People close to me know that I have battled depression and anxiety for a long time and have been on anti-depressants for five years now.
Recently, a friend came to me confessing they had been suffering from depression and anxiety for years and were now at their lowest point. They had never told anyone because of the immense shame and humiliation they felt. This person had everything going for them, and had hidden their problems so well, I was stunned. I was honored they trusted me to help them, and although it was incredibly hard and broke my heart to see them in so much pain, I wanted to do everything I could to help them. It also really got me thinking about the stigma attached to this, which prevents people from getting the help they need. And unless you’ve been through this, it’s almost impossible to understand how it feels.
There is a lot of misinformation about people who suffer from depression and anxiety:
— Depression means sadness.
— We aren’t strong or resilient.
— We can’t get out of bed or function.
— Anxiety means constant panic attacks.
When you’re depressed, you’re not always sad. Most of the time it’s a feeling of emptiness, of nothing. You feel like a shell of a person. And anxiety doesn’t mean you’re riddled with panic attacks. Some people are, or some people just have them now and again. More accurate, anxiety is constant worry, ruminating, nervousness, catastrophising, doing the “what if” dance, etc. And being depressed doesn’t mean you’re less than because you can’t “get over it,” or “move on” or “pick yourself up by your bootstraps.” As the friend that helped me said, “If you have diabetes you wouldn’t’ not take insulin. Or if you had needed a pacemaker, you wouldn’t not get one put in.”
As a society, we need to change how we look at this and the people who suffer with it. Some of the most influential, successful and innovative people in the world have depression and anxiety. In fact, it is rampant in the entrepreneurial community. And business owners have even greater fears of admitting they struggle, because they worry their colleagues and clients won’t see them as capable. Which sounds crazy, because entrepreneurs are the most productive people you will ever meet. They can get more done in one hour than most can in one day.
People with depression and anxiety:
— Feel a lot of shame that they can’t just feel better on their own.
— Have their self-confidence and self-worth take a major beating.
— Feel guilty and worry they might be a burden to their loved ones.
— Hate that they can’t just “be happy” like others around them.
— Don’t understand why they feel this way if things in their life are good.
— Feel very lonely and isolated.
And they have a lot of fears about medication:
— They will never find the right medication.
— The medication will change their personality.
— They will gain weight, lose their sex drive and not be able to have an orgasm.
— They will be a zombie, not feeling anything.
I had all of these fears and more. I fought going on medication for a long time, because I didn’t want to have to rely on a pill to make me feel better (or normal, whatever that is). I didn’t know of one person that had had a successful experience with anti-depressants. Instead, I heard all the horror stories. I did everything I could think of so I wouldn’t need medication—exercise, yoga, cleanses, therapy, supplements, acupuncture and more. But I continued to spiral and my therapist strongly urged I consider anti-depressants. So I reached out to a friend who was very educated in this field and I did a ton of research and made sure I saw a psychiatrist—not a regular general practitioner.
I was convinced meds wouldn’t work for me; I remember having a full-blown breakdown in the shrink’s parking lot, holding my prescription. I couldn’t believe it had all come to this. But I knew I had tried everything and continuing to suffer like this wasn’t an option. So I took the meds. And felt better very quickly, with very little side effects. It was a miracle. But it’s important to point out that medication, on its own, is not the answer. Yes, it’s a game-changer, but you have to do the hard work in order to have it work. Which means making life changes, going to therapy, understanding what your triggers are, getting enough sleep, exercise and eating well.
The people that have the most success with medication do the following:
— Seek out help.
— Get a full panel of blood work (especially Vitamin D, Iron, Zinc, Thyroid, Estrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone).
— Do research and understand the difference between SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and SSRIs (Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors).
— Are 100% honest with their doctors.
— See a psychiatrist for medication, not their general practitioner.
— Understand that medication won’t fix everything. They have to get to the root of their suffering and make the necessary changes.
— Put their mental and emotional health above all else by making difficult choices and sacrifices.
— Do not let the advice of people who have not been through what they are going through impact them.
— Surround themselves with supportive and loving people. People who give and not just take.
I spent a lot of time wishing all of this away. Wishing I could be more happy-go-lucky like my husband or some of my friends. Wishing I wasn’t so affected by things. But I don’t do that anymore. This is part of who I am, for better or worse. Having suffered from depression and anxiety has made me a deeply compassionate and empathic person. It’s made me work harder for the things that I know will fulfill me. It’s driven me to always see how I can make something better. It’s made me stop and smell the roses and appreciate the small things. It’s part of the reason I’ve had so many success in my career and running marathons for a decade.
And that friend I helped? Is the happiest, calmest most content they’ve ever been.
If you suffer from depression and anxiety do not let shame and humiliation prevent you from getting the help you need. Whether this comes from childhood trauma, neurotransmitter or hormone imbalance, postpartum issues, thyroid or adrenal issues, this is not your fault. Do not continue to spend your life just trying to get through the days, or just enduring. Life is too precious, too short and too sweet.