I know I’ve been out of touch for a while, but it’s for good reason. It’s taken me a long time to finally say my name is Chantel and I suffer from depression and anxiety. Yes, I’ve alluded to it many times in my posts, but never truly acknowledged or accepted that this is my struggle. A struggle that while it can be managed, it may never go away. A struggle that has recently touched every part of my life more than ever before. I recently completed a leadership rotation at work and it broke me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I saw the spiral, but like most people with these disorders I thought I just needed to suck it up and push through. I am a strong black woman who can’t be seen as weak or incapable of handling challenging situations. That’s how we black women were raised and groomed in order to survive this brutal world.
To be completely honest, I’ve always been the way I am but I had no idea that it had a name. I’ve been called weird, intensely serious, socially awkward and “different”. I’ve believed these things about myself as well and felt as though they were things I couldn’t change. I am the person who prefers solitude and I mean total solitude. I can go for days and weeks without talking to or physically seeing someone, and it doesn’t bother me. In fact, large groups of people make me nervous. Before I go out, I need to know the exact plan, who’s going to be there, how long will we be there, will my outfit match the environment, will people think I’m weird, what conversation starters should I use, do I say anything at all. Then my stomach starts to cramp, my hands shake, I get dizzy, and nauseous. By the time we get to the function, I need a shot or two to get me through the first 10 minutes, while I check the exits to make sure we can get out safely if there is a fire. I worry about everything and I do mean everything. Sometimes I can push past all of these feelings and enjoy myself, but often I can’t so I decline the invites. I’m working on trying to be more social and meet new people, but it isn’t easy.
That’s just one part of the struggle. Although they tend to go hand in hand, the big D is earth shattering. Depression is a sneaky thing that can destroy your life and relationships. For me it usually starts with me not sleeping. Insomnia is real and it’s crippling for your mind and body. For an insomniac, it’s more than missing a few hours of sleep every so often. It’s a constant state of existing as a walking zombie. When I’m in a depressive or anxious cycle, I don’t sleep more than 4 hours a night, and sometimes not at all. Lack of sleep, then drives me to become overly emotional and irritated by small insignificant things. I’ve noticed that my anger manifests itself on an extreme level when I’m in a depressive state. I literally wanted to snatch my teammate’s breakfast container out of his hand and throw it away last week because I felt like he was eating his grits too loudly. Now he is very quiet so I know that my thought was irrational. I had to leave work in the middle of the day to get ear plugs because every sound was magnified and I couldn’t focus on my work. A few weeks ago, I sat in my car for an hour staring at the steering wheel and that same night I was shaking so bad and my mind was racing that I couldn’t sleep for 24 hours. I have also been physically ill for months with stomach issues. Nausea and stomach cramps have been the most common symptoms, though I do throw up at random times. I had no appetite and everything tasted bland. I’ve been asked many times so I will reassure you that I’m not pregnant. I’ve been to my regular doctor, a gastroenterologist, had two CT scans, and blood test for various organ functions. Thankfully, all of the results were normal, though I think I would have felt better if they found something abnormal. In the end, my doctor suggested that it may be a mental condition that was causing my physical issues. Even worse, all of this was affecting my behavior and it started to show. My closest friends could see it and so could my coworkers. I was totally checked out and felt no desire to check back in to life. At this point, I could no longer pretend to be okay, I wasn’t okay and it was time to seek help. I made an appointment with a new therapist who specialized in anxiety and depression along with developing social skills. Unlike my previous time with a therapist, I immediately unloaded all of my thoughts and feelings. The most helpful thing she said to me during that first session was “It’s okay to be broken and we’ll work to put the pieces back together, even if they fit in different spaces” It was reassuring to be told that it was perfectly acceptable to not be okay. She also suggested I make a follow-up visit to my psychiatrist to discuss my current medication. I freely admit that I, a black woman, take medications daily which help me handle my anxiety and depression. I don’t usually tell people that I take medication because they tend to treat you like a fragile egg that could crack at any moment. Clearly, since I’m writing this post, I’m no longer ashamed to admit that I need more than just prayer to function on a daily basis. My psychiatrist did adjust my medication and gave me something to get my sleep schedule back on track after my roller coaster rotation. Currently, both are working well and I’m slowly coming out of the valley.
We as a community don’t speak about the struggles of those with anxiety and depression enough. My struggles don’t define who I am, but they are a part of me which I can no longer ignore. If you think you may be suffering from anxiety and depression, don’t suffer in silence like I’ve done, seek help even if it’s just talking to a trusted friend. You don’t have to walk this road alone.