One year ago I couldn’t board the plane to Sri Lanka because I thought I couldn’t breathe.
Today I’m writing this from another plane on my way down to Portugal. Cool as a cucumber, working and enjoying the view from the window seat. Sure, having no turbulence has helped this particular flight, but overall, I seem to have a good handle on things. It’s not close to perfect, but I can happily say I’ve avoided flight-related panic attacks for a long, long time.
The worst part about having mild anxiety and depression is you think it will never change. Unlike everything else in this word that ebbs and flows, you get stuck often thinking well, this is it. I’ll be this underlying sad, listless and useless forever. I’ll be scared from now on. I’ll constantly be lost in some existential spiral and worried and nervous and what does it all mean?!
Alright. None of that is true.
Yes, it doesn’t get better in a big upwards curve – you will still crash a few times. But the highs do come back and the OK days too. I was super low for months; couldn’t work, eat or sleep. My body hurt, my mind raced and nothing seemed worth doing. Or if it did, I was too scared to try it.
Any solution seemed not helpful and the finality of my convictions would never be lifted. But slowly, through help and through my own reflections the blanket of negativity became a little lighter. Slowly, everyday I’d have a few minutes of relief. Then a few hours. Then lots of tears again, but then I’d laugh a little.
A year later, I’m back to traveling, back to enjoying the sun, back to working at my potential and have found ways not to fully ‘cure’ the lows, but cope with it and soldier on, looking forward to all that will be good in the future.
PLEASE, if you or a loved one are suffering from any kind of trauma, mental illness or distress, please see a professional. You might have to see several different professionals. I’m only speaking from my own personal experience and am not certified to give professional advice in any way. Contact me if you need anything specific. And don’t google your symptoms. Trust me.
What Has Helped My Anxiety and Depression?
Number one: Not Being Ashamed
I was lucky and someone told me to tell everyone I was having a really rough time. Not that I was good at hiding the tears and isolation anyways, but it felt good to normalize it and take a little control back. I meet strangers over coffee and tell them about it right away. Slightly awkward, but no one ever made me feel bad about it, and in fact it usually opens up a dialogue for others to share their troubles too. We’re all on this crazy ride together and no one really knows what’s going on – so finding a little comfort in others has been just what I needed.
Here’s a few other things that have been invaluable in improving my mental health:
The UK health system is (mostly) free for all residents. English citizens get access right away, and as an expat I had to pay a one-time fee to also be able to utilize the care.
My doctor is smart, understanding and very reassuring. I went to him when I was a complete mess and he calmly explained to me everything I could do. Amazingly, he even gave me a personal phone call next time I was getting on the plane. I was in the airport and he made sure I was doing alright. That alone was worth the time spent setting up a GP and I’m crazy grateful for it.
I will say though, I have not have any severe problems. I know the system doesn’t work well for many people. I know too you REALLY have to advocate for yourself (especially when my GP is not available and I have to justify/re-explain my issues with a new doctor). But I will say I am so thankful I dried my tears and made that first appointment to look over options. It’s an incredible, and FREE, resource here in the UK.
A shout-out to the US system as well. One really terrible episode landed me in the emergency room while I was visiting the states last summer. An angel of a nurse did everything she could to make me laugh, and knew exactly what I needed to lighten the situation (hello, adult coloring books). The whole team at South Shore Hospital were incredible. And yes, my family was also amazing and paid out the nose to have me see medical professionals while not on insurance at ‘home’, but that’s not the nurses fault.
PS, if you have ANY mental health issues, please get travel insurance if you plan to be abroad. It can be a lifesaver. I learned the hard way without it.
I’ve seen a therapist for about 7 months while in London. She’s a lovely woman who specializes in doctors who deal with trauma on an every day basis. After trying a few different therapists I stuck with her, because we had similar backgrounds and I knew her specialties would put my own issues into perspective. It’s been a great experience. This summer we decided to par down and let myself continue to handle things on my own with what I’ve learned, with the occasional check-in. Again this is not cheap, but have a chat with your therapist to see if there’s options available to you, as there can be on almost any budget.
There was a big part of me that really, really didn’t want to do this. I have a family history of more serious mental illness and I was worried I was going down this road. For some reason, I thought resisting treatment would make me stronger and better off.
I mean, who just tries to shake off a broken arm and wait for it to heal? After months of tears, being afraid, and very slow progress, my therapist and I talked about a mild SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) to help calm my mind so I can think clearly and handle my panics. In the coming months, I will slowly wean myself off under doctors’ observation. Most depressive episodes last 2-3 years, so they recommend medication is used until the worst is over and you can think with a clear head. I wish I didn’t wait as long as I did to discuss my options with professionals, it can be a great resource for some people in many different mental health situations.
I talk a lot about yoga, like here and here. I also never had a good time doing team sports or other physical activity, but yoga makes sense to me more in body and mind. I compete with myself and no one else. And no one else cares what I’m doing in the back of the studio, I can just relax.
The teachers I have are wonderful and again, I’m fortunate to have found a studio that’s stripped down, old school yoga. Well, as old school as it can get in a trendy part of London. No heat, no rap music, no circus tumbling, just you and your mat. I love it, at the studio and at home. I’ve looked deeper into the art of yoga which is fascinating – not just the ‘asanas’ (movements) the other seven ‘limbs’ of yoga, like breath control, contentment and meditation.
It hasn’t quite stuck like yoga, but I’m working on calming my mind outside of the asana yoga moves. Even just steady breathing to a metronome, or practicing being aware of my thoughts (and letting them go) is all beneficial. Learning to not let my emotions escalate a situation comes more naturally everyday I work on it. I rather involve my body though to really distract for a second and get into the mood of cleansing.
Every day, or at least I try every day, to leave the house. I’m an extrovert (I think) and it’s essential for my well-being. It may sound silly but when I get into work mode, I’ll forget to even get up and grab water sometimes. The whole day will go by and I haven’t left my desk. Now I’ll make sure I do a quick errand, get to the yoga studio or just go grab a coffee. It makes all the difference, especially as working from home is so isolating sometimes.
This doesn’t mean forcing it or begrudgingly going out, but I have yet to regret a walk through the park or an iced latte once I make the effort to get out there. I try to remember that when I’m having a downer day and really prefer to stay curled up at home.
It’ll be alright, overall. I have more good days now than bad days. It felt like it took forever to get here, but it didn’t and the really awful times were over in a blink of an eye. Take care of yourself, slow down and breathe. Someday it could get out of control like it did for me and the journey out of the dark is much harder. Either way though, it’s a work in progress and like I said, it’ll be alright.
Photos of me working from my flat in London courtesy of the lovely Luciie!