Hey folks. This is a bit of a somber post, but hopefully a good read nonetheless. I actually drafted this post a year ago and just somehow never posted it. It never felt quite right. I’ve been realizing more and more that I want to use my experiences and knowledge to help others, so I figured there’s no real reason to hold back. I’ve tried not to edit it too much now, just to keep the feel of the post the same as when I originally wrote it.
Looking back, I realize that at the time I was literally just coming out of this season of my life. If you’ve ever been through any sort of depression or anxiety, then you probably know what I mean when I say that it felt like an eternity. When I wrote this, I felt like I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Though it felt like an eternity, it was probably closer to a few months where I was dealing with intense, debilitating anxiety and depression and then about a year after that of working through everything and returning to normal.
Anyways, thanks for reading. If you are dealing with anxiety or depression right now, I hope this helps encourage you. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. 🙂 If you’re not, then I hope this gives you a bit more insight into what intense anxiety and depression can look like and how you can help people you may know that are struggling.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so please take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m just sharing my story and what helped me.
Originally written, March 30th, 2017.
It’s been on my mind to write about this for a while. It’s been hard to think about actually sitting down and writing it though, because this is pretty personal.
Over the rest of this post I’m going to share with you about my experience with anxiety and depression. I debated just keeping this short and sweet, but in my gut I knew this needed to be long. It’s been a long journey and for some reason I feel like it’s important for me to not leave anything out!
I wanted to write a post about my whole experience for a few reasons. If you’ve been dealing with either anxiety or depression, I hope you can identify with some of what I say and find hope for yourself. Know that you’re definitely not alone and that there are many people who have dealt with these things! If you don’t struggle with anxiety or depression, I hope this helps give you a little bit more insight into what it’s really like and how you can help people you know who struggle with depression or anxiety.
Before I start sharing about anything, I have to give a huge huge HUGE shoutout to my husband, Nick. He was my anchor throughout all of this. He was always there to cheer me up, to be a shoulder to cry on, someone to talk things through with, someone to just chill with, and so much more. He helped make decisions when I was literally incapable of doing anything. He took such good care of me. He was there through it ALL with me. I’m sure that it was probably just as tough on him as it was on me – thank you Nick for everything you did for me during that season.
How it started:
I had probably been struggling with this for a bit longer, but I started truly having issues in February of 2016. It was like being hit by a train. Within about one week, I went from dealing with (what I thought was) a normal stress level to not being able to get out of bed because I was so depressed and anxious. I had starting having panic attacks. I could barely eat. I was stuck in my head and felt like I couldn’t get out. I wanted to die.
What I experienced:
It’s hard to describe in retrospect what all I felt. Mainly, I couldn’t sort through my thoughts and my mind was always racing. After a while, I started to feel derealization, depersonalization, and disassociation. They’re all very similar and insanely scary. Basically, I felt like I had no handle on the world around me; it didn’t feel real. I pretty much felt like I was in the Matrix. At times I felt like I was trapped in my body. I was always wanting to “know more”, wanting to know “why”. I felt like if I knew why I was feeling so out of whack, then I could figure everything out and it would all be easier. I would think about the future and just get insanely worried and overthink everything.
Everything I’ve dealt with has been scary, but man did these really through me off guard! My heart started racing, my mind racing EVEN MORE, and I would often feel like I was going to faint. This happened to me a couple times in restaurants with friends and it was so disorienting. Then I would feel guilty for getting a panic attack and would get very in my head and paranoid about what people thought about me. I had quite a bit of social anxiety as well during this time.
I wasn’t even sure that I was dealing with depression until I started to feel like I wanted to die. Up until that point, I was sure it was just anxiety. I realize now in retrospect that crying almost everyday is much more a sign of depression than of anxiety! When I was dealing with depression I just felt sad. Sad for a reason, sad for no reason. I had night terrors, I ground my teeth almost every night, had horrible dreams, and sometimes had insomnia. This was definitely worst at the very start and then started to ease up later on. It was pretty awful though – I would hate being awake and then be scared to go to sleep because of the dreams. Just not a good combo. When I felt depressed, I felt like I had huge problems that were unsolvable. The biggest of these was the feeling that I wasn’t good enough. I had pretty much no self esteem during this season of my life. Sometimes that thought was hidden underneath other issues, but it was at the core of almost everything. Once I figured that out, everything started to change.
Anxiety & Depression while Traveling Full Time
Looking back now, I think a big part of how I was feeling was due to my lifestyle. At the time I had been traveling for 3+ years and certain aspects of it had just hit me like a ton of bricks.
It seems like the notion that remote workers have “the dream life” have definitely started to fade a little bit. But at the time when I was really struggling, I had this notion stuck in my head that I had to feel like I was living the “dream life” and I felt guilty for not liking my life at the time. “I’m supposed to love this lifestyle, right?”
I’ve met many people that see the “digital nomad” lifestyle or talk about this lifestyle as an escape from their normal life. I think what many people fail to see is that after the novelty wears off, there are things about it that aren’t as nice as normal life. Things that you don’t even think about in normal life can make a big difference after being on the road for a long time. Things like having consistent relationships, being able to cook meals at home, and being able to have a little bit of space to call your own instead of living in fully furnished apartments all the time (which is basically the equivalent of living in an extended-stay hotel for years on end lol) were all things I felt like I was really missing at the time.
If I hadn’t been struggling with anxiety and depression at the time, it would have been easy to see that it was time for me to change some things in my life. But because I was struggling, I just felt stuck and trapped in my situation. Trapped in the expectation that everything I have is amazing, even though I wasn’t enjoying my lifestyle at the time. Eventually I realized it was OK to change my life in ways that worked for me.
How I Dealt With Everything
First things first, I started talking to a therapist. I was so scared to talk to a therapist at the time, mainly because I was scared to admit what was going on with me. Thankfully, there are lots of amazing options for therapy these days. I think it was quite literally a miracle that I ended up with the therapist I did. She was maybe 10-15 years older than me and we had quite a lot in common (travel, belief in God, spiritually, etc) which I think really helped me trust her. Finding my therapist was one of the most crucial things for me when I was really, really struggling. I don’t think I could have moved past the intense anxiety or depression as easily without my therapist. After maybe 8-12 months, it was more just good to talk to her like you would a good friend.
I used Talkspace to find my therapist and 1,000% love the app and highly recommend it. It worked great for me especially at the beginning because I could message my therapist anytime something was wrong, instead of waiting for a once or twice a week check-in. (If you’re interested in checking out Talkspace, please reach out – I believe I still have some sort of slight discount I can send to you. 🙂 )
I know, I know. How could you ever quit coffee? This one was so hard at first. I used to be a barista for goodness sake! As much as I love coffee, I had to give it up. I found that the caffeine would just make me even more anxious, which would just feed into my vicious cycle.
Cut Down on Alcohol
This was a tricky one. Since I was dealing with both anxiety and depression, I was basically on a swinging pendulum all the time. (Kind of like being manic-depressive, but not quite the same. I was rarely extremely happy and in pure bliss lol)
Overall I found alcohol easier to have than coffee, so I just cut down on the drinking instead of fully cutting it out. Drinking was often a way that I got in social time too and I didn’t want to miss out on that. It really helped me loosen up and sort of eased the anxiety I felt a bit as I would often have some social anxiety.
I specifically fell in love with running. Really any exercise helps, but I noticed that I didn’t feel as good or as relieved when I lifted weights. I also really enjoyed going on walks, when I could take the time.
There were a few things about my health that I got in my head about that I think made it difficult for me to get better quickly. At times, I thought I had severe adrenal fatigue, thyroid issues, or vitamin deficiencies. For a stretch, I tried to attribute all of my anxiety and depression to health issues, which did not work. Though there are things that could have contributed, I think I had focused on this wayyyyy too much. That being said, anxiety and depression can be related to health issues. I supplemented with B-12 for a few months, which helped a bit with energy, but not as much with my mental health as I had hoped.
I believe in God and a large portion of the issues that I dealt with while I was anxious and depressed had to do with this believe and being raised in church. Over the past few years, I’ve been in and out of church after growing up in the church all my life. I’ve never had that many friends that weren’t Christian or had ever been out of church for months on end until we started traveling full time. Now, many of my friends aren’t religious and I probably only step foot in a church a few times a year. It’s hard to explain, but dealing with doubt and anxiety about God and my faith was so disorienting. It was such an important part of my life, not just because the belief was important to me, but because so much of my life was built around the culture of the Western churches that I grew up in. Being removed from that felt like someone yanking all the support structure I had in my life out from under me. There’s also a big part of me that thinks a lot of the stuff I dealt with in my depression was spiritual-related. I had some really, really dark and crazy dreams that I just can’t easily write off as being solely related to the anxiety or depression I was feeling.
Yoga & Meditation
While I do believe in God, I found practicing yoga and meditation to be incredibly helpful, especially for my anxiety. Practicing yoga or meditating just helped clear my mind. It helps me remember that calm always exists. I’ve used the Calm app and Headspace for simple, guided meditations.
The Chain of Events
Basically once the anxiety and depression got so bad that I was bedridden and wanted to die, I started talking to a therapist. Things slowly started getting better from there, but it took some time. Over the course of 2016, I worked through so many issues – things in my past, things I was constantly worried about in the future. Little things to feeling like doing yoga was demonic, to bigger issues like self worth. While I would never want to go through that again, I’m oddly thankful. I’m thankful because I feel like I can relate to anyone else that’s dealing with that kind of stuff. I’m thankful I made it out alive and that I can help others through tough times like that.
There were definitely times where depression and anxiety did not feel like something I could overcome. People would tell me that it was just a decision to feel better, but I felt so bad at times that I felt I had no power to overcome it. Overtime I eventually did overcome it, but that’s just it – it took time. And when you’re feeling intense anxiety or depression, you’re kind of in the twighlight zone. For me, the concept of time was super-duper drawn out. Hours would feel like weeks. Weeks would feel like years. I remember in the midst of some of my darkest moments, I felt like there would never be a way out. Ever. Yet there was.
The one last thing I will say that helped me immensely, probably more than everything else combined, was prayer and talking to God. (And if you don’t believe in God or that kind of thing turns you off, then feel free to skip this part.) There were countless times I remember literally crying my face out. I’m not really sure if I was praying, it was more just desperately needing something and I was mentally reaching out just trying to find anything that would help me. Sometimes I felt like God wasn’t there, that He actually didn’t exist and it was all just in my head. And I would keep thinking and sort of be praying, yet kind of in this mindset that He wasn’t really real. But even then – He would eventually say something haha. Pretty much every single time I had one of these moments where I was so torn up, crying, and just in pieces, I would hear: “I love you. You will get through this. You will not die from this. You will make it through. You will come out stronger. You are worth something. You have value.”
You may think I’m crazy, or you may know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that I heard God say these things. I can’t really accurately describe how those times when I felt God talking to me helped me and how much they sort of brought me back to reality.
You may or may not believe in God, and that’s ok. Regardless, I can tell you that if you’re dealing with anything similar to what I dealt with, it is 100% true that you can get through it. No matter how bad you feel, there is a way out. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is more for you out there, there are good things for you in life. If you feel like you need help, reach out to someone. Reach out to a friend, or to a therapist. It’s worth it.
If you’ve never dealt with anything like this, I can assure you that this stuff is real and it can be very scary. And while you may not be able to relate with someone dealing with these sorts of issues, caring and supporting someone can definitely help. Be kind to people you come across that deal with anxiety or depression. They may need your kindness, love, and support more than you know.
Thanks for reading my story. If you have a similar experience, feel free to share below. If you have questions about what has helped me, please reach out. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.
Additional thoughts, written March 20th, 2018
It’s weird for me now to look back on this season of my life. It feels so long ago, yet it was really only 2 years ago. There were points where I was certain I wouldn’t or couldn’t make it through. Yet I did. And I feel pretty much 100% back to normal now. There are occasionally things that set me off into a bit of a spiral, but I know how to deal with things now. Even times when I’ve been so down with incredibly low self esteem or when I get really stressed, I know how to pull myself back to reality now.
That last part of the post where I say that you can get through is 100% true. I feel so, so normal now. Normal enough to the point that it’s hard to remember what it felt like to be depressed or anxious to the level that I was.
Thanks for reading. ✌