Chapter 3: Part III: Things That My Mind Told Me When I Was Depressed

THINGS THAT MY MIND TOLD ME WHEN I WAS DEPRESSED:

  1. That things were way worse than they actually were.
  2. All of my faults as an individual were insurmountable.
  3. This feeling would never pass and I would never be happy again.
  4. I was undeserving of anything in my life that was good.
  5. I deserved to feel this way.
  6. I should deal with this on my own.
  7. I was worthless.
  8. I was inadequate.
  9. Death would be a welcome release from this feeling. *
  10. Whatever my mind was telling me was the truth.

 

 

*for some reason, not everyone gets this thought. Some people can get into the greatest depths of depression and never consider taking their own life. Others can get milder depression and instantly turn to thoughts of suicide. A biological predisposition?

Chapter 3: Part II: It’s a Trip

A PERSONAL DISTINCTION…

While I say that I was feeling sad, I want to make a personal distinction between sadness and depression. For me, I get sad when life events trigger this emotion in me. For instance, I feel sad when a loved one gets sick, or at the loss of a family pet. Although I am feeling sad, I know in my mind that the feeling will not last forever, and sometimes I can talk my way out of it. Other positive things in my life can still trigger hints of happiness and enjoyment during this time. However, depression is a whole other layer of despair. There are many different shades of grey when it comes to depression. People experience everything from a low grade sadness that will not go away, to truly gut wrenching sadness that comes and goes whenever it chooses. For me, there was no talking my way out of this feeling. Other thoughts did not create sparks of happiness. I was depressed. It was the deepest sadness I had ever felt. Every thought that came into my head created a gut wrenching anguish that made me want to bail out on life itself.

“Other thoughts did not create sparks of happiness. I was depressed.”

The power of this type of depression is unfathomable and overwhelming. It swallows you up and spits you out on the side of the road. Your soul is beaten to a pulp. The feelings you feel are more akin to a vivid, nightmarish hallucination than mere fleeting moods and thoughts. It’s like a 60’s acid trip gone bad. In the moment, you believe the negative thoughts with all your wretched heart. They are 100% credible, persuasive, and definite. Your mind has turned against you. Life seems futile, your existence pointless. You will never be able to make things right. The world would be a better place without you.

“Life seems futile, your existence pointless.”

In the case that this is you and you are reading this while you feel depressed, hang in there. These feelings won’t last for ever. They will pass. If you haven’t already, reach out and tell someone else how you are feeling.

You are not alone.

You are sick right now and this sickness can be cured.

Chapter 3: It’s A Trip

SADNESS VS THE SICKNESS THAT IS DEPRESSION…

My anxiety was bad, but in the grand scheme of things, for me, it was a roadside stop for lunch on the highway to depression. As horrible as it was, anxiety was just the precursor for what was to come. It was a scary clap of thunder before the full force of the storm. Anxiety attacks led me into health anxiety. Health Anxiety led me into Depression. Depression sucked more than I could ever have imagined.

I don’t exactly remember if it was the end of December or the beginning of January. Things are a bit of a blur. At some point, instead of waking up with the physiological sensation of anxiety, I awoke feeling overwhelmingly sad. Sad to the pit of my stomach. Don’t want to get out of bed type sad. Curled-up in fetal-position under the duvet crying type sad.

At first, I thought the feeling would pass. Perhaps I could talk my way out of it? Maybe talking it through with my wife would help? Nope. My depression was powerful and mean. At this stage, I was not ready to accept that I was depressed. I was sad and this would go away. I was not one of ‘those’ people – the ones who get depressed! I was a happy person who didn’t let himself get stressed about things. Don’t call me depressed!

“The truth is that I was depressed and depression was like a magnet for negative thoughts.”

The truth is that I was depressed and depression was like a magnet for negative thoughts. At first I would awake with just the feeling of intense sadness, no thoughts attached. Everything on paper was great. I had a beautiful, caring wife. My two children were more precious and rewarding than I could have ever dreamed of. My career in teaching was going well. I had a lovely home and lots of hobbies that I enjoyed. I’d grown up with a wonderful family and married into another equally wonderful family in Canada. Why should I feel sad? But the magnet was powerful. It repelled all the good stuff and attracted negativity. Past mistakes were dragged from the depths of long-term memory and brought into the present day, loud and clear. Everything that I’d ever disliked about myself was being screamed back at me in a way that was both convincing and real. I was feeling the most intense misery of my life.

Chapter 2: Part IV: Things That I Believed

THINGS THAT I BELIEVED WHEN I WAS SUFFERING FROM ANXIETY:

  1. Something terrible was about to happen.
  2. Even in the absence of any symptoms, I was ill and going to die.
  3. I was going to die and it was somehow my own fault.
  4. I was not hungry and did not need food, because my body did not have long left.
  5. These were not merely anxiety attacks – they were messages from my own body as it tried to tell me that something was wrong.
  6. I needed to know what was wrong with – the uncertainty was excruciating.
  7. Physicians and medical tests are hugely flawed and rarely right when they say you are healthy. However, I would have totally believed them if they told me that I had bubonic plague and was about to die.
  8. The slightest small twinge in my body meant a severe underlying ailment.

Chapter 2: Part III: Something Must Be Wrong

HEALTH ANXIETY AND CHASING THE BLOOD-WORK…

In my experience, health anxiety followed a strange and torturous cycle. Initially I would worry that something was wrong with me. When I finally got my act together and went to the doctor, I would feel a bit better, like I had some control because I was doing something about my ailments. When the anxiety returned, I would be able to tell myself that it was just anxiety and I would prevent my brain from convincing me otherwise. This sense of logic and relief would last a day or so. Then the anxiety would again generate health concerns as I worried about the results of the testing. Eventually I would go back to the doctor to get the results, feeling near unbearable anxiety as I sat in the waiting room. The results would come back clear and again I would experience a temporary reprieve. A day or so later, I would either persuade myself that something else was wrong, or that there had been some sort of mistake at the lab and they had given me a false clear.

Throughout this entire cycle, I would have periods where I was feeling totally myself. I’d be looking back on an episode of anxiety and thinking that it felt like someone else had gone through it. I would be sitting there thinking how obvious it was that nothing was wrong with me. I had no symptoms. Why had I felt so totally convinced that I was sick? Would that feeling come back? Experience soon taught me that the answer to that last question was a firm “YES”.

I was exhausted. I was no longer sleeping through the night. Cycling through periods of anxiety and normality was draining me beyond belief. The icing on the cake – I was barely eating (remember how the fight or flight response stops digestion?) Not eating meant weight loss – approximately 15 pounds in two weeks. This is a lot for a 6-foot 2-inch string-bean that normally tips the scales at a mere 165 pounds in the first place. I looked gaunt. I looked sick. I felt lethargic and ill. All of this fed itself back into my certainty that I must be sick.

The reality is that I was sick. I just wasn’t looking in the right place.

Chapter 2: Part II: Something Must Be Wrong

HEALTH ANXIETY AND CHASING THE BLOOD-WORK…

Now… like many people, my anxiety attacks were happening in the absence of any scary beasties. There were no saber-tooth tigers, no rabid dogs, no masked-murderers, no man-eating snakes or reptiles of any kind, and no hairy house-spiders that know just the right way to walk in order to creep me out. In fact, this was all happening within the confines of my cozy, secure home where I should be feeling safe and anxiety-free.

Evidently, my brain is a rational fellow and, thrown into such a predicament, he strived to find a logical explanation for what was happening.  Having checked all available data from the eyeballs and other sensory outposts, he arrived at the conclusion that there were no external threats. So the question was where to look next? The answer was ‘inside’.  This was a bad idea. Operating on the understanding that there is no smoke without fire I became convinced that there was something wrong with my body.

I’m talking about the sort of something that doesn’t get better. The sort of something that you couldn’t possibly self-diagnose. The sort of something that means your time on this Earth is rapidly coming to an end. These episodes would last for a few hours. During each episode I would be totally convinced that something was wrong. Let me pause for a second to emphasize this…

…TOTALLY CONVINCED…

I describe these moments as being like hallucinations. Even though there was a distinct lack of logic in my diagnosing, I believed whole-heartedly that I had become the grand master of all things medical. I would also feed my own hallucination. For example, one night I became sure that my kidneys were failing. I felt that I was peeing more often than I should be. To help my kidney function I prescribed myself pint after pint of filtered tap water. Of course, drinking more water made me pee more, which made me even more convinced that my kidneys were failing, which in turn made me drink more water to help them out. A vicious loop of insanity, if ever there was one.

In the days that followed, all manner of imaginary illnesses befell me: Liver disease, heart issues, tumors, rare viruses… pretty much everything except what I actually had – health anxiety. I repeatedly found myself in doctors’ offices acquiring blood work and providing urine samples.  I sat in disbelief as results came back clear.

How could this be?

I knew that something was wrong with me.

Chapter 2: Something Must Be Wrong

HEALTH ANXIETY AND CHASING THE BLOOD-WORK…

I was sure that my experience was a side effect of my antibiotics, so I finished the course, continuing to experience the anxiety attacks. When finished, I gave myself two weeks, thinking that I had to allow time for my body to completely rid itself of all traces of the medication. I had searched the internet and found people describing this happening to them. The attacks kept coming.

“Attack” is an interesting word for what happens in these moments. The theory, as I understand it, relates back to us as primitive cavemen and cavewomen (cavepersons?). As we wander from our caves in search of food, a saber-toothed tiger (random?) jumps out in front of us, resolute that we are going to be its next meal. Our brains instantly go into survival mode. We have two choices: stay and fight this ferocious beasty, or attempt to run from it (fight vs. flight… right?)

It’s clever really. It’s a back-up plan that has been carefully thought out ahead of time. “O.K. boys. In the case that we are flung into a life-threatening situation, what systems and chemicals will we need at the ready?” Everything is planned out down to the very last detail and the entire plan, with everything that we need, is just sitting there ready to go… just in case we need it.

So, as the aforementioned saber-toothed kitty appears, the plan is thrown into action. Without any conscious thought, our nervous system releases a whole bunch of hormones and neurotransmitters. Names like adrenaline and norepinephrine may mean nothing to us, but our bodies know exactly what to do with them. Our adrenal gland, pituitary gland, and everyone else involved, all know exactly what they have to do in this situation… and they do it fast! Our liver produces extra glucose and turns fatty acids into the available energy that our muscles will need. Our heart and lungs speed up. Digestion stops. Blood vessels constrict to draw blood away from parts of the body that are not involved in the plan. Blood vessels around our muscles actually dilate (get bigger) to allow more blood to enter the area (thereby making more sugars and oxygen available). The bladder relaxes (no point carrying around any extra weight if we need to run). Peripheral vision is cut to allow us to focus purely on the issue at hand. Our body shakes from the sheer magnitude of what is going on inside.

There’s no doubt about it. The plan is outstanding. The team that put it together were geniuses. Everything has been carefully considered and thought through. Even our ability to clot our own blood speeds up, just in case we sustain an injury.

Oh, and one last thing. During this life-threatening situation there is no point thinking about what a glorious sunny day it is, or what a fine specimen this tiger actually is. Nope, this information is of no use. Instead, our brain focuses all of its attention on the negative stimuli… the wild and scary animal that might kill us, the slippery mud we find ourselves standing on, our own weaknesses as runners or fighters. The negative is all that matters.