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My Anxiety And Depression Are Coming On Strong

I am crying a lot and am consumed by sadness. So here's what I did.

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illustration of woman helping another woman free herself from anxiety
Marta Monteiro
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Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help.

I have been sober for nine years. Depression and anxiety come and go, and right now they are coming on strong. I can’t keep up with life. I am crying a lot but only in private: in my bedroom at home, on the short drives to pick up my kids from practice or in the locked bathroom stall at work. I am consumed by sadness.

The laundry is piling up. The bills haven’t been paid. I am not sleeping, and I am either not eating at all or binge eating cookie dough and potato chips. I enjoy my kids and my workouts, but everything else feels so heavy and unbearable. I am so overwhelmed by my to-do lists that I simply ignore them altogether. My phone won’t stop beeping and ringing, and I daydream about throwing it on the floor and stomping on it — over and over and over again — so that the messages and calls and responsibilities stop. I want to scream “LEAVE ME THE F--- ALONE!” But I don’t. Not out loud, anyway. I scream it in my head loudly and angrily. On the outside, I smile and nod and answer the calls and respond to the texts. I show the world what they are used to seeing. What they want to see. What I want to be. Happy me. Peaceful me. Healthy me. My face and my smile and my words say that I am fine. But I am not. I don’t dare let others know what’s going on in my sick head because I know it isn’t normal, whatever that means. What I do know, however, is that it feels real and raw, and that I need help. I am not sure what exactly that help looks like, but I know I need it.

Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help.

When I was in rehab over nine years ago, they told me to never be afraid to ask for help. They told me to ask for help when life or my responsibilities or the world got too heavy. They told me that if I didn’t ask for help, I might drink again. They made it sound so easy. As if I could just wave a white flag in the air and life would magically slow down — because I needed it to. As if I could take a brief retreat and hire someone to help with my laundry and cleaning and maternal responsibilities while I headed off on a retreat without a worry in the world. I wish it were that easy.

But that isn’t how it works. Asking for help is hard. Really hard. And it’s scary, probably because I don’t even know what I am asking for specifically. I just know I need to get IT — the sadness and the being overwhelmed and the anxiety — out of my head and into spoken words. I know that if I don’t, I may drink. Or I may self-destruct in other ways (I suppose I have already started that process). Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. Lucky for me, the pain of staying in this place of isolation and sadness is indeed greater than the pain of asking for help.

I need help. I need help. I need help.

I speak the words unapologetically. I tell my doctor and my mom and my sisters. I tell my AA sponsor and my boss and my ex-husband. Once I start to speak about my declining mental health, I can’t stop. I have been hiding behind a facade of happiness and only now realize how exhausting and defeating that is. I speak my truth and I immediately feel lighter and less alone.

And here’s what happens: The IT — the sadness and the anxiety — starts working its way out of my head and into my spoken words. With each conversation I have, and with the compassionate responses of others, I learn more about what I need, and I ask for it. Speaking leads to more speaking, knowing and asking — asking for the help I need. It’s as if my symptoms suddenly know exactly what I need. They speak to me, and once I start to speak of them (rather than hide them in shame), they lessen.

I still don’t know what I need in a week or a month or a year, but I know what I need during each conversation I have. I need a week off from work. I tell my doctor, who provides a medical note, and my employer accepts it without question. “Take care of yourself. We will be fine,” my boss says. I tell my ex-husband I need some extra help with the kids. “Of course. Whatever you need,” he says. “I had no idea you were struggling in this way.” I need a shoulder to cry on, and my sisters and mom deliver. I need AA meetings, and even though it is hard as hell to go back to a meeting after months of not going, I walk into that church basement and immediately feel at peace.

I ask for help, and it is hard. But it is easier than pretending. Pretending takes a lot of energy. And it is easier than my mind told me it was going to be. People don’t laugh or scoff or make me feel like I am failing at life. Everyone I reach out to answers my cry for help with love and compassion.

And now I sit, comfortable on my couch, with some time off from work and a commitment to do my part to help myself. I am better. Not great. But better.

Do any of you suffer from anxiety or depression? How do you cope? Let us know in the comments below.
 

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