Over the past couple of years I have been working on improving my mental health, after years of suffering from anxiety and depression. I plan to be completely transparent about my journey in these posts, because I hope that reading my story will help someone else out there get the help they need.
Below is a Facebook post from November of 2020, which was when I first sought help. I figured sharing that here would be a good place to start. And please, if you are struggling and need help, reach out to someone. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available any time, to anyone. Call 1-800-273-8255 or call, text, or chat 988 from your cell phone.
I’ve never thought I was depressed. I mean, I’ve never had any of those stereotypical episodes where I was unable to get out of bed for days on end, or was unable to go to work or function in my day-to-day life. I more or less successfully navigate a life with two jobs, a business, a family, a couple of hobbies. I’ve never had suicidal thoughts. So, I must not be depressed, right? It must just be the way life is, or a result of getting older, or something like that. And anyway, even if it was something else, I’m not one to reach out for help. Strong, independent woman and all that.
So I am thankful that my doctor’s office called me out of the blue a couple of months ago, letting me know that it had been three years since they last saw me, and if I didn’t make an appointment soon I would be dropped as a patient. If you know me, you know I have a lot of anxiety regarding doctors (which explains the three years). I hesitated, but a little voice in my head, the part of me that desperately wanted help even though I didn’t realize it, screamed at me, “DO IT.” So I did.
And in the couple of weeks between the phone call and the appointment, I made a mental list of the things I wanted to bring up with the doctor. A few physical things – the suspected arthritis in my elbow, the near-constant neck pain (which turned out to be even more arthritis), the shoulder issues I’ve been dealing with on and off for nearly a decade. A flu shot. The usual stuff. And that same little voice in my head told me to add “possible mental health struggles” to the list. But I wrote that in very small, very faint letters on my list. Because I wasn’t sure I’d have the guts to actually bring it up. By the time I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, that line had been fully erased from my list. “Suck it up, Jennifer. You’re fine.”
And then I got in the little room with the nurse and the first thing she did after the usual height, weight, blood pressure was hand me a clipboard with a mental health assessment attached to it. I was stunned and felt like I must have “I NEED HELP” tattooed on my forehead. Was it that obvious? The rational part of my brain realized that it must just be standard procedure for the office. And then the nurse exited the room and told me the doctor would be in shortly. And left me staring at the paper in front of me.
I spent a minute debating how to answer the questions on the screening. Then I decided that this whole thing has pretty much been a sign from the universe that I need to finally address this issue, so I went all in with complete honesty.
When my doctor came in and looked at my answers, she seemed completely unsurprised. She’s known me in a professional and personal capacity for a long time. Through the course of our subsequent conversation I realized she has seen through my coping mechanisms for years. She made me realize that they even were coping mechanisms to begin with. The biggest one? The fact that I’ve been hiding behind my busy schedule. Going back to school, always taking on a new project, the constant go-go-go of my life. It’s all just been a way to avoid being alone with my thoughts. Because sitting in the quiet listening to the shit going on in my brain? That’s the last place I want to be.
I left the office that day with a diagnosis (dysthymia aka persistent depressive disorder, along with some generalized anxiety), a prescription, and hope that things will get better. I’ve been on the meds for about five weeks now. I think they’ve been somewhat helpful so far, but I started at the lowest dose so there will be some tweaking in the future.
I’ve made some other changes as well. I’m trying to get to bed earlier, and I’m occasionally taking melatonin because the sleep issues have been a massive problem. I’ve dabbled in a little meditation, but haven’t been able to make that stick. I’m working on keeping this journal, but that’s sporadic as well. I know that a regular exercise routine would be a big help, but my body has become so intolerant to cold temperatures that I just can’t handle being outside for long walks at this time of year. And I’m not going back to a gym until this pandemic is over. But my Fitbit tells me I walk about 3.5 miles during each of my shifts at Wegmans, so that’s something at least.
Overall, I’d say the biggest benefit to come from this whole experience is that my hopelessness has started to turn the corner. I have genuine hope that I will feel better, that I will start to enjoy things again. It’s a long journey, but I finally feel like I’m ready to face it.