Self-awareness in depression and anxiety.

Let’s see if I can get all those neatly laid out thoughts I  had this morning back into shape to express them.

My understanding of my depression and social anxiety is increasing day by day. In leaps and bounds, as they like to say here :). Yesterday I saw a lovely cartoon about anxiety and depression and it rang false with me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then I got it.

The cartoon conveys very well the difficulty of living with depression and anxiety (and, by extension, other mental health issues), but it is very limiting, in that I believe that understanding those guys better is the key to beating them, and they CAN be beaten, or at least kept under check, at least when the triggers are relatively minor. The trick is, as always, self-awareness. They are not two independent balloons that wreak havoc without our knowledge and consent, they are very much a part of us, brought on by us, and so can be dealt with by us.

There are bigger things we can do very little about and so I am looking forward to starting on some sort of counselling therapy. No, I stand corrected: there are many things it is really really really difficult for us to do something about, but I am not giving up my conviction that everything is possible, as long as we become our best friend. Anyhow, this is not about that.

I am talking about the “little things”. Those things anxiety and depression sufferers are all very familiar with, the things that can take you and shake you and plummet you to the ground and beat you senseless and the people around you say “aw come on, aren’t you overreacting just a little bit?”. Those things.

I am getting better at recognising the little sneaky bastards. So, this morning I walked my dog briefly with a spring in my step, because the pain from the past three days in my legs is finally lifting (it may indeed have been caused by too many intensive and prolonged videogame sessions). I was a little perturbed about my husband’s request to post a packet with two boxes of electric cigarette fluid for a dear friend who lives in Italy. I was a little agitated when he asked me to do it (and had been semi-subsconsciously forgetting to do it for days), and after my walk I remembered it was because last time I did it the grumpy postoffice lady in Cambridge was not very pleasant about telling me it couldn’t be sent like that, it needed to be in separate packets. Plus something in the back of my mind was telling me: restrictions have increased, they won’t let me send it, you’ll see! So I told him. My sensible husband says please could you find out? My husband is a sweetie and works in an office and he doesn’t do postoffice friendly hours so of course after my walk with my dog and feeling all confident and relaxed again I said “But of course! Don’t worry!!“. I tried to quickly find out before we left the house but the internet being so slow I just gave up. Before leaving the house I took my trusty B12 and deliberately skipped the Propranolol… nah, i don’t need it, surely it’s no big deal to just ask, and there is nothing else to make me anxious today.

Got to school, noticed people staring at my tits. This is because yesterday a grumpy (end of the day) shop manager became perceivably nicer after I took off my jumper and she couldn’t hep looking at my tits. Anyway so I’m sure it was made up and nobody was staring at my tits this morning at school, but that’s how it felt like. So I put my jumper back on.

Then I went to the postoffice (a post inside a little grocery shop). She was still counting money and postoffice wasn’t strictly speaking open yet, I said not to worry I’ll go up in my town, she said no don’t worry we can start sending. That lady is so nice. This town is so nice. So I told her what was in it and of course confusion ensued. As far as she could tell if the things have a skull on them they can’t be sent, period. Is it a skull like this one or like this one?.  As I had told her we’d never sent it before (a lie!) I couldn’t say that we had. Plus I wasn’t actually sure that it had a skull on it, or whether it had a triangle or a square around it. She saw I was uncertain and bless her heart she kept checking on her book. Then she offered to phone the helpline. A queue was materialising behind me and we all know what British people are like with queues, we detest holding up a queue. I say “we” even though I was born in Italy because I feel very British about this. Anyway, in the end she calls the helpline, and it is so: any type of skull? No send. Less than 5% nicotine, can send, with warning. Under 2% can send, no warning. Above 5%, can’t send. I thank her very much pick up all my packets apologise profusely to the looong queue out of the shop and leave.

That’s when it starts. Heart beating like a blooming disco beat. Ba bum! Ba bum! Brain tries to reason with me: It’s fine, you asked, it’s her job to check, she was nice, none of the people in the queue grumbled, it was FINE. Brain tries to mess with me: But he’s already told him he sent it. Well he lied, his problem, he shouldn’t have. Why didn’t he check beforehand anyway? Why did he ask, he KNOWS… and then I stopped myself, and realised: hang on. It was no big deal. He would have done it and he would have done it calmly and he would have come home and looked better at the contents an ta-dah, take it from there. But you are at home and he’s miles away at work! It.is.no.big.deal. I text him, why did you blah blah and now blah blah and now it will take me hours to calm myself! And then I thought it is true. It will take me hours. God I’m stoopid. And then: You’re not stupid, and you know why it will take you hours? Because it will take your heart hours to calm down. You had better go take your Propranolol. Also:

  1. breathing will only get me so far, and believe me I know a lot about breathing techniques. I am breathing nonetheless.
  2. telling myself I am “being silly” and “overreacting” will do nothing, in fact, if I do manage to get calm by doing that, it will set depression off. And THAT is a bugger to get out of.
  3. just the fact that all that physical response has been set in motion, right or not, justified or not, is the thing to deal with. So there is no point in saying it was silly to begin with, it has happened, so now I have to deal with it because something else will set in which is worse if I don’t. So, what do I do as I head towards the hill I have to walk up to get home.
  • First, I remind myself of the confidence I was feeling yesterday. I do NOT tell myself eh there you go all that confidence now is going to plummet under my shoes blah blah. No. I say to myself, that’s where I will get back to. It’s ok if I have to deal with this right now, but I will get back to that.
  • I then become aware of the depression that comes AFTER the anxiety. Not like in the comic, where they are together. In my experience, anxiety usually kicks in first, and it’s coming down from that stupid adrenaline high that plummets me down. So, I won’t let it. I become aware of the slowing down of my heart pounding (still happening, very slowly, bugger it). I don’t care how slow it is, I know the pill I just took will help me, and I just let it slow, take my time, no rush. What I used to do was berate myself for being such a nincomoop, a useless emotional idiotic wreck. That’s not helpful. That leads to depression. Depression is a prolonged tedium that I despise. So, I let it cool down. I post, because I know getting it all out here helps me tremendously.
    So instead of working on my planned translation enquiries, I will work on this today. Not a problem. I am so lucky I am at home to deal with this. Dealing with this if you’re going to work is a whole different story. Possible, but waaaay more difficult. Easier, to start with, as you have multiple distractions. But that’s how depression easily sneaks in. Anyway not the point right now.
  • I make a plan: I post, while heartbeat slows. I then look into postoffice issue. Then if not calm yet I will play some Witcher. Or I will play anyway to relax completely and NOT ALLOW any thoughts, the harpies of depression, to enter my head. After that nice numbing down I will look into some translation stuff.

So, that’s it. I got a plan so I walk up the hill more confidently and there are the cows, as usual. They come closer every time (My daughter tries to pet them every afternoon coming home). This time, they all come really close really quickly and then just stare at me:

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I am very happy. They bring back memories of my interminable walks in the Peruvian countryside, where I would come across lots of cows, and cows are cool. I put my hand forward, reminding myself I wasn’t scared of them then. They stay put as long as I look at them, then follow me with gusto when I turn around and walk. There is a game you play in Itay as a child, that works like that. They’re funny. I say goodbye and get out. It is a lovely day and it’s ok for me to spend it ensuring anxiety doesn’t spark off bad stuff.

I believe it is very important to become aware of what happens to us specifically, rather than generalise in any way. It is incredibly helpful to pinpoint the common traits, read about other people who share similar symptoms and coping techniques and what have you. But I must never forget that I have my own experience of myself and nothing beats that. Counsellors and psychiatrists can only do so much, I think. They can help us see the process from the outside and that certainly helps, but if I don’t do this as I walk up the hill today, helped by the cows who are there just for me, and for nobody else, nobody will do it for me.

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12 thoughts on “Self-awareness in depression and anxiety.

  1. Interesting exercise in self-awareness. A lot of my clients also do the “you’re being silly bit”, often encouraged by other therapists, and I try to down play it. Because you aren’t being silly. You aren’t choosing this at all. It’s happening to you, and it feels pretty darn serious in the moment. But I know where it comes from: yes, we do want to be able to convince ourselves that the danger we feel isn’t “real” but we also shouldn’t downplay the experience, or do any form of victim-blaming. Triggers are so sensitive, and vary so greatly between people that you really can’t generalize. But it takes a lot of hard work to start pin-pointing these things, especially in the middle of what feels like a crisis. Kudos, Billy. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am in such a privileged position right now, I have the luxury to try and do this. Should I have to go out and see people on a regular basis this might not be so feasible. But thank you, I think I am doing some good work on myself, I hope 🙂

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      1. Well, you are right about that. As you may know, I’m a therapist, and my specialty is crisis counselling. I get phone calls from people in the throes of anxiety attacks and it’s my job to talk them down (this is an “easy” call as the bulk of my work is the suicide variety). Anxiety is so hard to talk about because it’s completely unseen and yet has real, physical symptoms. I have a lot of respect for people who live with it, even the people who are living badly, because it’s not easy. And to come to any self-awareness takes a tonne of work.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought that little comic was interesting, but now you’ve got me wondering what comes first for me–the depression or the anxiety. I know at the end of the day, wherever depression is on the graph in my mood app, that anxiety is right there with it, but never thought much about which one triggers the other.

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    1. It is very individual, I am beginning to see. I thought the cartoon was accurate in describing how difficult it is to function “normally” with those two, in that it was great. But I didn’t like the sense of “there is nothing at all I can do about it”. I think we can do. I think we need to believe that we can, in exactly the same way I avoid peppers in the evening as I can’t digest them very well, or choose to eat onions cooked appropriately or KNOW it’s going to make me sick. I think understanding how those big guys work and interact with each other and what sets them off in each one of us is really important 🙂

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  3. Good writing and good work on the anxiety. Getting it right isn’t as important as learning what helps you to manage it. If I allowed panic and anxiety to control me I would never leave my apartment. But I know what happens to the body when we don’t exercise. We eventually lose mobility.

    When I go out I have such severe panic attacks that I feel like I’m dying. So I never go out without a camera. As soon as I feel it hit I take a picture. I have hundreds of pictures of random leaves and glass on the sidewalk. Something about narrowing my field of vision causes the panic to subside.

    I don’t understand it, I only know that it allows me to get the exercise I need to stay physically healthy.

    Thank you for this post.

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    1. My daughter told me yesterday! It’s called Granny’s Footsteps!
      This is why it’s so important to me to read of the struggles of others in here, like seeing you from the outside and thinking my gosh blah’s so cool but knowing that an idiot episode like that can floor you too is .. comforting.

      Liked by 2 people

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