Today I want to talk to all of you about anxiety and depression.
This post is something that I have had on my mind for a really, really long time. For a few years probably, if I”m being honest. I have mentioned this kind of this vaguely in some posts or posted about it indirectly in others, but today I want to be open and honest about it. True to Jordan fashion I’ll probably remain a little vague, but I’ll share the most important facts of my story with you.
Mental illness is a pretty touchy subject for a lot of people. Despite the growing understanding of it in recent years, I think that it still remains a largely taboo subject. I think there are a lot of reasons for this, honestly, but one of them is because mental illness is really hard to understand. And until you’ve dealt with something like anxiety or depression it is really hard to wrap your mind around what it does to your brain. Another thing that makes it hard to understand is that even though there are common symptoms or feelings, it honestly does different things to everybody. But today I want to tell you my story; or give you as much of a glimpse as I can.
I grew up in a family who operates by ignoring the deep issues. My father was severely abused as a child and to this day has never sought any kind of professional help for the things he experienced. We are a farming family: hard workers who believed in getting the job done. Because of these many different factors, any kind of emotional struggles we ever had as children were dealt with with a “get over it” mentality.
Before I continue let me just say that I don’t think this was any fault of my dad or his experiences. Or my mother for that matter. The older that I get the more I realize that the generations before mine simply dealt with hard things that way in general. If there wasn’t a physical problem or a physical way to fix it, then it is easier to forget about it. Box it away in your head. And even though we’ve discovered that this isn’t necessarily healthy, I understand it. Maybe because I was raised that way or maybe because sometimes it just makes sense, there are days when boxing away the emotional baggage is incredibly tempting.
Anyway, with this background as context, this was the mentality I grew up in. Looking back at my childhood now, I recognize one period of time in particular when I was very depressed and needed help and didn’t get it. After this experience, I followed in the tradition of boxing things up. A lot of other factors played into this, factors I won’t get into, but eventually, my mentality was to either deal with my issues by myself or act like they didn’t exist. I didn’t feel like bothering anybody with things because I didn’t like asking for help. I didn’t like inconveniencing anybody with my problems. So if I couldn’t deal with it alone, I simply ignored it.
For me, anxiety and depression go hand in hand. I think that’s the case with a lot of people. (I will also say as a quick aside that there are way more people in this world that deal with anxiety and depression than we even know.) As a general rule, I think I deal with depression more than I deal with anxiety, but anxiety is still very real and usually triggered if I’ve had a bad day depression wise.
All of this information about myself was hard learned. If I’m being completely honest, the words “anxiety” and “depression” did not exist in my vocabulary in reference to myself until I was 19 years old. I was serving my religious mission when all of that happened, which is really where everything came to a head.
I will never forget the moment that I broke.
I remember where I was and who I was with. I remember what time of day it was – 9 p.m. I remember every detail of how it felt. Like a giant cavern had opened inside of me and I was falling inside of it, falling forever and ever and ever and smashing into the sides along the way. After several weeks of intense pressure, one single moment not only cracked open the emotional boxes I’d packed on my mission itself but every emotional box I had ever packed ever. Every single one split wide open all over inside of me.
To date, there have been two such moments in my life when this type of thing happened inside my head. And both times my very first thought was, “Well (insert expletive of choice), this is going to hurt.”
I’m not sure if this practical/joking approach to emotional decimation is healthy, but nevertheless, that’s what my brain decided to say in that moment. The last moment of sanity before the madness, apparently. But I digress.
The aftermath of this first breaking moment was not good, to put it mildly. For months afterward, every moment of my life was a constant battle to try and figure out what was going on inside my head and how to fix it. It was the hardest thing I’d ever dealt with up to that point in my life. Looking back on it now, depression was probably the main thing I was dealing with, but anxiety was close on its heels.
I remember waking up every morning. Waking up was the most horrible thing to ever happen to me for days and days and days. The instant I gained awareness, the dark cloud descended on me again. There was absolutely no escape from it. Have you ever woken up in the morning crying? I wouldn’t recommend the experience. Every single morning was the devastating moment of, “Oh, I’m still here. This is still my reality. I have to do this again.”
Depression is horrible. There’s no way around that. Nobody should have to deal with things like that. Nobody should be trapped inside their own head like that. There is something about depression, about the moments when it is the worst it gets, when you are in the darkest of places, and you sit and realize that nobody is coming to save you, that is one of the worst things a human can experience.
And as hard as it is for those of us on this side of it, it is also incredibly hard for the people who have to watch us go through it.
Because more often than not, they just want to help. They can see the value of life and the potential we have so much more clearly than we can. More than anything they want to be there for us and help us fix it. But when we don’t even understand everything that’s going on in our head, it’s so hard to let others try and figure it out.
For me, one of the hardest things about depression is that even when it is horrible, just downright terrible, and I’m in the midst of that kind of darkness, I still know what all the answers are. I know the value of life, I know there’s a point, I know great things are ahead of me, I know that God has promised me incredible things and that He does not and cannot lie. Everything motivational you could think of, I know. I know all of that. But in those moments that are the darkest of dark: I just don’t care.
And I honestly think that’s the greatest tragedy of all. Just not caring.
When you mix this mental illness that brings you to a state where you truly and honestly do not care with a mental illness that makes you care too much, you’re going to have issues. It is 100% completely immobilizing. And honestly a little bit humiliating. I have a hefty record of canceling plans, being unable to make it to work, and basically avoiding the process of life because of things that are going on inside of my head. It’s frustrating because you want to be fine. You realize how crazy all of it sounds, and that by all accounts you’re completely okay.
It’s hard because on the outside you appear completely fine.
But you’re just not.
To continue with my story, I eventually got things figured out. I say “I” but honestly I was not the one who figured it out. I was surrounded by an army of supportive people who refused to leave me alone, but not in a way that suffocated me. They were simply there. To talk when I needed it, to support me when I needed it, and to cry with me when I needed it. They figured it out for me. They carried me through. They taught me that love is the key.
I wouldn’t say that there just came one day when everything was suddenly okay. Because to this day, I still fight the same battles sometimes. And they are still just as devastating. But I will tell you a few of the things that helped me get to a point where I could entertain the notion of life again.
- When I realized that the things I was dealing with were real, it became easier to move forward. I had spent so much of my life feeling like emotional things were fake, something to be pushed away. But once I came to terms with the fact that it was a real thing it was much easier.
- For a period of time, I allowed myself to embrace the darkness. It is a risky strategy that I’m not sure I’d recommend. But for a moment I let myself be completely immersed in the darkness, I embraced it, I lived in it. The hard thing about this strategy is that it is so easy to get stuck there. But for whatever reason, allowing myself to be in the darkness helped in the end. I didn’t stay there long, not at all, but getting to a point where I could admit the issues with complete honesty and face them head on helped. If you’re going to pull this kind of mental battle, you have to know when to retreat. If you fight it too long really bad things happen. You have to run away from the darkness before you’re ready. If you get too comfortable there that’s not a good thing.
- I had to understand some things about my mind. I had to come to terms with the fact that I am a human being who feels things on an incredibly deep level. That goes for sadness or happiness and everything in between. Once I came to terms with this fact about myself – or was at least aware of it – it became easier to move forward.
- I learned the difference between moving on and moving forward. I learned that “moving on” is pretty much a myth. Sue me, but none of us really ever “move on” from anything. Nobody just forgets completely about the things that happen to them and live life merrily like it never happened. To be honest, I felt dirty. I felt dirty and used after going through all of this. And when you feel dirty and used, moving on isn’t really a thing. You just do your best to move forward and cling to whatever whispers that someday you’ll feel clean again. You move forward, not on.
- Along with this, I had to learn that being beaten up by the world doesn’t make me dirty. For reasons I don’t know, my entire life I’ve thought that if I remained untouched or innocent of certain things in the world then I was clean. But the moment I broke I was dirty, the moment I let the world hurt me I was dirty. To this day I still struggle with this and fall prey to it, but until I began struggling really badly with anxiety and depression I didn’t even know it was a thought pattern that I had. Becoming aware of it made a lot of things a lot clearer.
- I learned to find joy in small or new things. I learned to dig the joy out of small moments. I went on this crusade to discover new things and find the joy in learning and discovery. This discovery of new things to love and find joy in is a great strategy that I still use.
- I learned that sometimes we just have to go for certain things – even if we aren’t ready. A few months after this breaking moment the time came for me to move areas in my mission. I was terrified because even though I’d been struggling so badly, at least everything in my life was familiar. I felt I had come so far and I was scared that a move would take me right back to square one. But even though I wasn’t ready I went forward with faith, and it ended up being one of the best parts of my mission. I didn’t feel ready, I was still so trapped inside my own head, but I went for it anyway.
- I learned to hang on to words. Because my brain/body is so crazy steeped in emotion, I had to learn how to hang on to facts. For me, this came in the form of words. That way, even in the black moments there were words I could remember. As a person who loves words, this was an especially effective strategy for me. Even when I wasn’t feeling great, when my emotions were so dark and so overpowering, I could remember words, comforting words from others or from God, and get through it.
This is definitely my longest post to date, and if you’re still with me, thank you so much. The end of my story is an interesting one. And since I’ve dropped you this novel I’ll give you the short version – I mostly “recovered” from this breaking moment for a few really wonderful months that are very precious to me. I met great people and had so many wonderful adventures. I eventually experienced a relapse, however, and became so ill that I had to return home. I had to sort of begin again with my recovery process, but all the things I had learned about anxiety/depression and myself made it much easier.
Anxiety/depression aren’t things that you ever 100% recover from. They are things that you learn to live with and manage. Some bouts are more serious than others. And you do your best to move forward step by step even if you don’t care, even if you’re surrounded by darkness. Hang on to the words, the facts that you do know. Remember that you aren’t alone, even in the moments when you realize that nobody is there to save you. Because even if you can’t believe or feel that you’re not alone, it is still the truth. That’s the beauty of truth: it is the truth no matter how we’re feeling. That’s been a huge comfort to me in my own journey.