Aaron R. Davis
I don’t want to write a column today.
I don’t have an idea for one.
I can’t get in the right mental space for one. I’ve been having a harder and harder time for months dealing with my depression and anxiety. I’m not sure why, and I wasn’t aware just how much of a problem it was, but I’ve learned that if you ignore it, it will still find a way to get through to you.
Lately, it’s been in my dreams.
I can tell by my dreams whether I’m anxious or depressed.
If I’m anxious, I get a bunch of short, choppy dreams. Some of them are scary. Some of them give me panic attacks. I’ve had occasions where I’ll have a panic attack in a dream so severe that it wakes me up, only for the panic attack to continue. I can’t focus in those dreams; I just keep moving to the next thing and the next thing, like someone rapidly flipping TV channels, and I wake up exhausted and anxious from it.
If I’m depressed, I have long, plodding dreams that feel incredibly real. Usually I’m walking around a mall, trying to find a specific store or meet a specific person. Or I’m at an airport, walking all over it trying to find the right gate. I’m lost somewhere, trying to find my way back to where I was. Or I’m trying to finish a task in a certain amount of time and I have no idea what I’m doing. And when I wake up, I’m exhausted from all of the walking and all of the mental uncertainty, and I’m anxious from it.
So I wake up anxious most days.
The last two nights have been different; I’ve had the long depression dreams, but both times I was so upset about the stuff that happened that I had a panic attack, and then I woke up half-panicked, with a heavy feeling in my chest and feeling totally exhausted, like I had been walking in my sleep.
So it’s hard to stay positive.
And I want to write positive things. I get so stuck in the frame of the angry guy, writing about how awful people are and the shitty things they keep doing to one another, and it’s so tiring and it just feeds my anger, which feeds my anxiety, which feeds my depression. I had planned to write something positive today. I went to bed thinking about what I was going to write about, and then had a dream centering on that thing that turned into so much anxiety and depression and panic that I just don’t even know how to talk about it now.
So, I figured instead of trying to force myself to churn out something that I didn’t feel, or try to beg off from writing anything at all, I thought I’d just cop to it.
This is a Mental Health Day. I’m taking off from what I was going to write because I’m going to focus on my mental health instead. And part of that is trying to be mindful of what’s anxiety and what isn’t.
For example, I’ve learned recently that I’ve always had a tendency to ascribe perfectly normal feelings to anxiety. It’s daunting to be 38 and realize that sometimes I’m not anxious, I’m just hungry. And if I’ve overeaten, it presents as depression in me; I need to remind myself that feeling sick to my stomach is literally just being sick to my stomach, not depression. I don’t feel bad because I’m bad in some way; it’s too much dinner.
Another example: it’s 11:00 and I still haven’t eaten today. I’m low-functioning today. It happens. But I also had bad dreams, overslept and woke up exhausted. Not only that, but I’m tired from exercising yesterday; I’m pushing myself too hard, so I’m overcompensating today by not doing anything. But that’s physical; that’s not being depressed or anxious. That’s misreading legitimately being tired as being unable to do something for weird, shadowy personal reasons and deciding I’m not a good person and then being sad about that. Because of another, unrelated medical reason, I bled a lot this morning, and I feel weak and tired from that. And I have to work extra hard to keep telling myself that that’s just being physically unwell and not be angry with myself for just not doing things because they seem too hard.
I want you to know, if you’re dealing with similar mental issues, they have nothing to do with your self-worth. Depression, anxiety, panic — these things don’t make you a bad person. Fight them all you can. By the time I was finally willing to seek professional help, I had isolated myself from my family, ruined most of my friendships, stopped working entirely and pulled away from most of my commitments. There is barely any pressure on me anymore, and it still feels overwhelming. And it’s because there’s something inside me that I don’t know how to handle yet that puts it there.
I have to remind myself daily that cooking some bacon and eggs and making coffee isn’t the fate of the world. I’m not defusing a bomb; I’m making omelets.
That’s why we’re told to celebrate the little things in life, like making coffee. It’s easy to say, well, it’s just coffee, it’s no big deal. But that’s not the point. The point, for people like us, is that we overcame our low functionality, we overcame the pressure we put on ourselves, and made the hard choice — and followed it up with real action — to not let the pressure dictate our abilities. At least for one thing.
Mental Health Day. Honesty.
Be kind to yourselves, please.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org