Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Talk About It

What is anxiety like? What does it feel like? We all know what it feels like to be anxious. Even VERY anxious. Anyone who's gotten up in front of people to talk or play an instrument or read a poem or a passage knows what anxiety can feel like. Anyone who's had a child with a high fever or had to take an important test or sat in an important job interview or gone on a first date knows what anxiety feels like.
It's a human emotion.
And- what does depression feel like?
We all know how that feels too. The man of your dreams tells you that it's not you, it's him. You didn't get the job. You made a C- on the test. Your child has to be on antibiotics for a week. Your poem got no response except for a lot of eyes looking at you like, "What the fuck was that?"

But. When those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression talk about those two things, we mean something entirely different. It's like comparing the flame of a birthday candle to the heat of a forest fire. Both fire, and yet...

I have only gotten the sort of anxiety which feels like a heart attack once or twice. Or, okay, maybe three or four times. I'm very lucky that way. The only time I truly felt my life was in danger was once when I had a panic attack driving on an interstate at night surrounded by semi's whooshing by and I just knew that I was going to pass out and crash any moment. And it was raining.
I have, however, had quite a few stretches of clinical depression, as we call it, which sometimes took months to years to actually recover from.

And when, some time ago, I had my first episode with the combined demon twins of anxiety and depression together, I had no idea what was happening. But I will tell you this- by the time I went to a doctor and asked for help, I was at the point where I could no longer live in the state I was in.

Because I grew up with a mother who threatened suicide innumerable times, I've never put that one out there. But I've been through things that have informed me as to how she must have felt. And we all deal with these things differently. She was more vocal about her depression whereas I tend to withdraw. And at the same time, I do talk about it, I write about it. I am trying to feel no shame about it, but that's hard because although we are told over and over that issues of mental health are as real as a broken leg or diabetes or a heart condition, there is still the feeling that if we just TRIED hard enough, we could get over it.

Mary Engelbreit has made a fortune on this belief although I'm sure that it was not her intention to make light of mental illness.
Do YOU have the coffee cup?

"Keep your chin up!" "Keep a gratitude journal!" "People have it so much worse than you do!" "What do you have to complain about?" "Do yoga." "Drink green tea!" "Don't eat sugar/drink caffeine/but do take magnesium/folic acid/St. John's Wort/calcium...blah, blah, blah!" "Exercise for two hours every day!" "Just decide to be happy!"

Fuck that.

The first time those twin demons came to me with such force I was eating as clean as I've ever eaten, going to yoga three times a week, taking my walks, living in my dream house with my long-time love and my daughter was about to marry someone she really loved.

And yet, I slipped so far down into panic and despair and fear and sadness that death seemed like it might be a sweet release.
And if you don't think that I felt guilty about being so fucked up while having such a perfect life, then you don't know me.
This also coincided with menopause and with the last of my babies moving out of the house.
Looking back, I realize that these two things had a huge effect on me.

It's chemical, it's emotional, it's situational, it's...unexplainable.

Science really hasn't figured it out. Sometimes pills help. Sometimes, they don't. Sure, exercise is important and diet probably is too. Getting enough rest is always helpful. Can YOU sleep with adrenalin coursing through your bloodstream? Mindfulness probably helps and I'm sure that meditation does too. But when you're in the middle of it, you just want fucking relief.

I agree with Matt Haig in that love is probably the most important part of healing. And in that, I have been beyond lucky.

I did calm down today. It took me awhile to quit crying and when I did, I absolutely had to go lay down. I had no energy at all. We all find solace where we can and I found it in my bed and looking at pictures like this.

Go ahead and laugh if you want. Your spirit totem may be a wolf or an eagle or a hawk. Mine is that old man. That's Mick Jagger's grandson he's communing with. Or great-grandson. Who can keep up with these guys?

Whatever gets you through the night. Or the day.

I got up and I went to Publix and I bought food for Dog Island. I went by Lily's and made Maggie smile and sniffed her head so hard I'm surprised I didn't suck it up through my nostrils. I watched her nursing her mama. I touched her softness. I nibbled on her toes and fingers. I inhaled her and inhaled her. I told her mother how very, very proud I am of her.

I'm probably okay. I'm a lot better.

And I just want to tell you that if you know what I'm talking about here and you're surviving and hanging in there, and finding whatever it takes for you to personally make it through the nights and days, then I admire and love the shit out of you. And if you'd like to tell me what it's like for you and what helps you, I'd be so grateful and humbled to hear what you have to say.
Thank you.

Yours truly...Ms. Moon


  1. I do not know this and I know how lucky I am to be able to say that, but someone close to me does know it and so I know OF it. And your writing helps me to know it better. Thank you for that.

  2. Thank you for telling the truth of it Mary Moon.

  3. Your writing about this has helped me more than I can elaborate. I am in my early 30's and have been hit this past year with panic attacks and anxiety, out of what seems like nowhere. Happy life, great family, love/acceptance, and I fear the people around me think, "wtf are you so worried for?" But, I lean into it, try to understand it, and try to release it. My main symptom is heart pounding, which has been thoroughly checked out by the 6+ Drs I have seen in 6 months. Thyroid good, hormones-not so good. I started bioidentical progesterone, and I feel better-not so wound tight, nervous, and scared to death. What helps the most, though, is brave people unafraid to talk about their struggles. Makes me feel less alone and scared.

  4. You explained it so eloquently, Mary! I know when I'm in the throes of depression I get even more depressed because I have so much to be thankful for. The thing is, I AM thankful, yet sometimes the world is just dark for me. The sun may be shining, and I may be sitting in my yard in the brightness. Yet, MY world is just gray. I've never thought that I had nothing to live for, because all my life I've been blessed with a wonderful family and a tight circle of friends. But I HAVE thought that all the blackness was just too much. Yes, being able to talk about it and not hearing 'you just need to....' is a BIG help.

  5. Thank you for this Mary. Sometimes medication is a part of the answer. I have, this week, with a dear friend, seen that first hand. Sometimes we need help to arrest the spiral. Sometimes we need our bed. I love you so much.

  6. Oh, that overall feel of dread, doom, the pervasive fear that is with you 24/7. The sleepless nights and cloudy days and feeling guilty that you have so much while others don't. My worst was when my mothers death and my menopause coincided in some horrible plot to overthrow me. Thankfully, it is more manageable now, but the feeling is always present, always there. Unfortunately, too late I realized my mother suffered with this and I didn't realize it until it struck me, and she had already passed away. Another thing to feel guilty about. Thank you for your sharing, it does help to know I am not the only one who has experienced this.

  7. Thank you, always, for sharing this painful part of your life with us. It's incredibly brave and important that you've done so -- those of us who don't have anxiety/depression can only intimate these things when our loved ones have them. Having it spelled out so clearly here is beyond helpful. Thank you.

    By the way, I wish that I could take you with me on Thursday night to see Bruce. Then we could add dancing and screaming to your regime.

  8. jenny_o- I would recommend that you read that Matt Haig book. "Reasons To Stay Alive." It will help you to understand. Thank you for taking the time, as always, to comment. I appreciate it so much.

    Rebecca- I don't even have the words to explain how it feels. But maybe, a little bit can be illuminated. You don't need me to tell you. That I know.

    Ashley- Same here. The bio-identicals make a huge difference but the love I receive is what sustains me. Don't feel guilty. You did not ask for this. I know that.

    Catrina- Oh- if only "you just need to" ever helped one iota. Mostly it makes it worse, doesn't it? You are not alone. You are not alone in knowing about that gray world.

    Angella- Yes. There has to be something to stop the tape from endlessly running. That tape that tells us we are worthless, that life is not worth living, etc. And then we can go from there. So true.
    I love you more than you can know.

    Gloria Williams- Our stories are much alike. And I think that many of us who suffer from these things had mothers who did the same. May our stories help our daughters not to be afraid to ask for help if they need it. That is one of the things I hope for. Stop, if you can, with the guilt. As I said above, we did not ask for this. We are not that sort of crazy. We don't even ask to be happy. Just to not feel this way.

    Elizabeth- I think that Bruce could lay a big healing on my heart. I think he does that every night he plays music- heals. I wish I could be there too. Share as much of it as you can. I surely will be thinking of you and loving you from afar.

  9. I'm so always so grateful that there are people like you, and this community you've got, who can actually talk about anxiety. I remember, when i was married the first time, I just thought I was crazy. I remember my first therapist looking at me and saying quietly, "Sara, you're not crazy." And just the acknowledgement of that, that what I was feeling was real and somebody else saw it--helped me at least acknowledge that I was depressed, and eventually worked my way toward understanding that i have an anxiety disorder.The image I had of myself then was of a scarecrow, flayed by wind, winnowed down to just bone. Or of a woman jumping off a high dive, blindfolded, and she wasn't sure how far the fall, or if there was water, or if she could swim. Now, it just feels like the world winnows itself down, Sylvia Plath's bell jar, maybe--and then when I'm somehow out of it (walking, getting outside, writing about it, hugging Jonah, making sure I eat something, trying to feel my way back into my body again are what help) but when it ends, it feels foreign and I feel ashamed and stupid for feeling that way. The best thing I did, though, was start writing about it, and sharing that writing, and then the world responded, as we are responding to you--saying yes, yes, we know, we hear you, you aren't alone. We're standing here with you.

  10. I know that this is passed down, my Mother was a worrier and so was her Mother. I think that because of this there is always a voice telling me to be on guard for a danger that is not real. Gail

  11. You write so clearly and beautifully about these things. I too have suffered from depression and anxiety. I take medications for both. The anxiety is worse now and the depression has lessened. Panic attacks are the worst. I rely on friends for help and I'm grateful I have many good friends who understand. I rely on people like you for honesty to help me not feel alone with it. Sometimes I take to bed because it makes me feel safe. And I cuddle with my cat. Or I play with little kids - that always makes me feel better. Love heals. I love you for the generous help you don't even know you give. Thank you.

  12. Coming here is one of the things that comforts me when it just gets to be too much. Sadly, when I am feeling unwell in this way, the loving words and actions of my husband, my son or my friends are painful to me like sandpaper on raw skin. A hug, a concerned look or a kind word can completely undo me and so I tend to cocoon. I hate that this separates me from my people and them from me. I feel it has robbed my family and friends of my best self and it has robbed me of years that were spent in escaping pain instead of living. Thank you Mary Moon for putting it into words and thereby breaking it's spell even if for a moment. They are my feelings, they are not me and they have no basis in truth.

    Thank you for being here, for sharing and for just being you. You kind, kind woman.


  13. I really like anger, it saves me from despair, a trick I learned when I was so far down in that dark airless hole that weighs as much as that meteorite, the one that destroyed all big lizards! If I can just stay angry I am OK...sometimes the sweetness of life creeps in and then I am done, a face fountain for days! Your blog does that to me...I have to go read the news , let anger save me from the sweetness of you, your life, your naked honesty, the babies, the chickens, the Keith...ohhhhh - the FEELS!!! Excuse me now, while I go watch a few political clips and get myself back into the mode that allows me to keep my head above water, and by water, I mean tears, and by tears I mean ocean of! I love you!

  14. Well said. I've been dealing with depression for years now and I'm just now starting to feel like things are getting better. At some point I had to step back and start viewing it as a medical illness. Which it is, but I agree that it seems people tend not to see it that way. There's a literal chemical imbalance somewhere causing this awful thing - it's not as if we suddenly chose to view the world through a grey filter. Something helpful for me was to start treating my depressive thoughts (when I can recognize them) as bad suggestions from a backseat driver. It's kind of strange to treat your own brain like a separate untrustworthy entity, but it's gotten me past some rough spots. It also definitely helps that I have a wonderful support system of family and friends. Hang in there. I hope things get easier for you.

  15. Thank you for explaining this so excellently. While never really depressed or extremely anxiety ridden, I have my share of panic and fear which translates to restlessness and usually results in floods of tears.

    It shocks me every time all the way to my bones. Over time, I have learned that waiting/resting is the only option, sitting it out, watching myself with the knowledge that I will be still eventually. Waiting for my mind and my heart to meet somewhere in the middle and to let my body figure out the rest. It's been a relief to allow myself to not do anything about it anymore, running to "experts" for help.
    A kind person once explained to me that our bodies can sustain the adrenaline production that happens in our metabolism during times of panic, great fear and anxiety only for certain lengths of time before it must shut it down/reduce it. It's a survival instinct.

    I am counting on it every day.

    Take care. You will be well.

  16. this is something I have no personal knowledge of. oh, I've been sad, anxious, depressed even. I even thought I was having mental breakdown after at least five years of constant rage and mean criticism from my husband who was so deep in misery that anger was the only thing that kept his demons at bay. marital counseling didn't help because he was convinced that he had already dealt with his family issues (a mother who abandoned the family (5 kids) when he was 9 who just disappeared one day with no explanation, a verbally and physically abusive father who eventually disowned us when our daughter became pregnant and she and the father were not married). he did finally get help and so we are still together but those years scarred me. still, I don't think I suffered anything like you suffer. I was just miserable. you'll get no judgement from me even if I don't understand how it feels.

  17. I know I cannot fully understand this, having not experienced it myself in the way you describe. I also hope you never stop writing about it, because this is the closest I ever come to understanding it -- and I WANT to, at least as much as possible. I know it's not something you can just "get over," and those of us who don't experience it probably need occasional reminders of that. I admire your bravery and honesty. You really do teach me something, every day.

  18. You're writing my life Mary, and I'm sad that you know this stuff and I'm glad that you have such amazing writing talent that you can call it out as if we are sitting on couch in a sister-truth visit.

    It fucking sucks and platitudes usually only come from people who've never been there. I know it may sound crazy, but I love other people who have known tragedy and clinical depression and life altering anxiety, they are usually very human and tender as are you.

    Kisses of gratitude.

  19. For me it is Hopelessness. In everything. From buying tomatoes to garbage on the ground to politicians and the environment and the future and buying a TV. Hopelessness that anything will ever be good again, ever. Bring in the anxiety with all the above.
    It is so fucked up and I will never have words to describe it all. Everything is black with impending doom.

    (I am also reading Matt Haig's book. I started it a few weeks back but got side-tracked and put it aside. He deserves a Peace Prize.)

  20. But have you tried praying?!

    jk <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

  21. For me depression/anxiety has usually started with health problems (severe mono when I was 19, thyroid in my 40's, cancer in my 60's)and been exacerbated by stresses from family/work problems and a tendency to make impulsive, emotional decisions when I am stressed. I have felt suicidal when I just could not see/feel an end to my distress and wanted relief. I totally understand why someone might kill themselves especially if physical ailments are involved.

    I agree that love and family/friends support is crucial and I now try to remember that things do get better with time. I am very lucky to have a husband who seems much like yours and stays by my side with calmness and love through it all. I am also on medication for the first time in my life and it has made a big difference.

  22. Depression is a bitch in and she wears a red dress, and because certain members of my family do not believe it exists or allow treatment, i coped by listening to uplifting music every waking moment until i started to come out of it. As for anxiety, i only landed in the hospital with it once, after that i knew what it was and when i feel it, i go on a cleaning binge, scrubbing bathrubs and floors on my knees, attacking dirt like my life depends on it, until it goes away.

  23. I'm so behind in reading, so I'm just reading this now,
    You described the darkness so eloquently, seriously. For anyone that hasn't had this, they will surely gain an understanding through your words. For those of us who have suffered, you've spoken our hearts.
    Life's a bitch and then you die, right?
    Much love to you, today and always. Enjoy Dog Island with your sweet man and your salty air and sunshine, soak it all in.


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