So the past few months I participated in a program called Write on! with Mental Health CT. Here I had the opportunity to write more about mental health and share one piece around the state of Connecticut. I shared the piece I wrote below and also made a YouTube video of it because I’m fancy. Read the piece below or watch my YouTube video here.
Okay, so my name is Sylvia DeMichiel. I struggle with anxiety and depression for a few years now. It didn’t become too extreme until I was around twenty-one years old, probably semi-due to some triggers that exacerbated my symptoms. I wanted to share a piece of my story because I’m not the only one who struggles with this. This is just one journey. There are so many others out there, but by looking in on one person’s path, maybe you can feel less alone or understand just what it can be like for others a tiny bit more.
Here’s the thing—my mind won’t stop. My anxiety brain takes over a lot. All these negative thoughts swarm. I try to do the work so that it won’t happen or I can move past it. I use my wellness tools, which can include reading, doing puzzles, hiking, or running, and I do my best, but while my anxiety has improved, it still won’t stop.
My anxiety often manifests in the following way. Terrible things that haven’t happened yet or will never happen feel as if they already have. In many situations, I think of the worst possible outcome, and that’s the only one that could possibly happen. I sit crying in my apartment, mourning relationships or feeling distraught over situations that haven’t occurred. And I know they haven’t occurred, and I know there is a slim chance of it happening, but that doesn’t counter anything. When a loved one doesn’t text back right away, I often become consumed with anxiety. I am not able to concentrate on anything else, and I wonder if they no longer want to be in my life.
A constant piece of me holds on to these ideas. I have a list of every negative thing I am—all the stinging words that have been said to me throughout the years, all the things I call myself and I look at my list. This list is proof that all my fears are valid. No one will ever want to be my friend or have a relationship with me because of my so-called qualities: I’m weak, selfish, a burden, unlovable, defensive, spoiled, a pusher, stubborn, loud, obnoxious, destructive and blah blah. Honestly, the list goes on.
When thinking of my good qualities, I can only come up with four. Yes, four. I feel and speak, I am mostly kind, and maybe I’m funny? I took ten minutes to write my negatives and thirty minutes to write those FOUR positives. Yeah, this is distorted thinking and it’s not okay. But even earlier tonight, I tried to think of more positive qualities and I couldn’t.
If I, the person who knows me best, can’t even come up with reasons for people to stay, why would others choose to stay? It makes zero sense to me. So I cry, even though the people I mourn are still here because I feel in my bones they won’t be here for long. This belief, the infamous “not enough” belief, keeps me stuck here.
Then comes depression. Last winter, I fell in my deepest darkest hole. I wasn’t sure I could ever make it out. Every day, I was only just surviving. I took sleep medication to sleep because I didn’t want to have the ability to think. That winter the bed and the couch were the main comfort in my life. Friends eventually became exhausted with trying to do things when I just couldn’t be okay. I am SO scared of going back to that place. And the pain I feel, mourning the losses that haven’t happened, is just a small piece of what I felt last winter and I can’t go back there.
It can be hard to imagine what is going on in someone’s head, especially a mind that is constantly going and is influenced by anxiety and depression. So imagine this conversation occurring inside your mind when you are deciding if you should go out with friends:
Depression: There’s no point in going you know. You will just be a burden. I feel sorry for anyone who has to hang out with you. You really should just stay home. No one actually wants you there. They just invite you because they feel obligated.
Anxiety: What if you go and look like an idiot? Oh! But what if you go and it’s the best time of your life? Oh! But what if you have to walk in by yourself? You’re going to fall, look like an idiot, and everyone is already gonna be in groups so you will just sit there by yourself. Maybe this is too much and you just shouldn’t go. But maybe this is going to be the best thing ever. Oh my – okay stay home not worth the stress. Ugh – but what if I should go? All your friends are pretending.
This is just a snippet of what it can be like in my head. It’s confusing and overwhelming and can be hard to stop. It’s frustrating when you get that something is irrational and you wish you could just stop but a substantial piece of your brain won’t let that happen. I want to trust. I want to live. I want to try new things. I want to be confident. Mostly, I want to be happy overall. And sometimes I can accomplish all those things; other times, I fall apart.
Some days it comes down to it being a choice and some days that choice is hard to make. My choice is to be brave and let people in. Some days I am not good at that. I push people away and lash out. Other times I hold on too tight, and they cannot breathe. Looking at it like it’s a choice, gives me the opportunity to see the progress I am making, though sometimes it’s hard.
I’m doing my best to get better, but sometimes it’s difficult to feel like I am improving, that I am moving beyond being a slave to my struggles with anxiety and depression. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact, that they both will always be a piece of my life. They will always be lurking in the conference room of my mind, giving their two cents to every experience and decision. It’s difficult to understand that concept, but I believe that that is what can save me. To stop fighting them and just let them be in the background.
Now, even though I’m well aware of this fact – that doesn’t mean it is easy to let go of either. On the hard days, I feel as if there is no point of even trying to get better anymore, but I try to remind myself of how I have been doing better lately. How I haven’t cried or questioned loved ones. I haven’t had an anxiety attack more than once a week recently. How I am better at recognizing and holding back hurtful things and not speaking from anxiety. These are small victories, but they are still wins. I’m still living and moving forward.
I realize that I have a lot of things going for me. I try to look at those things and remember them as much as I can. I am graduating graduate school in August and I completed my internship today. I am in a relationship with a man whom I adore. I have friends and family surrounding me and supporting me. I am happy. I feel hope again. Yes, I still struggle, but I have periods of happiness that I never had before. So here I am recognizing my progress and seeing how far I came because sometimes taking a step back and looking at your journey is all you need.
I wanted to share my journey with you all because you know someone who might think similarly to me. Maybe they are better at holding it inside of them due to fear and shame so you may have no idea. Or maybe you know the one I’m talking about because they share a little bit more or maybe this is you. I’m not alone in this. So if you think you know someone who is struggling or maybe this is you, please know that. No one is alone in this so no one should feel alone in this struggle.