I have always been what some would call a “serious” person. As a teenager, and perhaps even before, I struggled with depression. While my best friends seemed to always be laughing about something or other, I went through days where I could not see the joy or humour in anything. I was well into my twenties before I finally got a clinical diagnosis but I recognized that “something was wrong” in my early teens and struggled to handle it on my own. I wondered if I was bipolar as I considered how suddenly my moods used to swing to that sad, empty feeling that I experienced once in a while, and which could last anywhere from a few hours to weeks or once, in my final year of high school, for months. I often wonder whether this is why I decided to major in psychology…to help me figure out what was happening in my mind and try and find a solution. When I finally started seeing a therapist it took only two sessions before she told me that I seemed to exhibit the symptoms of an anxiety disorder as well as PTSD. I know it’s a cliche to say but it was really as if a weight lifted off my shoulders. In the years since I have continued to struggle with episodes where my anxiety has caught me up in a web of ruminating. But knowing what I am dealing with has given me the tools to deal with it, and has helped me to recognize that anxiety is something I have which affects me, but which does not define me or control me.
One of the hardest things about my anxiety is that I have to constantly work at finding my joy. I have a very easy time picking up on the negative – in my life, in my mind, in the world around me. It is sometimes much more difficult for me to focus on the positive and see all the good things around me. This past week has been one of those times where I found myself drowning in my own mind, unable to see past the difficulties. You see, my two month old and I were confined to our home for the last 4 days because we had both come down with a cold. Such a minor thing really, but somehow enough to trigger my feelings of despair, worry and guilt. I felt guilty that my baby was sick, guilty that I was too sick to care for my older child, worried that this was more than a cold.
Times like this, it can be hard to distinguish between what is “normal” and what is my mind playing tricks on me. Once I’m in the middle of a spiral, my thoughts come so quickly and are so negative that it feels impossible to pull myself up and out of it. Sometimes it is all I can do to get out of bed, to get through the day taking it one moment at a time. Days or weeks at a time can pass where I feel overwhelmed by life, by my past, by the future. Luckily, I am able to cope using some of the skills which I have learned since my diagnosis. The most important thing for me is to be mindful – to focus on the current moment, and be present in the NOW. This forces me to stop thinking about all of the worst-case scenarios and simply live. To accept that there are a lot of scary things in the world, but that since I am unable to control so many of them I have to accept the scary things and live my life anyway. The other thing which works best for me is getting outside into the world and interacting with other people, or with nature. This always helps to remind me of the beauty and joy to be found in life, even if it is often overshadowed by the negative.
Remembering that there is so much good in the world, so much good in my life…that is what gets me through the hardest moments.