In the depths of depression, my world falls apart around me. Everything is shrouded in a dark fog, and I know I need to find my way out, but I don’t understand how I got there in the first place. The heavy feeling of despair prevents me from feeling anything else. Thoughts soaked in guilt rear their ugly heads. Maybe I don’t truly love my spouse...my family...my life. Even when I know none of these thoughts are true, I still feel like an imposter in the story of my own life. I still feel as if I don’t deserve this happy existence.
Growing up, I always knew my odds of suffering from depression were almost a guarantee, with the condition running rampant through much of my family. What I didn’t expect was the crippling anxiety that would plague me in my twenties after the birth of my second child.
In the depths of anxiety, I feel like I want to crawl out of my skin. Sights are too bright, sounds are too loud and my skin is overstimulated with every brush of the clothes on my back. I avoid all social situations, barricaded in my house where I feel safest, paralyzed by the fear of experiencing a panic attack. In the event of an unavoidable obligation, I create a game plan for every possible scenario. I map out all exits and bathrooms. I constantly search for any sign of imminent disaster. I watch the clock, counting down every minute until I can return to my safe haven.
Two years ago, my depression was getting worse as my anxiety took away all opportunity to experience happiness. I realized I needed to seek help. Unsure of what to do next, I confided in my father. I was lost, and he had been here before. I will never forget what he told me:
“Depression and anxiety are part of you. Wishing them away or blaming them for every problem that arises will only make things worse. You can’t pretend they aren’t there — but you can learn to use them to your advantage. Let these feelings motivate you to do more, to challenge yourself, to open up your world in ways many people miss out on.”
Accepting and Facing My Fears
It was after this conversation I decided to prevail. I wanted to experience my kids growing up instead of being a passive spectator, fooling myself into thinking I was living. My first step was facing my anxiety and working through my panic attacks.
I started doing things that scared me. At first, it was as simple as going out for a meal and staying no matter how anxious I felt. After experiencing several panic attacks in public, I eventually realized no one could even tell when they were happening. My struggle for survival only evident within, the physical symptoms were invisible to those around me.
Pushing myself further, I took a trip overseas. Although I was terrified because my first ever panic attack was on an airplane, I knew I had done enough groundwork to be okay with the possibility of an episode this time.
Stepping off the plane, successfully avoiding an anxiety attack, I felt elated. It was my first feeling of pure happiness, without the underlying tone of worry and despair, I had felt in over a year. I had done so much work to get my life back and it paid off.
I began traveling regularly, something I previously feared due to my anxiety but always craved. My depression slowly dissolved. I was beginning to make decisions based on my desires rather than my worries, doing things I never thought possible even before I was hit with mental illness.
Changing My Perspective
Now I see what my father meant about using my condition to get more out of life. Due to the threat of depression, I can no longer convince myself to put my goals on hold or that doing things halfway is “good enough.” To be idle is to invite those feelings of despair back in.
As a result, I have achieved much more than I ever thought I could. I have traveled to more countries than I ever dreamed of and set myself on a career path I have always wanted, all because I understand the consequences of giving in to my fears.
I still experience setbacks, but now that I view my depression and anxiety as a gift, I use it as an indicator that I need to do more. Whenever I feel the symptoms coming on, I take action. I just move, setting tiny, easily achievable goals, like cleaning the kitchen. If I do something once a day that makes me feel good, I am taking steps toward something greater for myself.
I am so grateful that my struggle with mental illness opened up more opportunities for me and my family. If you find yourself in the depths or depression or anxiety, remember that anything you do to get better is an astounding achievement. Your hard work will build up over time into a life you never could have imagined. You may even realize, as I did, that without the dark times, you wouldn’t have much of what you are most proud of today.
Arielle Kremnev is a freelance writer, blogger and avid traveler from Niagara Falls, Ontario. As a travel writer, Arielle provides her readers with tips and quirky recollections of her experiences in the countries she has visited on her blog 200degrees.