5 lessons from my decades of struggle with Depression and Anxiety

In the last four decades, I’ve been to more psychologists and psychiatrists than I can count, from New York to California, from the East Side to the West Side. There have been so many that I’ve no doubt I’m serious competition for Woody Allen — or certainly one of his characters.

The first shrink, when I was a meek 20-something, prescribed lithium, used for manic depression (though no one I’ve seen since has diagnosed me with that), and required weekly blood tests I hated so much that I simply stopped going. The most recent doc is prescribing Prozac, for depression, and Klonopin, for anxiety, in ever-decreasing doses. I see her just a half hour a month. She thinks, as I do, that I’ve talked about myself far too often and for far too long and might benefit from shutting up.

These professionals have accompanied me through my entire adult life, while offering up a medicine chest full of pharmaceuticals: Zoloft, Xanax, Luvox, Ambien, Deplin, Remeron, Oleptro, amphetamine salts.

Have the medications worked? The truth is I don’t precisely know what they’ve done for me, except for a few that had awful side effects. On the lithium, at first, I slept 20 hours at a stretch. Even at the lowest possible dosage, I felt like I had a paper bag over my head. The Xanax, a lightning-fast-acting drug, eventually stops working, and the anxiety comes roaring back at ever shorter intervals.

As for the rest, it’s been so long since I’ve been unmedicated, I no longer have a basis of comparison.

But I do know this: I’m paying a tiny fraction of what I once did — psychiatrists in New York City commonly charge $450 an hour — and maybe I’m happier because I can pay my mortgage.

For whatever reason, I’m now in a place where I feel I can offer advice to others searching for their equilibrium. So here are five suggestions:

Understand that discrimination persists

Despite all the well-meaning talk to the contrary, mental illness continues to be judged by a different standard than physical illness.

I’ve had employers concerned about my competence when they learned of my personal (and family) history — when all around me were untreated alcoholics with bottles of booze in their desk drawers and unexplained absences from work. I had named my problem and was taking care of it, but that seemed a strike against me.

Be prepared to educate your friends

I’ve had friends, otherwise good and loving people, who are ignorant of the difference between chronic depression and the occasional bad day. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’’ was their advice. “Try harder.’’

Surely that would not be the response if I had diabetes or high blood pressure.

Some of these people remain in my life; most don’t. One I asked to read a short book, “Darkness Visible’’ by William Styron, a compelling description of this disease. Was I testing him? Maybe. (He passed.)

Don’t discount the value of talk therapy

Intimate and regular conversation with someone who isn’t a friend or a family member allows you to spare your loved ones stuff they don’t want to hear and may not understand. Within the four walls of a therapist’s office, there’s a safe and private space for the gloom and fearfulness that otherwise can infect “real life’’ interactions.

Another reason talk therapy can be effective: You’re paying dearly for it. How tempting it is to talk about the weather, to entertain the psychiatrist with amusing stories about your week, to come late or simply not show up. But it’s less tempting, for sure, when the meter is running. Waste your appointment or use it well. It’s up to you.

Be patient

Only a medical doctor has the expertise to prescribe and manage medications, altering the cocktail when what used to work no longer does. These are not medications you can stop or switch easily; they require gradually tapering off one and onto another. (So buy a pill cutter.) Some begin to work instantly and others take weeks. (So be patient.)

And, typically, changing them from time to time improves their efficacy, however onerous the transition.

Don’t commit to the first psychiatrist you see

My selection of providers has been shamefully random, given my skills as a reporter — usually based on a recommendation from a friend or a former doctor. Only once have I had the fortitude to conduct an audition: see several people, pay for each consultation, and then decide. That was in January, following a head injury.

Despite my compromised physical condition, and the fear I felt, I was determined to take the reins in a way I never had before.

So I made the rounds to a number of providers. I asked questions rather than answered them. I listened, instead of talking. I took notes. My explicit goal was to reduce my medications, perhaps eventually to do without them altogether. My implicit goal was to have a psychiatrist manage that process with a minimum of talk therapy, and to avoid anyone who suggested four times a week analysis, turning me from a human being into a full-time patient.

One of the providers I interviewed said right away, “I think you need less meds, different meds — and to see what it’s like to stop talking after all these years.’’ I went with her.

So far, so good.



27 Secrets of People With Hidden Anxiety

With mental health issues, it sometimes feels like you can’t ask for help until you’ve “lost it.” Like if you’re still getting out of bed, still putting pants on, still going to work and still keeping your life somewhat in order, you must be fine. Everything’s fine, and therefore anything that’s not fine must be your fault — like it’s you who’s being dramatic, unable to handle the stress of everyday life.

That is simply not true.

There was 40 million adults in the U.S. who live with anxiety disorders, and these anxiety disorders present themselves in different ways. Just because someone seems fine doesn’t mean their anxiety disorder is less valid. And just because you’re good at hiding your anxiety doesn’t mean you don’t deserve help.

We asked people in our mental health community who feel like they live with hidden anxiety to tell us one thing they wish others understood.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “My body is in constant fight-or-flight mode, and after it passes, I’m left exhausted. On the outside I’m so happy and likable, but on the inside I over-evaluate each and every word I speak and I worry about what you think.” —  Kelsie W.

2. “My reaction to you or my demeanor is not a reflection of how I feel about you. It is my mind struggling inside. I may not laugh, smile or say hello, but it’s not because I don’t like you or don’t care. It’s because I can’t right now.” — Jeanine H.

3. “I may be less than my normal self on days panic is washing over me with 10-foot waves. I am not a bitch, I am just trying not to drown.” — Chriss T.

4. “I wish people understood the times it seems like nothing’s wrong and I look the most capable and ‘fine,’ are the times I’m fighting the hardest. Sometimes it takes all I have to keep from falling apart inside even though I look OK from the outside.” — Alyssa C.

5. “I am a confident person with a diagnosed anxiety disorder. I enjoy acting and love being onstage, but I can’t make a phone call or knock on a door. I am a confident person, but the smallest things like a teacher shouting at me or having to make a phone call can trigger a panic attack. I wish people understood you can be both confident and anxious. It’s really difficult for me to explain to people.” — Danni-Mae K. 

6. “Every day, every minute, every hour feels like an eternity when you have anxiety. It’s like time stands still, like you are running in sand and getting nowhere. Just getting through these moments takes so much out of you; exhausts you mentally, physically and emotionally.” — Marissa Esguerra

7.I’m not just a loner. I really want to fit in and go out with friends or go on a date. But this anxiety I have makes me overthink and second guess every move I make. Decisions that are easy for most people to make take me twice as long because I have to outthink every possible outcome.” — Shannon R.

8. “Just because I look OK, doesn’t mean I am. I have to wear the mask to function in society.” — Desiree G.

9. “I’m tired 24/7. When someone says, ‘You look tired, but you haven’t even done anything,’ what you don’t know is I’m fighting battles you can’t see. Don’t judge a book by its cover.” — Brandon T.

10. “My anxiety can often appear ‘hidden’ despite the fact that it is not. I’m constantly on edge or obsessing over an anxious thought. If I seen distracted, upset, jumpy or overwhelmed, it’s because I’m anxious. Learning my anxious behaviors can help you help me calm down or focus on something more positive.” — Aurora W.

11. “Just because you don’t see it, notice it or experience it for yourself, doesn’t invalidate the legitimacy or severe impact anxiety has on my life.” — Holly A.

12. “I wish people would understand the reason I don’t reach out to anyone is because I spend many nights awake worrying no one likes me and that I’m not good enough.” — Lauren N.

13. “I defiantly wish people understood anxiety isn’t just a switch; I can’t turn it off and on whenever I want. It can happen at anytime during the day/night. It can happen when I’m happiest or when I’m saddest. It comes and it goes. You have your bad days and your good days. I just wish people understood it isn’t something I can control, even if I’m on medications.” — Jessica N.

14. “Inside, I’m not the calm person you see every day. And I’m not being standoffish — I’m trying to either recharge myself or I’m trying to control the waves of anxiety sweeping through my body.” — Ella P.

15. “You have no idea what’s going on in my head.” — Nicole D.

16. “It isn’t always constant. It can come and go. I already feel like I am not sick enough to get help, so I don’t know how to actually do it. And the things you try to say to be helpful are sometimes triggering. And when my anxiety is triggered, my behavior is erratic and seems irrational but I’m honestly doing anything I can to calm down.” — Jaclyn Langman

17. “You may be frustrated with me because I am not as social, friendly or productive as I am when I’m on my game, but it’s not because I’m lazy or selfish. My brain is running in overdrive and I’m in constant survival mode.” — Brittany Cole

18.I have the tendency to dress up more when I feel really anxious. I put makeup on and dress well, as that’s how I try and convince myself I’m OK.” — Neelam A.

19. “Just because I’m functioning while I’m working, doesn’t mean I’m not falling apart on the inside. Or as soon as I get home… (or to the closest one-person bathroom).” — Jessica H.

20. “This phrase is starting to sound a little cliche, but it is so accurate, and many people still don’t understand: Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I am very good at appearing calm on the outside, while my insides are fighting a war. My mind is racing, my heart is pounding and I feel like I can’t breath. I start to get a stomach ache, which turns to feeling nauseated and/or needing to use the toilet. I feel like everyone is watching me, judging me, even though logically I know no one has actually even noticed anything is wrong. Most of the time, you won’t notice, but that doesn’t mean I’m not having a difficult time.” — Keira H.

21. “If I seem uninterested it’s just because I can’t concentrate when my anxiety is bad. I care about what you’re saying, but my brain will drift. Even good information is sometimes just too much information.” — KristyLeigh H.

22. “I feel like I am too much work to loved, so be loud about loving me.” — Kylie D.

23. “I can look ‘happy’ or ‘calm’ but still be drowning with my demons.” — Auror B.

24. “Just because I did something once doesn’t mean I’m going to be comfortable doing it again! Anxiety doesn’t come with an alarm clock and it doesn’t limit itself to certain environments.” — Summer B.

25. “‘Simple’ everyday tasks people don’t think twice about causes me extreme anxiety.” — Yaz T.

26. “I wish colleagues understood how scared and nervous I am about new situations and people. I have to mentally prepare for days before meetings with new clients, and even phone calls get delayed as long as possible. Just because my work is getting done that doesn’t mean I’m fine. If something simple takes longer than expected please be patient with me. I have to reassure myself over and over I can do it.” — Erika Fouche

27. “‘Hidden’ does not mean less. It means I am fighting every day, every hour, every second for no one to see my weakness.” — Sara K.



Six Ways To Beat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

“Oh, I’m a bit OCD…” – we have all heard this phrase, people say it almost as a boast. Well, I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and people who do suffer will know that it can be an almost debilitating condition which can prevent you living your life.

A little background… I have no idea where my OCD came from, I don’t have a traumatic memory or some obvious trigger but I started to find that certain things were becoming more difficult for me. I have a form of OCD that encompasses checking, ‘is the door locked’, ‘is the gas off’ – what started as me having to double check something, such as going back to check I had actually locked the front door became a nightmare when I would have to check a number of times, I used to get to my office and have to turn around and go back to check again.

OCD is a ridiculous condition,  as an adult you know if you have or haven’t done something but OCD is the demon that sits on your shoulder and says ‘have you?’, worse it will make you think of all of the impossible things that will happen because of your actions. You will think… ‘Oh no I left the iron on.’ immediately you will think ‘…and the house will burn down’, ‘…and people will die.’ so you find yourself going back and checking. You create routines, I had to check each knob on my gas cooker three times each to be sure I could safely go to bed, even if I had not used the cooker on that day.

For me my life was becoming increasingly difficult, I was regularly late for work as I had to complete my checking routines and it was affecting my relationships so I knew I had to change, but did not know how.

I have to say upfront that I am not a medical doctor and the advice I offer worked for me, it may not do so for everyone, there are no guarantees, however I hope this will be useful, sensible advice for anyone who is suffering.

1. Realize You Have An Issue

The first and most important step for me was to admit that I was suffering and that this was no way to continue. I had tolerated the compulsive behaviour for a long time and made a conscious decision to change.

2. Understand What OCD Means To You

I analysed the issues I was encountering, I had problems with checking and with doing certain things three times. Recognising that this was what I was doing meant I could start to make changes.

3. Start to stop…

Recognising what I was doing, for example, checking my door was locked three times did not mean I could stop this action straight away. I knew what I was doing was a compulsive reaction, but my mind was telling me I had to keep doing it. So I looked for steps to mitigate the actions. I would tie a knot in my handkerchief when I knew I had locked the door (touch the knot and know it was done. I still often had to go back and check again but it was a support). Then I created a leaving the house checklist, a small pad that looked like this.

  • Gas off           Yes
  • Iron off           Yes
  • Door locked   Yes

When I then felt myself trying to recheck I would look at the list rather than go back and physically check.

4. Realize This is Not An Instant Process

I wish I could say ‘and I stopped overnight’ – sorry, it took ages, even with a checklist my mind would not let me walk away. However, I was getting closer, I would maybe check twice not three times, eventually I was able to stop rechecking the physical items and just believe the list and further on from this I was able to stop all together.

5. Recognize When You Carry Out An OCD Action

When I am stressed I can find myself doing things which I now recognize as OCD. Stupid stuff in my case, for example having to tread on a certain manhole cover on my walk to walk, I realized I was ‘having to do it’, changing direction to carry out the action. When I recognized that I was doing something like this I would tell myself (often out loud) that this was an OCD reaction and force myself to stop doing it. The idea was to try to stop doing something before it became ingrained.

6. Talk To Others

It was difficult to admit, first to my doctor and then my partner that I had OCD, but when I did I realized that there are people out there who will help you and try to support. Not everyone will understand, but help is out there.

I have to admit that I still sometimes carry out actions which could be OCD routines however I am now very good at spotting them and stopping myself repeating them. I am more aware and open about my condition and, I am pleased to say, I have not double checked my front door in many years. So, if you do suffer, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Good luck!

Source: nigeriatoday