My anxiety makes me depressed; my depression makes me anxious

Depression and anxiety are quite often a package deal. Those unlucky enough to have one are arguably more prone to experience the other. As I go through the days, I find that I slip into a routine, one which is the bare bones of many aspects of my daily life. For example, I’ll get out of bed at the latest possible time to ensure I make it to work on time. Sure, I’m where I need to be when I need to be there, but not the best scenario to repeat over and over. Recently I’ve started beating myself up for this, not only because I fear how others will view this, but how I view myself. Individuals who have depression are often viewed by those who don’t understand the illness as being lazy. As one of those individuals with depression, I can assure you that 99 times out of 100 this isn’t the case. Depression can eat away at your mind, causing you to attribute negativity to nearly everything life throws at you. Staying in bed for half of the day is not a sign of laziness, it’s a coping mechanism.

With that in mind, I started thinking about why I fell into this “bare-bones” routine so often, and I’ve found that it’s a vicious cycle. I’ll get up at the last possible minute, and be rushing to make it to work on time, causing my anxiety to peak. If something small isn’t how it’s supposed to be, such as my car not starting or a road detour, my routine doesn’t leave much (or really any) wiggle room. So, I’ll get to work, mind already roiling from the anxiety just leading up to it. Work is generally fine; I enjoy what I do, but it is still a job, which comes with anxieties of its own. I’ll get home later that night (I generally work into the evenings) and that is where my anxiety tends to lessen. I don’t have any more responsibilities for that day – this is my chance to take a load off and relax.

So, I’ll occupy myself for an hour. And another hour. As time passes, my mind will turn to tomorrow, and with it, all the stresses and responsibilities it brings. In response, I’ll ask myself what I can do to combat these anxious thoughts. Predictably, my answer is to occupy my mind enough that I block these thoughts out, so, in short, anything but going to bed. If I were to try lying down, my mind would be so frantic I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep anyway. So, I occupy myself even more, and by the time I do make it to bed, it’s ridiculously late. I’ve figured out that, however illogical it may seem, my answer to the anxieties of tomorrow is to make it so that tomorrow doesn’t come until the last minute. Obviously, I don’t have the power to slow down time, but the longer I stay awake in this situation where I have no responsibilities, the less time I’ll have to worry about the time where I do have responsibilities. Going to bed so late causes me to sleep in later than I probably should, and the cycle begins anew. As days pass with this same routine, I fall prey to my depression, with it telling me that this is happening because I am lazy. I am incompetent. I can look at this from a logical perspective and tell myself this isn’t true, but whenever depression takes control, negativity reigns supreme.

In short, what I’m trying to get across is that depression and anxiety work in tandem with one another. Thoughts of one nature often carve a path for the other. As these habits often fall into a cycle, combatting them seems especially hard. As I’ve just related, I’m currently struggling with these things myself, so I can’t give any surefire methods for dealing with this. I can only give my best suggestion, one that I’m going to start trying, and that’s practicing mindfulness.

For those unaware of the concept, mindfulness is looking at thoughts as just that, thoughts. There are no happy thoughts, sad thoughts, anxious thoughts, etc. There are only thoughts that we should view through an unbiased lens. This is not to say we ignore these thoughts, that would create more problems than it solves. We merely observe them without any emotion attached to them. Mindfulness certainly doesn’t say that emotion is not there (or important, for that matter), but as many with depression know, viewing everything that crosses your mind through an emotional lens only leads to attributing negativity to it all. Observing our thoughts and the actions of others through an unbiased lens allows us to apply logic more readily than if we were worried, or guilty, or whatever emotion we attribute to the thought. By looking at events with more logic than emotion, we take away our tendency to worry about events, past, present, and future.

Mindfulness, much like deep breathing techniques and yoga, is something that improves only with practice. Emotion is such an integral part of our thought processes, so when we have a technique that initially takes that away, it certainly takes some getting used to. Again, this method doesn’t ask you to throw emotion away, it simply requests you put it to the side, only pulling it back if it’s immediately needed to deal with the situation (which many times it isn’t). There are many resources for practicing mindfulness, and it is a growing study among many psychological health professionals.

It’s something that I’ve heard has worked for many people, and for a few months it was something I practiced as well. As happens all too often with me, however, I fell out of practice. With luck, it will help me deal with my bare-bones routine. Looking at the next day logically instead of emotionally in the evenings should allow me to go to sleep earlier, thus allowing me to get up earlier and face the day. Mindfulness was created with the concept of living in the moment, as opposed to worrying about past or future events which we cannot change. We can change our right now, however, and mindfulness tries to help ensure we have the mental and emotional capability to do that.

 

  • Ryan

Self-Affirmations

Beating ourselves up is easy. Find an aspect of our personality that we don’t like, or look at something we did which we regret, and anything taken out of proportion enough can seem catastrophic. Loving ourselves can be harder. Giving ourselves compliments, even internally, can make us feel like we’re bragging, celebrating our successes when maybe the world doesn’t even feel that they need to be celebrated. But it doesn’t have to be the rest of the world that validates us. We can validate ourselves. We can determine whether we deserve love or hate, and which we choose to receive (or deny). I’ll tell you right now, I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves love. I’m willing to bet that most people feel that way. But accepting it, even from ourselves, can be a hell of a lot tougher than some people might imagine.

So I’m going to just post a few sentences here. Self-affirmations. Things we can say to ourselves to remind us of our inherit worth. Say them out loud, that’s important. If you just think them, they’ll be like every other self-praising thought that passes through your mind. Saying these out loud gives them substance – even just hearing the words can help. You may say them out loud and feel no different. That’s okay. Like I said before, only we can choose whether we’re open to receiving love, and saying these things to ourselves gives our mind the opportunity to accept that love, in this particular case, self-love. You’re worth so much, if you won’t take my word for it, maybe you’ll take your own.

 

I have the capability to love myself and others, unconditionally.

I have worth, not determined by outward circumstances or others’ opinions of me, but inherit worth.

I don’t need validation from the world to accept myself, I only need validation from myself.

I am so much more than anything illnesses that may plague my brain or body; I am a soul, a human consciousness, and no disease or affliction can change that.

I live in a world where people can be cruel, but can also have hearts bigger than the sun.

I have people, whether I realize it or not, that genuinely care about me and wish for my success, my happiness, and my inner peace.

I am a unique soul with unique circumstances; I have lived a life unlike any other that has come before or will come after, and what I have to offer the world is something that nobody else ever can.

I am flawed, I am guilt-ridden, I am not perfect in any sense of the word, but no one is. I am better than good enough. I am good.

 

  • Ryan

“Success”(the real kind)

I tend to talk a lot about how I compare myself to others based on my “successes.” When I say that word, success, I’m generally talking about outwardly achieving something – careers, relationships, acquiring material goods, etc. But looking back, it’s odd that I would use the word “success” in this way, as none of those things are what I consider propelling me to success. (Oh Lord, I feel like I’m going to use that word at least 30 times before this post is finished…) However, I think it’s fair to say that society sees achievement and (sigh) success as being directly linked to those things, especially things acquired with money. High school teachers and parents push us to do well in school, so we can apply to a good college and get a good job and turn it into a great career, therefore being “successful.” Young adults in many countries are encouraged to find the love of their life and marry them and have children soon after, so that you’ve done your part to contribute to the continuation of the family line and therefore are “successful.” If you make a good amount of money at your job you can buy a nice house and nice furnishings in a nice neighborhood, so that you’re “successful.”

Per society, it seems that there are many paths to this so-called success, but almost all of them involve having a good amount of money. Now, practicality-wise, I get it. If you’re a young adult entering the world, planning on getting by on food stamps and schmoozing off your parents, you probably don’t have the right goals in mind. To say that money is completely unimportant would be an unfortunate lie. But does that necessarily mean that we must base whether we’re doing life “right” on it?

I’m sure that many people have heard this spiel before. Money isn’t everything, love is what matters, give hugs not war, etc. etc. There isn’t anything wrong with these opinions, believe me. Many of them are just different versions of saying the same thing: life is more than materialistic things. In a perfect world where everyone was provided with what they need to have a good life, these lessons would be far easier to take to heart. The fact of the matter, though, is that it isn’t a perfect world. There are social and economic classes, hierarchies, monopolies…unfortunately, “equal footing” is a rare thing nowadays (speaking purely on tangible goods and possessions).

Success is directly linked to happiness, yes? Simply put, if you’re “successful” you didn’t fail, therefore you did things right, therefore you have no reason to be upset, or depressed, or guilty. …right? That being said, I try putting myself into society’s success scenario. I picture myself with a career I love in which I make plenty of money. Each night I come home to my wife and kids, my perfect American family. We live in the best neighborhood in the area, buy only the highest quality foods, and everyone we know loves us. So, Ryan, you’re happy, right? You have no reason not to be.

Now I can only speak for myself here, but no matter how many $100 bills I throw at my head, my depression is unfazed. My anxiety doesn’t care either. You can certainly make the argument that more money pays for better treatment, such as the most reputable outpatient counseling or one of the most renowned psychologists. This is true, however, unless those expensive methods have some magic trick for getting inside your head and pulling the mental illnesses out like you would the funny bone in Operation, the fact is those illnesses will never fully go away. I’m not saying this to be morbid; there are many tried and true methods of getting depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses under control, I’m just trying to illustrate the fact that, in the end, money honestly doesn’t make that much of a difference when it comes to treating mental health.

So, going back to this scenario I picture myself in, and I genuinely don’t see myself as “happy.” Content? Probably. Grateful for what I have? Absolutely. But free from worry? No longer picturing myself in the worst possible scenarios? Not a chance.

We all know that money can’t buy happiness; it clearly doesn’t buy sound mental health either. So, what does give us relief from our own minds? If there’s a good answer, then I couldn’t tell you, as I’m still trying to figure that out myself. Again, there are many reliable, health-conscious methods for keeping these illnesses under control, but what eradicates them for good? (Seriously, if you know, tell me. While you’re at it, tell everyone you know. Call up all the world leaders and tell them too, because I think most everybody with a mental illness asks that question at one point or another.)

Putting society’s definition aside, I truly believe that success comes not from outward achievement, but instead from the comfort of our own minds. If you’re content in much that you do, no guilt, sadness, hurt…in my eyes you’re already successful. As someone who suffers day-to-day with something as simple as accepting myself for who I am, being able to look at your life and say “that’s okay,” seems like a fairy tale to me.

And how does combatting our mental illnesses directly lead us to successful lives? Does it even count as success if we’re only temporarily holding it at bay, and not wiping it from the board completely? Once again, these are questions I have no good answers for. Society already has their multiple definitions of success all figured out – good grades lead to good college which leads to good career which leads to good money. “Success.” Or: significant other leads to wedding leads to happy marriage leads to children. “Success.” Please, I don’t want to sound like I’m demeaning any of these things at all. If you worked hard to get to where you are, be it a happy marriage or successful career, truly, good for you. Be proud of yourself for that, and be grateful. I’d only like to stress that true happiness lies in much more than what society defines as life achievement.

I don’t really have a “lesson” here per say, this is just something I’ve thought about since examining my own tendency to compare myself to others based on “successes,” and it got me thinking. Let me know if you agree or disagree, either in the comments or reach out via email or Facebook. Is “success” being content with your life, regardless of your monetary or materialistic circumstances? Or is it something else entirely?

Best wishes, everyone.

  • Ryan

Life isn’t a straight line

So, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done a post on here – coming close to a month since my last one. It’s been a hectic past few weeks, what with the obvious stress of the holidays, work (as per usual) and a certain family situation arising.But it’s quite alright, because, good or bad, everything passes eventually. I mean, I’m still working, but if I couldn’t balance my work time with my writing time I never would have started this blog in the first place. Anyway…

Something that DID happen over the holiday season was my five-year high school reunion. I didn’t go to it; it was perilously close to Christmastime and in a completely different state from where I live + where I traveled for Christmas, but it happened. It got me thinking why people  get so excited for their class reunions, and what it would have been like if I had went to this one. Ask a few people and I’m sure many would say they go to their reunion for just that – reuniting. With old friends, old flames, old teammates…and I don’t doubt that. If I had gone to my reunion, it would have been to see people I’ve barely (or not at all) kept in contact with, mostly via Facebook and mutual friends. On that note, reunions are great, and I’m glad they’re, well, a thing.

But anyone who has read my Comparison, the Enemy of Joy post knows how I feel about comparing myself to others, whether it be money, looks, occupation…the list goes on. The big thing that would scare me about a reunion is just that: comparison would be inevitable between former classmates. Basically a “who has gotten farthest, or made the most money, or had the happiest marriage in the past five years.” I don’t believe that this type of comparison is something people do with the intention of harm – I feel that those who are going to compare themselves to others are: A. People who are quite happy with their life, or B. People who are unhappy with their life.

Here’s why I say that: For people who fall into group A, looking at other people who haven’t been as “successful” as you (in whatever one of those categories mentioned beforehand) makes it easier to pat yourself on the back and say, “Good job, me. I’ve done things right for the past five years.” On the flip side, people who fall into group B would most likely compare themselves with others to either motivate themselves, or pity themselves. To be completely honest, if I had gone to my reunion, I would have been in group B, no doubt. As I’ve said a thousand times before, my depression makes it so that I see the worst in any scenario. If I’m in a room of people who have all been successful in their careers, or have been happily married, or whatever, instead of being happy for them and embracing their happiness, I instead beat myself up mentally, asking myself again and again why the hell I’m not at that point yet.

I know, I know, me having that mindset goes against everything I argued for in my Comparison post. I truly believe what I wrote in that post, that comparing yourself to others is an unhealthy mindset, but the truth of the matter is I still fall prey to that way of thinking sometimes. I’m by no means “unhappy” with where I am in my life right now – I have a job that I enjoy, friends and family who support me, and I’m rapidly saving up money so that soon I’ll be able to get my own place and establish my independence even more. I’m content, but to say that I feel incredibly perfect with where I am right now would be a lie. I don’t want to sound like I’m not grateful for what I have, I truly am. When I talk about “where I am in my life” in this case, however, I’m more so talking about things that can affect through my own actions (mostly career and independence).

So even if I did have a chance to make it to my five-year reunion, I’m not entirely sure that I would have even gone, simply because of the danger of me falling into that mindset of me vs. other. It’s fairly tragic, because I’m always a little heartbroken when my own anxiety and depression tries to stop me from experiencing what life has to offer.

My mother and father are both wonderful people. I’ve mentioned my mother briefly before and how she also struggles with depression and anxiety, but my father doesn’t have either one. While I can talk with my mother to an extent not many people can because I understand the way her mind works and vice versa, my father sees my thought processes with these mental illnesses from an outside perspective. This is where I give him so much credit, though – he makes an active effort to try and understand why I think the way I do. While we’ve both accepted the fact that he will never 100% understand the way my mind gets to its conclusions, he refuses to sit down in the back of the auditorium and let my life play itself out. From the little things, such as making sure my medication is full enough, to the big things, like helping me find and apply for outpatient counseling a few years ago, when I felt at one of my lowest points, he helps me. He’s a great man.

My father is a smart guy and has lots of sage advice, but one of my favorite things he’s ever told me is this: life isn’t a straight line. He told me this at my lowest point, soon after my depression and anxiety had surfaced and basically flipped my life on its head. Long story short, I was out of college, out of money, and was staying in bed half the day, doing nothing to make my life more productive. Since I wasn’t in school and not on some job-to-career path, I was, well, depressed. I was convinced that at the rate I was going I was never going to make anything of myself. I was convinced that in a few years I would be living in a friend’s basement, eating Ramen for half of my meals and working 9-5 at some dead-end day job. My father saw my despair, and after a long talk he told me – life isn’t a straight line. What he meant by that is basically things don’t always go as planned. In fact, they rarely do. Life takes sharp corners and turns unexpectedly and slows down and speeds up, but it always reaches the end. Life goes on, and us with it. It may seem obvious to some, but to me at the time, there wasn’t anything better for me to hear. We may not be able to control the “line” completely, but we can plot its course, its general path in the direction of where we want to be someday. Is it easy? Again, rarely. But it’s possible.

So going back to the whole comparison thing – there’s another reason we shouldn’t do it. Nobody’s life takes the same path as another’s – we’ll all be at different points at different times than others. But as long as we know where we want to go, we can get there. It may not be when we want or how we want, but it’s possible. Am I being super cheesy right now? Yeah, probably. But I don’t care, I genuinely believe what I’m saying, and you should too. Nobody, I repeat, nobody is a lost cause, no matter how far past rock bottom they seem to have gone. The zigzaggy, curvy, angled line of life continues. We all continue.

  • Ryan