On Monday, I was sitting in my therapist’s waiting room when I heard the tragic news that Robin Williams had passed away. I was in tears and couldn’t believe it. I knew he had struggled with addiction and more recently depression, but that doesn’t make his death any less shocking.
I’ve opened up about my battle with anxiety and am happy to discuss that. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and get anxious about all kinds of things. I get anxious on the subway and when I feel like I can’t breathe. I get anxious in bad weather. I get anxious when I’m stressed, which is very often. Sometimes I have trouble getting out of my apartment on really bad days.
I’ve been going back and forth on the topic of medication with my therapist. The fact is that I’m managing my anxiety the best I can, and although it’s incredibly difficult, I am doing it. I think I will go on medication at some point, but right now I want to focus on managing my anxiety without it.
But there’s something I haven’t been open about: depression.
I’m tired of hiding it. I’m not ashamed by my mental health problems. They’re just deeply personal. However, I realized that hiding my illnesses won’t make them go away. Being open about them might help someone else, so I’m going to tell you all about it.
A lot of times anxiety and depression go hand-in-hand. Anxiety can prohibit you from doing things because it convinces you that you’re in danger or that something is wrong. It can cause you to turn down the simplest things like watching a movie with your friends because there’s a voice telling you that if you go outside, something bad will happen. The restrictions that anxiety puts on you can lead to depression. More often than not, people that are diagnosed with depression or anxiety are also diagnosed with the other.
Depression and anxiety both run in my family. I’ve seen my loved ones and many friends struggle with these illnesses for so long and never thought that I, who was dubbed “the normal one,” would ever face the same trials. But I am.
I’ve been battling my anxiety for quite some time, although for years I didn’t realize that I was. It makes sense since I’ve been through a lot of traumatic life events. I witnessed death at a young age, dealt with the attempted suicide of my best friend, lost another best friend, almost died several times and survived a tornado. My life has been filled with high-impact situations that have caused me to be anxious about almost everything.
After my friend Macy passed away, I was definitely depressed. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I shut myself off. That was the first time I went to therapy, but I hated my therapist and didn’t continue. That depression was situational, which is very common when it comes to loss. At a certain point, I was told I had to get it together. So I did and moved along. Looking back, I started becoming very anxious about death around that time.
After my biggest near-death experience, I was depressed. But everyone, including my therapist at college, was telling me that I had been blessed with this second chance and couldn’t waste it. Instead of processing and taking time to deal with what happened to me, I pushed forward and pretended that I was fine. I, of course, was not fine. My anxiety was controlling me at that point, but I chalked it up to school stress and kept going. I started taking things out on my then-boyfriend, family and friends.
At the end of my junior year of college, our town was hit with an EF-4 tornado that took out pretty much everything. After that, I started seeing a new therapist at home because I was a wreck. I was diagnosed with PSTD and was learning how to cope with my anxiety. But no one was helping me cope with my depression. I myself refused to think or admit that I’ve been struggling with depression because I’m Caitlin. I’m always happy.
When people describe me, they’ll probably tell you that I’m always smiling. I’m friendly and talkative and will make you feel sparkly on the inside. I love hearing that, but I also feel a bit like a fraud because I don’t feel sparkly on the inside.
For the better part of a year, I’ve been really struggling with my anxiety. I was using my previous relationship as a Band-Aid to mask my problems and put my focus on something else. When my relationship abruptly ended in January, I lost it and felt the pull of everything I had been avoiding. My anxiety had spun out of control and flung me into a black hole of depression.
I was afraid to be alone because I had these voices in my head telling me that I wasn’t good enough. That my boyfriend dumped me because I wasn’t worth it, that I did something wrong, that there was something the matter with me. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror because all I could see was “You’re nothing” stamped across my forehead. I was feeling so much pain that had been building. I had suppressed so many negative feelings and thoughts for such a long time because I was always the person who had it together and who was positive. I hit my breaking point and couldn’t do it anymore.
I wasn’t sleeping so I was taking an over-the-counter medication. I felt so helpless and dark and wanted nothing more than for all of it to go away. I thought to myself that I could just take the entire bottle and then I wouldn’t wake up and I wouldn’t feel anything. That thought scared the crap out of me. I called my brother and told him I was scared and that I was afraid to leave myself alone. He talked me down, reminded me that thoughts are just thoughts and made me promise that I wouldn’t do anything. I have anxiety about disappointing people and breaking promises, so I went to bed.
The next morning, I dragged myself unwillingly out of bed because I had to come to work. I walked into the middle of the street because half of me wasn’t paying attention and the other half just didn’t care. When I made it to the subway, my brain told me that if I just fell in, it wouldn’t matter. I didn’t matter.
The thing about depression that people who don’t have it don’t understand is that you have no control over what your brain is telling you to do. You have a happy, healthy brain that doesn’t tell you how horrible you are or that you’re better off dead. J.K. Rowling explained that Dementors were inspired by her experience with depression, “It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what Dementors are.”
Depression is an emptiness that paralyzes you and sucks all the happiness out. And sometimes you reach the point, like I did, where it compounds every negative statement you’ve thought about yourself about a million times. The best way I can explain how depression makes you think is like how that necklace horcrux talked to Ron Weasley. It told him he was nothing, that he would never measure up to Harry Potter, that he was worthless. That’s what depression tells you, and you have no control over it.
I was so fortunate to be educated about depression because so many people I know have been affected by it. I logically know that I don’t want to hurt myself. I went home, got back into therapy and am taking the steps I need to manage what I’m dealing with. I am okay. I have good days and great days. I get out of bed and go to work and hang out with my friends. But I also have bad days. I have days when I don’t want to do anything and when my anxiety controls me. I have days when I hear depression telling me that I’m not enough, but I know that I am.
I just wanted to let you know that you are NOT alone. Even the happiest people in the world on the outside, like me and like Robin Williams, can be dealing with the worst possible things. You don’t ever know what someone’s life is like on the inside. If you take one glance at my internet life, you’d think there was nothing wrong. But you don’t know me on the day to day just like you don’t know anyone else.
If you’re feeling depressed, know that it’s not your fault. You are not alone. You are wonderful and wanted. You are enough. And you should talk to someone. Talk to me, talk to a friend, talk to someone at the other end of the phone (call 1-800-273-8255) or a chat line. You can get through it. I’m getting through it every day.
Do you struggle with depression? How do you cope and manage? Tell us in the comments!
You can reach this post’s author, Caitlin Corsetti, on Twitter and Instagram!