Trigger Warning: This post contains an extensive discussion of anxiety, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and a moderate discussion of depression.
If you have read my other blog posts, or know me well, it will be no secret that I struggle with anxiety, and have struggled with it for the past year and a bit.
Up until two weeks ago, I had it handled, or at least that’s what I thought. Every time it took me down, I would get back up. I would push through it. I would push it away. I would rifle through the toolkit I had set up, finding something to take the edge off, to fill my mind with, to take the anxiety away, at least for a little while.
My tools were working too.
I journalled, pouring thought after thought onto the pages.
I drew: pictures in my sketchbook, pictures on my arms.
I pumped loud music through my headphones, drowning out the world around me.
I made music: my fingers flying over the keys of the piano. I played my viola, attacking my strings with my bow and vibrating them under my fingers until the calluses felt like they would bleed.
Anything to take away the incessant thoughts, anything to still my mind, anything to take away the emptiness that sometimes opened up inside.
In my dark moments, I would have done anything… even if it hurt.
But I always managed to pull myself up somehow, sometimes with the help of a friend, sometimes by myself. I would pull myself away from the darkness, my tools working their magic, pulling me back to my feet and pushing me into the sunshine.
Once I was back in the sunshine, I would forget how dark it had got, forget how close I had come to hurting myself, forget how hard it had been to stand back up. When people would ask me how I was, I would answer that I was good, that I was fine, that I was wonderful even. They believed me and I believed myself.
Because my scale of what made me ‘okay’ had changed a long time ago.
I would deny the facts that I knew to be true: every dark moment I slipped into was becoming harder to pull myself out of.
One Thursday, three weeks ago, I was in my room studying. I didn’t have any scheduled classes that day and I was by myself, home alone, for at least 7 hours. I was stressed and tired, and anxiety, along with depression, decided to pay me a visit. That day, I came the closest I have ever come to hurting myself, going to a dark place I almost didn’t come out of.
Episodes like that one scared me, and I didn’t know what would happen when I was pulled into another one.
Anxiety was taking over my life, little by little, creeping in during the night and building a home in my mind. I was exhausted and distracted, my studies suffering as a result. My hands would tingle and shake, my heart would race and my stomach would twist itself into so many knots that food was near impossible to eat. I was a mess but I didn’t want to admit it. I kept pushing harder and harder, my brain not accepting my excuses. My mind would scream at me to keep going, that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t working hard enough, even when I was so exhausted and emotionally drained that all I could do was sit and stare out at nothing in particular.
At one point, I told my best friend everything that was going on and she suggested that I get the opinion of a professional. A few days later, I had an appointment with a counsellor, who after hearing everything, told me that I should see my GP about it. A week after that, I went to see my GP, with whom I already had an appointment, and I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety and depression. As a part of this diagnoses, I was prescribed anti-depressants (that also target generalised anxiety disorder). The idea of medication wasn’t new to me, but up until now, I had never thought I would use it.
There are all sorts of stigmas attached to mental illness and the medications for it, but every day these are being combatted.
If you are on medication because of mental illness, I want you to know three things:
- You are not less in your faith, especially if you are a Christian
- It is not something to be ashamed of.
- You are not weaker because of it
In the days following the decision to go on medication, I wrestled with these things, but after talking it through with the people around me, I have become assured of these statements.
Using medication does not mean that you have lost trust in God or that you have a weaker faith than anyone else. This is one of the stigmas attached, especially in the Christian church. God uses medicines to heal other illnesses in our modern world and mental illness is no different. I had it presented to me like this: if you are in pain, people tell you to take Panadol or ibuprofen to relieve it, or if you have a virus, nobody looks down on you if you take antibiotics. The same attitude should be used towards medications combatting mental illness.
There are many pros and cons with every drug or medication that is used, but I don’t think I really need to go into that. The point is what I already said above: you should not have to be ashamed about it.
Sometimes we can do it all in our own strength, or with the help of God and prayer, and I commend all of you who fight and win, but this is not always the case.
Sometimes we cannot do it in our own strength, but it does not mean you are any weaker for it. I know how much energy and willpower it takes to fight mental illnesses. I fight with mine every day. Medications, like the one I am on, are not a cure-all pill, but I believe that, for me especially, they are a step towards healing. I hope that through it, I will be able to get to a place where I will be able to properly heal, and eventually not need them anymore.
I am starting what I suspect will be a long journey to healing, but I hope that I will be able to take all of you on that journey with me.
Know you are not alone,