As you are all aware, I try to be very open about my mental health. I’m honest about my diagnosis and delve into my past experiences with it without holding back. The reason I do this is to try and end stigmas surrounding mental health. When I am honest about what happens in my head, but still show that I am able to function normally (for the most part), it helps people to see that mental health is not who someone is- it’s just a small part of them. With that said, I’d like to use this post to dig a little deeper into the inner workings of my twisted brain.
When people hear the words “depression” or “anxiety,” certain thoughts and images tend to come to mind, but often times, it’s so much more than what we commonly understand. There are symptoms that you wouldn’t even think are a part of a disorder, but rather a mere flaw in personality. There are so many parts of life that can be impacted by these things that most people may not have noticed or even heard of. This post is about the deeper symptoms I experience as a result of my disorders, but also ones I have found, through research, to be quite common. My hope is that by learning these things, people can start to better understand people who struggle with these symptoms everyday of their lives, whether you notice them or not.
To give you a better understanding of my personal story, my official diagnosis is Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Severe Social Anxiety Disorder, Moderate Depression, and Obsessive-Compulsive-Like Symptoms. I don’t have OCD officially, but I do experience some of the symptoms that tend to be associated with the disorder, such as an intense need for order and an obsession with the feeling of my hands that can cause me to be unable to function if they don’t feel “right.” Because my anxiety affects me so much more than my depression (most days), my psychiatrist (who I no longer see) seemed to think that my anxiety fuels my depression. While each disorder comes with its own list of common telltale signs and symptoms, many of which I experience, there are also many that run much deeper than what you may see on the surface. There are also symptoms I experience that you may notice, but never realized were a part of a deeper problem. I would like to add that these are symptoms from my own personal experience. While I have found a lot of them to be quite common, I am in no way saying they affect everybody. This is purely based off of my own personal experiences. With that said, I’m hoping that me being open and honest about these things can help others better understand their own disorders or that of someone else.
The most noticeable one would be my picking. I have gotten a lot of comments on this, because it is obvious for a lot of people. What this means is that I pick at myself; I pick at the bottom of my feet, my cuticles, and my face. Others may pick other places, but these are my hot my hot spots. I have taken chunks of skin off my feet so big, that it hurts to walk. I have picked my cuticles and the skin around my nails until it bleeds. I run my fingers over my face to look for even the tiniest bump and claw at it until I can’t feel it anymore. There are times that I claw at my face so much, the skin becomes completely red and angry and even bleeds. A lot of times, I’m not even aware I’m doing it. I’ve since discovered that this is a side effect of anxiety, and I’ve realized I do it most when I’m feeling anxious. I know a lot of people find this habit gross, but I can’t seem to stop it.
Another thing I tend to do a lot is catastrophize. While this probably sounds familiar, I feel that not a lot of people really understand how it can happen. For me, it mostly comes from unanswered text messages. I will text a friend and he won’t respond, and I’ll start feeling like something is wrong. When I can’t take it anymore, I’ll send another one. When no response comes I start spiraling down by thinking I did something to make them angry. I analyze everything I’ve said to him in the past few days, looking for where I might have made a mistake. I’ll take every tiny little phrase that has the tiniest possibility of being the culprit to try to figure out where I went wrong. I start obsessing over how I can make it right, and drive myself crazy thinking they are mad at me and that I’ve ruined everything and they will probably never talk to me again. The hardest part is that the logical side of my brain knows there is most likely a simple, harmless explanation for this, but no matter how many times I tell myself that, I can’t seem to stop the part of my brain that is creating scenarios in which I am the bad guy who needs to beg for forgiveness. This can make life extremely stressful, especially when it’s multiple people at once. If I do finally get a text back, I am filled so much relief, it’s like I wasn’t able to breathe normally until that moment- like whatever was squeezing my chest has finally let go. But when they don’t, I get an overwhelming sadness that takes hold, because in my mind, I’ve lost another friend and it’s all my fault. Catastrophizing happens in all sorts of situations, but this particular one seems to happen the most.
Going off of that point, another thing I struggle with is abandonment. I am constantly afraid of losing the people of care about, whether it be literally or figuratively. I try extremely hard to keep my friends happy, but I mess up and make mistakes. When I do, I freak out at the thought of losing them and find myself consumed in a full blown anxiety attack. I often feel as though I am being replaced by someone “better than me,” or cut out of a group to be left on the outskirts. I got to extensive lengths to try and prevent this from happening, such as not using a certain spoon because a friend mentioned it was her favorite, or never giving my opinion on simple things like where to eat for fear of picking something someone else may not want. I adjust my lifestyle to fit others’ wants without even discussing it, even when I don’t want to. I try really hard to be this perfect friend in hopes I won’t lose someone, but I always seem to inevitably fail.
I get into a period of sensory overload where every little noise irritates me. Sometimes this gets so bad that someone clearing their throat or shifting in their chair makes me want to scream. The ticking of the clock gets so loud that I can’t hear anything past it. Every tiny noise sounds like thunder in my brain and I just want to yell at everything to just shut up. This tends to happen when I am extremely anxious or depressed, especially when I’m a store that’s more busy than usual or something along those lines. Noises make me feel like I’m going insane. It tends to go away within a few minutes, but that doesn’t make the minutes it’s there any easier.
I get physically exhausted. I’ve written a post on this before, but I still wanted to include it to reiterate how important this is. Having anxiety and depression is unbelievably draining. Simple tasks like getting dressed or taking out the garbage suck up all my energy. Too much time spent in an anxious state can wipe me out completely for the rest of the day. When I’m depressed, I’m too tired to eat or change my clothes or even shower. Every little task feels like running a marathon. When it’s really bad, I get muscle aches from being so tense. My legs ache to the point where walking is a pain and my head feels too heavy for my neck to hold up on its own. I am so drained, I don’t want to do anything but lay down and maybe watch T.V. Even sitting up feels too difficult. A lot of people will perceive this as laziness, but in reality, fighting a battle inside your mind sucks the life right out of you. It bothers me when people comment on how I’m not doing anything or that I just lay around, but some days I don’t have any energy left to give.
Mental illness can creep up in a variety of ways that run so deep, it’s amazing to learn that it is a side effect of a disorder. There are things you thought were just your personality that can end up being another symptom. The good news is, the more we understand about mental health and how it affects people in different ways, it’s easier to recognize the signs and do our best to maintain better control over them. I hope some people found this post helpful, whether it helps you discover things about yourself or helps you to recognize these symptoms in someone close to you. The more honest we are about mental health, the more we can destroy stigmas that hold us back.