Being a natural people-pleaser, at some point fairly early on in my life I must have extended an overly warm Southern welcome to twin sisters anxiety and depression, because one of my very first memories (at age TWO) is of “being sad.”
In the memory, my world was a dark slate blue and grey. I was crying. My mom said it was because she had taken a nap and I wanted her to come change my diaper (I must have really tuckered her out for her not to have heard me wailing!). But I remember the feeling lasting far longer than the five minutes or so she said it took her to mobilize to my crib-side.
What is truly remarkable about this experience is that, once my anorexia began to manifest around age 10 and a half, my memories become spotty in comparison with my younger brother’s.
He remembers so many details while most of my memories have been rekindled only after looking at family photo albums or being “prompted” with the retelling of family stories.
But I remember feeling sad. I remember I was two. I remember the world was blue and grey. And I remember feeling totally cold…and alone.
As I shared in part one of this post, over the years, anxiety and depression have come to visit me often. Each time one arrives, I think, “Oh this one is the worst. This time I am going to fall down the well of whichever-one-it-is for good.”
But then its twin arrives – no doubt jealous of all the attention its sibling is receiving. So let’s say anxiety arrives first, and by the time depression shows up on the scene, my whole body is vibrating with anxiety.
Depression almost seems like a caped rescuer, flying in to stamp down HARD on anxiety and drive it underground.
Before long, depression has overtaken my awareness instead. I go deeper, deeper, deeper…until anxiety, jealous due to my inattentiveness, jumps on the other end of the seesaw and catapults depression into the anxious heights of oblivion.
And this is how these two seem to work in my life. I have heard there is a technical term for this – “cyclical anxiety and depression” (seems accurate) – but focusing on terminology or diagnoses is not what has helped me to overcome the influence of each, and both.
What has helped me is a seemingly inborn drive to help myself.
I am just so practical in this way – whether because of personality, temperament, upbringing, or a combination thereof – and once I got over feeling intimidated by the sheer presence of anxiety and depression, I just wanted to figure out what I could do to ease my need for them (and I say this because, in my personal experience of anxiety and depression, over the years I have come to believe I have become habituated to needing them in certain situations, just as I at one time became habituated to turning to eating disordered thoughts and coping behaviors to deal with certain life situations and had to work hard to replace the eating disorder with other, more health- and life-affirming coping skills).
In terms of what works to effectively ease anxiety and depression, over the years I have tried many things. One thing I have learned is to act quickly, because since I cycle between anxiety and depression, if I wait too long to address one, the other will come to replace it.
Another thing I have learned is that if something doesn’t work, there is always something else. Get up, and try, try again.
I have learned that complaining excessively (this is different from simply sharing that I am struggling) about my anxiety and depression to caring friends or family members is not helpful to anyone. They no more understand why I have either, or what to do to make them go away, than I do, and they are at risk of becoming anxious or depressed too if I share too much about how miserable they make me. That is the last thing any of us needs!
I have learned, however, that asking for HELP from friends and family is helpful, especially if I can be specific. Whether I need financial assistance, to watch a funny movie together, or something else, over the years I have discovered that uttering the phrase “I need your help” usually returns the response “What do you need?” and the requested help will quickly follow.
I have also learned that the internet is a wonderful thing, as is speaking to other depression and anxiety sufferers, for the purposes of practical research on what might work. Through discussion and online research I have discovered several very helpful tools, including deep breathing, acupuncture, meditation, neurotherapy, emotional freedom technique (EFT), and medication.
I have also learned not to limit myself to one method of relief, because different situations may respond better to different methods. Because anxiety and depression, like practically everything else in life, exist on a spectrum, when I am feeling more depressed, I sometimes find that quiet meditation is more helpful to help me get under the emotive smog cloud and decipher the core issues, while when I am feeling more ramped up with anxiety, a more physical activity such as EFT tends to be more helpful to me.
But the key for me when dealing with anxiety and its twin, depression, is to have enough options in my toolkit to have plenty to choose from, and to keep trying something until I find what works.
Not only is this nearly guaranteed to eventually land me on the right source of relief, but it also bolsters my self-esteem and sense of personal empowerment that I CAN and WILL help myself through ANYTHING life may present to me.
Today, I see anxiety and depression as teachers. They are also messengers. They come bearing gifts – but to unwrap those gifts, I must make an effort.
Today’s Takeaway: There are many, many, many different ways to address emotional experiences such as anxiety and depression. What have you tried? What has worked? What would you still like to try that you haven’t had the opportunity to experience yet? Making a “bucket list” of sorts of coping techniques that you have heard are helpful can be very helpful to you in moments when you feel overwhelmed or flattened by anxiety or depression. Just pull out your list and start working through it until you find what works for you.