry that your daughter will never feel like she can come to you crying and not know why she is sad. I am sorry that you feel the need to belittle the feelings of others, simply because you do not understand them. I am truly sorry.

In a way, I needed this experience. I needed the experience because it helped me be not only more in touch with my attitude toward mental health, but it honestly and truly helped me be a better friend as well. This woman did not understand what I was going through, so she squashed my feelings like a bug. I do not ever want anyone else to feel the way that I felt that day. Your feelings are valid because they are yours.

Check out Allie on social media:
Twitter: @McTweeetMe
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nstagram: @mcveetz