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What does anxiety and depression look like? 

From the outside, to a person who doesn’t know you’re going through a storm, it may look like laughter, smiling, and joy.  Or it could look like alcoholism, anger, and fear.  Those are just examples of opposite ends of the spectrum.  Anxiety and depression could look like any combination in between.

Why am I bringing this up again? It’s important.  By understanding more about mental well-being, or lack there-of, we can do more to help those who need it most.

I’m a big fan of laughing it all off.  I’ve pushed so much aside, tucked away in the depths of any part of my brain that still has the capacity to hide things and continue to power through.  Not because I want to, but because I must.  I have two children that depend on me, not just as a providing parent, but as a friend, and a cheerleader, an advocate, a teacher (not taking away from the real teachers out there), and so many other hats.  They need me, and I refuse to let them down.

Even with that fight that happens in my head every day, it’s hard.  Life is hard.  The day to day is hard. Waking up in the morning is hard… really hard.  Pushing through a migraine is hard.  Trying not to walk in doorways without crashing into the frame is oddly difficult (more to come on the reasoning why this one is hard).

I still show up.  I’m not telling you this to brag.  It’s just a fact.  Do I want to go and hide?  Sometimes.  I even do on occasion. Bottom line is that I have survived 100% of the time I thought “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this.”

Truth be told, I don’t know how I’ve gotten through, but I’m still here to tell the story.  And the story goes something like this:

I suffer from anxiety, depression, mood swings, and major self-doubt.  I have taken medication, but everything I’ve tried has temporarily helped and then things would get worse.  Is it the medication making things worse, or is it me?  Does that sound like a question someone with anxiety would ask? You betcha.

What about seeing things from the perspective of someone going through it?  A smiling face, laughing, and the appearance of joy.  That can sometimes translate into something that may look like this:

  • I smile because I don’t want anyone to know how hurt I am.
  • I laugh, because if I don’t, I’ll cry.
  • Show joy, because if you don’t, they’ll ask questions.
  • If they ask questions, you’ll cry, and they won’t understand why.
  • Then they’ll start talking about you behind your back and stop calling you.
  • Why aren’t they calling me anymore, what did I do wrong?  Why doesn’t anyone like me?

This happens with every little detail in life.  They worry about Every. Single. Detail.

I sent you a text, why haven’t you responded? 

You said you were in hurry and didn’t have time to chat.  Did I do something wrong? Do you not like me anymore?

They all went out together and posted pictures on Facebook.  They all look happy.  Is it because I wasn’t there?  Is that why I wasn’t invited?

My husband only responds with “OK” to things I ask him in text.  Is he mad at me? What did I do?

Why does anyone want to be in a relationship with me?  I’m a terrible person.

All those scenarios above are basically the start of the spiral.  Once you start the spiral, it’s hard to stop.  All things build on each other until you can’t sort through what you know are the off thoughts from reality. 

You see our brain works differently.  We process every day activities differently.  We react differently.  I know for many years I wasn’t aware I was different.  Now that I’m older, more experienced, I can feel the differences. 

More times than not, I can feel when I’m triggered.  I’m aware of bad habits.  Take for instance every Tuesday, during this remote school year, Riley has had PT.  We have a nurse now to assist, which is wonderful, and my Mom, Grammy, is handling most of the school activities for both kids. God bless her.

PT is difficult for my little girl.  It’s not just a little crying here and there.  It’s full on I was just thrown down the stairs and have broken bones kind of crying.  Wailing, whimpering, screaming for someone to make it stop.

Side note: This is not Riley, this image is from iStock.

On the video call, her PT is instructing Grammy and our nurse on positioning, stretching, and so much more all while my heart is breaking in my office trying to do my remote work.

I’m an emotional eater.  I eat the cookies.  I eat all the cookies.  I didn’t realize that until this school year. Today I got to eat brown butter rice crispy treat from Sprouts.  If you haven’t tried them, and are an emotional eater like, you’ll hate me.  They’re so good.

Today was tough.  I had to go to my room and hide in the bathroom. I bawled.  I have a significant amount of emotional build up in my system also. That didn’t help the situation.  I hid, I ate, and broke down further and had a Dr. Pepper.  Because that is also a fall back to make me feel temporarily better.

I am aware.  I know it’s happening, and I’ve been better about paying attention to the triggers.  Sometimes that just isn’t enough.  Medication can help, even though most the medication out there basically makes you a zombie.  It’s a better option, believe it or not.

I’m actually have gotten off one medication already and am working on another.  These two were just not for me.  I want to remember what it’s like to feel like myself.  Unfortunately, that has brought on an onslaught of other things to deal with.

The point of all this is to understand.  People who don’t go through it, just don’t get it.  It’s complex and not as simple as exercise, lose weight, and eat healthily.  It’s more of trial and error, hope, and pray for the best. 

This next part is written to those going through the storm.  You are not alone.  You are important.  You are stronger than think. You may not think you’ve got this, but you do. 100% Baby.  100% of the times you thought you didn’t have it, you’ve made it through.

We talk a lot about mental health on this page.  It’s important.  You don’t know the battles people are fighting behind closed doors.  Especially as a parent of a special needs child, it’s difficult.  To add to that, we’re in unprecedented times.  We’re already loners, it’s hard connecting with others who just don’t get what it is to walk in our shoes. But now?  We’re even more isolated because we need to protect the health of our children more now than ever.

As I sit here and write this and eat my bowl of chocolate syrup covered ice cream, I just want you all to know, you’re not alone.  If you need someone to talk to, please reach out to me at sara@unbreakablesara.com.  Let’s chat.

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Sara is a mother of two, wife and full-time employee. She's also a parent of a child with special needs.