I sometimes feel like that's how I should introduce myself, but the reality is that when I do mention those things, something strange happens:
People start talking to me like I'm either a time bomb, or a small child. Or they start asking uncomfortable questions and saying things like, "But you don't seem anxious/depressed!" or "Why are you anxious? There's nothing to worry about!"
Let's start with the obvious: Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and Depression are Mental Illnesses. By definition, that means that my brain does not work the way it's supposed to. It means that there doesn't have to be anything "scary" or "worrying" going on for my brain to randomly decide to hit the PANIC button. It can literally be anything, or nothing. There might or might not be a trigger. And if there is a trigger, I'm not always able to identify it right away.
You know, because my brain is in panic mode instead of thinking rationally.
Sometimes, I don't even realize that it's my anxiety or depression acting up. My brain slowly begins to feel foggy - slowly enough that I don't realize it's happening until I "suddenly" can't think clearly. Sometimes, I start getting cranky for no reason. Sometimes, I feel like running away. Others, I want to curl up in my chair under a blankie. Often, I want to be left entirely alone, and any noise is too much noise (a delightful experience when one has children). For me, my depression is so wrapped up in my anxiety that I usually can't tell which is which, except by evaluating whether I feel more like running away (anxiety) or more like sleeping for a week (depression). Add in the fact that I haven't had a good, regular sleep pattern in years (again, thanks kids. lol), and I often can't tell what's going on in the moment.
Some other facts about my particular brand of mental illness:
- It tends to be worse in the winter or when it's particularly cold, but it's been pretty solidly in the "not good" category for over a year, now. We're working on it.
- I have "brain fog" pretty much constantly right now, even with medication. I know it's there because occasionally, things will be going just right and it will clear a bit and I'll remember what it's like to think clearly.
- Having constant brain fog makes literally every single thing I do a monumental task. It's exhausting for me to have a conversation. Writing lesson plans takes forever. Letting the dog out requires a moment to collect myself so I can drag myself to the door. Cooking dinner takes so much energy and focus that sometimes, I don't feel like eating by the time I'm done.
- The only thing that reliably helps me feel better is a combination of therapy and medication. I'm on the meds. I still haven't had the mental energy to find a therapist. One of those catch 22 situations.
- I am "lucky" in that I have a pretty clear idea as to the root causes of my anxiety and its bff depression. That doesn't mean I know exactly what triggers each episode or panic attack, but I do know the root cause. Unfortunately, the root cause is not something I can just erase or cut out of my life. I'm still learning how to deal with something that is so much a part of me that it will literally never go away.
- Because my mental illness has its roots in my childhood, I literally have no idea what parts of my personality are "disordered" and which are "me". Is my spontaneity a symptom or a characteristic? What about my "fight me" attitude? Where does the illness end and the person begin? Is there really any differentiation?
- Being around people helps. A ton. Unfortunately, the planning required often exhausts me to a point that I avoid it. Which makes my depression worse. Another great catch 22 of mental illness.
- Here's a big one: I don't feel like my brand of mental illness is a "real" mental illness. I mean, it could be waaaaaay worse. I can often "pass" as "normal", so it doesn't "count". (Intellectually, I know all of this is bupkis). What does that mean in a practical sense? It means that I don't feel like I should be allowed to speak about my mental illness, because it's somehow less important than others. Again, I know, intellectually that it's nonsense, and that my anxiety and depression and panic are valid, recognized mental illnesses. But that doesn't stop me from feeling like they're not.
- Just for brevity's sake, I refer to my anxiety/panic disorder as Mildred. I picture her as a middle-aged, middle-class housewife screaming profanities at a customer service rep (me) because she's bored and unhappy. I've discovered that a lot of people who struggle with mental illness use this technique to separate the illness from themselves. It helps us to frame it in a way we can fight back. It's difficult to fight your own brain. But fighting this other, this anthropomorphized version of our disease, that is something we can do.
- My depression, as yet, does not have a name or an imagined form. Mostly because it is much less invasive in my life. I tend to think of my depression as an emptiness, a void. It doesn't tell me I'm worthless (Mildred has that covered), it just removes all feeling - all highs, all lows. I stop dreaming. I stop creating. I stop doing things that make me happy, because they don't anymore. I know others experience depression differently, but for me, it is an abyss.
- I had a GOOD childhood. Was it perfect? No. But the vast majority of it was pleasant and fun. The parts that lie at the root of my mental illness, in perspective, are relatively small portions of my childhood. And yet, somehow, they've affected me very, very deeply. And none of them are particularly horrific. Just the somewhat mundane, long-term and unpredictable sorts of things that some people would not even be affected by. But not me. For me, they are a source of anxiety, even now. Not by choice. It's just how my brain is wired.
- My favorite forms of self-medicating include, in no particular order: coffee, overworking myself, "rescuing" someone or something, mindless video games on my phone, oversharing with everyone, and zoning out. By favorite, of course, I mean most common.
- My preferred methods of self-harm include: overworking myself, being sedentary, isolating myself, and forgetting to eat. Again, by preferred, I mean most common. It's not like I enjoy any of these. But they are the places I go when things get bad. I figure it could be worse.
Basically, it's a big, mixed up, complicated mess. Because that's what we humans are. Especially those of us with mental illness.
So, when I introduce myself, and 5 minutes in, mention that I have anxiety/panic disorder/depression, this is a bit of why. I can't help myself. But I'm also judging how you're going to respond to me. If I tell you about my mental illness, and you keep talking to me like I'm a "normal" person, there's a good chance we'll be friends.
Condescend to me and it will take much longer for me to learn to trust you.