I’m writing this while I feel good because frankly that could go away at any moment so much so that I don’t even want to tell anyone I feel better for fear of thinking too much about it and letting it all go to shit.
So I went/have been going through a bout of anxiety and depression. When I feel calm it’s hard to believe how intense it felt. In sharing a conversation she had with my little brother, Savannah said she hadn’t realized how bad it was until she saw me, and felt like she was talking to a shell of Heidi. Even writing that now I start to tear up because that’s exactly how I felt. Detached from all the things that make me me. The things I enjoy, the things I am passionate about, the causes I’m invested in, the foods I eat, the drinks I drink, shows I watch, books I love—none of it brought comfort. I was with people I loved but I felt alone, and scared. It felt like I had submerged and might never resurface despite my mom’s continued reassurance that I WOULD get through it.
She was right. Feeling that way isn’t sustainable. Our most base inclination is to survive and live. This is not to say that people who suffer and struggle to fulfill those basic instincts do not question their existence and mortality, but in general having time to experience existential dread is often a luxury. Or maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what it felt like. And that felt even worse.
I don’t particularly want to get into the particulars of why everything came crashing down and felt so terrible because I’ll just start over thinking again. For me it was because everything around me was changing and I felt like I was standing still. Some of the changes I’m honestly not sure about, they could lead to more changes, changes that would effect the trajectory of my life which makes me think “what is the trajectory of my life? what do I want?” and so on and so forth. So yeah, what those particulars are don’t really matter, the point is they sent me into an existential crisis where everything felt simultaneously pointless and terrifying. I’m not used to feeling that way so I exhausted all my resources, some things helped, some didn’t. It also made me think about how I’ve managed to (sort of) manage my anxiety up until now through controlling my environment and life in general. So I thought I’d write a blog about what helped, things people said that made me feel a spasm of relief and some bleak realities. I know depression is different for everyone so this is what helped me specifically and it may not apply to everyone.
First and foremost, these spells don’t last. Even in speaking to my friends with clinical depression they assured me that the worst of it will pass. I’m not going to quote anyone by name out of respect for their privacy but in reference to this I was told, “the routines of life will get you through it”. I personally couldn’t follow any routines at first, but that’s because I set my own hours and schedule, as soon as I forced myself to work I felt if nothing else calmed by the normality of accomplishing tasks.
Because I was blindsided by bad feeling and hadn’t experienced it much before I wanted it to be OVER. I would sit, sobbing to my mom or Aaron saying “I just want not to feel like this”. Welp, bad news is you have to. You have to let yourself feel what you’re feeling, and in the words of another friend “hunker down until it passes”. I was bad at this. Really bad at this. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or do anything really to allow myself some relief so finally I took a sleeping pill. I non habit forming one because my brain needed to be able to shut down. I did this a few different nights and it was helpful. Because there’s nothing you can do really, that feeling isn’t rational which brings me to my next point.
You aren’t being rational. There were so many moments where I said to myself “you are at your MOST sane right now and that’s why everything feels awful.” I get what I was trying to say to myself, that by acknowledging the nebulous nature of life I was being sane. But it’s not sane to feel pointless—see earlier when I talk about what our most basic instincts are.
What I determined my main point is, is human connection. To quote Aaron: “You have to choose to prioritize the immediate experience of life for you and the people you care about. That’s the only way we have to engage with the world.” He was right.
I used my online therapist A LOT, here’s a link if you’re at all interested: https://www.talkspace.com/invite/249301. I wrote her daily, multiple times, crazy things, constantly. Video chatting with your therapist is usually an additional cost but she set up video chats with me anyways, left me voice messages, trying to offer me relief as immediately and comprehensively as possible. There was no relief for a while, but I felt reassured that I had a mental health professional on my side.
I told everyone. I’m not sure this is totally advisable because then everyone keeps asking how you are doing which reminds you that you aren’t doing well but every single person was sympathetic and wanted to drop everything and help me pretty much. I told my family, my boss, my friends, strangers, clients, everyone. Particularly with work this meant I was cut some slack so I could take some time to get back on my feet. My family was just there. My mom came over and promised me that life had passed slowly enough for her, she brought me to her home and put me in a hot tub and got me to eat the first full meal I’d had in days. My sister came over and was just with me. Then when I insisted she leave and I’d be okay, she still paid for an uber to bring me back to her house later that evening where a childhood friend came over and stroked my hair while telling me about getting through her own depression. Aaron was with me for 6 days straight just being next to me, even through me questioning whether we’d have to split up. He told me I’d get through it, he talked to me like I was a normal, he didn’t feel sorry for himself or project or anything. He was just there. People wrote me messages, called me, checked in constantly. Even though I felt nothing, somewhere in my mind I knew this was important. I knew I had people who wouldn’t let me drown alone. And every time one of them told me it would be okay, I had a moment’s relief. I am so grateful for my support system, and I can’t emphasize the importance of having one and leaning into it HARD even if it feels pointless.
I forced myself to eat. I let people know I was having trouble eating so they’d make sure I forced myself to eat in case I decided to stop completely. With my meals I tried implementing some natural supplements to help with my anxiety and depression. I take a magnesium calming powder in the morning with water. I try to take it in the evening too, or a sleepy time tea. I have holy basil, cayenne pills, and vitamin D to take with food. Food is medicine, I wasn’t really using it that way because honestly I just needed to eat whatever didn’t make me gag but in general diet matters for that reason. You can make your body and mind feel better when you take care of yourself.
I eventually had to abandon exercise because of the last bullet point, but I have immediately gotten back into it with the return of my appetite. Endorphins make you feel better, they just do. I hiked for an hour yesterday and did weights for 20min today, it’s not much but it’s something. If I’m going to be alive, I want that to be quality.
This blog is for highly sensitive people but I feel like it has a ton of great tips in general for mental wellness. So check it out: 43 Self Care Tips for Highly Sensitive People.
I stopped drinking. Drinking made me feel better in the moment but it made me feel worse later.
Don’t make any decisions or drastic changes. I am quoting a friend who quoted a sermon so I am going to butcher this but when you set off on a long journey you charter that journey first, and when your ship hits a storm you don’t recharter simply because you’re like HOLY SHIT I AM DROWNING, you wait for it to clear and then reassess.
Get bloodwork done. Sometimes it’s your thyroid, or a vitamin D deficiency and what is the point of feeling like a trash person when it might literally be your physical health and totally treatable.
Don’t focus on how you feel, just allow the feelings to be. I am terrible at this, a total overthinker. But if I think about how bad I feel I just feel worse. And if I notice that I feel good I start to overthink that too. JUST STOP IT.
Medication is an option. If we treated physical illness the way we treated mental illness it would be absurd. I’m trying some anxiety medication at such a low dose I can’t notice much of a difference, and if this persists I may try something stronger. I don’t feel bad or concerned about it. If I don’t like it I can stop. So many people walk around with anxiety and depression and don’t even entertain the idea of medication because of stigma, but I have talked to a crap load of people who love their medicine. They get to feel normal, connected and happy because of it. Don’t write it off. You aren’t a failure because you take medicine. I’m not like “I AM A FAILURE BECAUSE I CAN’T BEAT THIS HANG OVER HEADACHE”, I take advil and go on with my life because my head is no longer pounding. It allows me to do what I need to do. So really, who cares.
BREATHE. Technique from my therapist:
This technique can be used in conjunction with anchoring or on its own. Anchor first. On your next in-breath, count up to 6 as you breathe all the way in, and then on the out-breath, count up to 10 as you breathe all the way out. This technique has the effect of lengthening both the in-breath and the out-breath, slowing down your breathing. It also lengthens the out-breath more than the in-breath, forcing you to release more carbon dioxide, slowing your heart rate, calming you down and restoring emotional equilibrium.
Make sure you fit the numbers to your breath and not the other way around. If 6 and 10 don’t work for you, find another ratio that does, as long as the out-breath is at least two counts longer than the in-breath. If it’s too hard to continue breathing while counting, count for one full breath, then take one normal breath and count the next one.
If you feel very panicked and can’t manage the counting, say “in” to yourself as you breath in, and “out” as you breathe out fully, trying to elongate the out-breath. Then again, say “in” on the in breath etc. Keep going for at least one minute but go for as long as you need. I have used this technique very successfully myself to ward off impending panic attacks in the middle of the night.
Techniques for staying present:
Focus on what’s right in front of you. Or around you. Or on you. Use your senses. Just look at what’s right in front of you right now. Listen to the sounds around you. Feel the fabric of your clothes and focus on how they feel.
Focus on your breathing. Take a couple of dozen belly breaths and just focus your mind on your inhaling and exhaling. This will align you with the present moment once again.
Focus on your inner body. This is a bit similar to focusing on your breathing. In both examples you focus on what’s inside you rather than the outside. What is the inner body? Well, I guess you could say it is energy inside of your body. How your body feels from the inside.
A practical way to do this just to focus on your hand. To just put your focus there and feel how the hand feels to you and how the energy is flowing through it. This may sound a bit weird to the mind. But if you actually try it a few times you’ll probably find that inner energy within your hand.
Create a reminder. Being present can be really difficult and sometimes you need a little (or big) nudge to remind yourself to stay in the moment. So create different types of reminders: sticky notes, desktop backgrounds, alarms on my phone, etc. Creating these is simple enough and it’s so helpful when it comes to staying on track.
I feel like this was kind of all over the place but these are the things that helped. I still feel weird, it takes a while to shake off an existential crisis and I’m sure it’ll happen again but now I feel better equipped to handle it.
HOPE THIS HELPS.