Gaunt, pale, lips quivering and sniffling, I once again arrived late for our session. After a few moments, my therapist asked me if I considered suicide. I paused.
For the past several months, ever since my husband announced he was “existentially unhappy,” I became more and more anxious. I had, indeed, considered ending it all.
Fear: The Onset of Anxiety
Having my happy little world of a 20-year monogamous relationship, two children and a green laurel hedge in Mayberry rocked by my spouse’s admission, toppled me from a powerful mother, wife and professional, to an anxious bowl of mush. Those words, as if striking me from behind by a two-by-four, caused damage to my psyche, cognition and mental acuity.
As the effects of concussion become more well known, and concussion protocol becomes commonplace, why don’t we have an assessment for a psychological blow like this? The resulting cognitive impairments — inability to focus, distraction, headache, tardiness, anxiety and depression —of a significant emotional blow seem quite similar to that which can be caused by of a physical blow.
Suddenly thrust into fear and the anxiety that ensues, I constantly wondered: What would happen? Would we remain together? Would we divorce? What about our 9 and 7-year-old children? How could we afford two households? Would we have to sell our home? Would I be destitute, living on the street?
Talk Therapy, Counselling
Returning to my counsellor’s question, had I ever contemplated suicide?
Yes. However, I recalled my early catechism lessons. Any sin could be forgiven with confession and an act of contrition — prayers, usually a few Hail Marys and an Our Father or two. But how could you perform an act of contrition after life? Only the good Lord knows — and certainly not a mere mortal like me. Presumably the gracious god forgives all and has special recompense for those so anguished by their mental state that suicide becomes the answer.
With this latent knowledge stored deep in my psyche, I replied, “no, I was raised Catholic.” She and I both laughed. However, our laughs sounded nervous, certainly not joyous.
After watching me lose 25 pounds and tufts of hair, my counsellor knew I suffered. Just how much I suffered, she tried to evaluate with the suicide question. About three months into our sessions, she suggested that I ask my family doctor about prescribing psychopharmaceuticals — anti-anxiety meds or anti-depressants.
I asked my doc, but at the time, he refused.
Anxiety on Display
Nearly 10 months after the “existentially unhappy” bomb dropped, I found myself heading to a family wedding, my godson’s wedding. With considerable fear, anxiety and trepidation guiding my decision making, I recall getting there was like swimming through Jell-O.
Within my normal, healthy emotional state, booking the flight and travel arrangements for myself and my children for a family wedding would have been a joy – certainly a no-brainer. But these logistics, coupled with the constant loop of nagging questions: How could we afford two different households? Would we have to sell our home? Would I be destitute, living on the street? left me wobbly in the head.
Moving Through Jell-O
I recall making the frugal decisions to travel alone and take transit to Vancouver International Airport (YVR). I wheeled my bag in slow-motion to the nearest 25 bus stop and gazed at the elementary school across the street. Recess, both my children played outside. But I couldn’t see them. I cried. I cried out of guilt for not taking them with me to their cousin’s wedding. I cried out of sadness for leaving them behind. And, I cried out of fear of what would happen, leaving them behind.
Lost in this trance, I heard the bus driver shout, “lady, do you want to get on the bus?”
Fortunately for me, he recognized the signs of mental instability and asked me where I was heading. My eyes peeled to the window, trees and houses blurred by tears and speed. Next I knew he said to me, “We’re at Cambie. You’d better get off here if you’re going to take the Canada Line.” And fortunately for me, the Canada Line ends at YVR. Somehow I managed to catch my flight to California.
One of my brothers drove me to the wedding. I shared a hotel room with one of my sisters. As we prepared for the wedding, I put on my dress, which I hadn’t tried on recently. The elastic that used to be fitted at my waist hung low at my hips, and the mid-calf skirt now brushed the floor. Without a belt and little time before the wedding, we looked for a solution. Somehow we MacGivered my sleeping mask into a belt. Although a ridiculous fashion faux pas, fortunately it functioned.
During dinner at the wedding, I recall my eldest brother’s comment to me about being awkward — something along the lines of how he couldn’t reconcile the fact that I could be so successful in my career and yet such a dolt in this setting. Paralyzed by his comment, I stared, deer-in-headlights, gobsmacked and nonplussed.
As the wedding progressed from dinner to dessert to toasts, I longed to channel my nephew’s dad, the middle one of my three brothers who had died several years before. In a stronger emotional state, I would have given a toast to my godson and his lovely wife, on behalf of his dad and his dad’s family.
But I couldn’t.
More Signs of Anxiety and a Ray of Light
Not only did words escape me for the first time in my life, but actually, I hadn’t thought about it ahead of time.
Time management proves to be terribly difficult when you’re suffering from anxiety. That higher cognitive function of being on time simply evades. Missed appointments become all too common when your butt is glued to your chair and every step feels like drudging through muck in concrete boots.
I do recall, however, a ray of emotional light (other than the bride and groom, and the love they shared with all attending) during the wedding. I recall helping one of my young-adult nieces, talking her down through an emotional state. How this black pot managed to help that kettle, I’ll never know. But this episode of helping another helped me, at least momentarily, break through my ominously dark, cloudy brain.
Alone in a Crowd: Withdrawn and Isolated
The youngest of eight children and the mother of two, I am accustomed to people around me. Living on a block full of friendly neighbors, there’s always company outside my door. On any given night, I can gather more than 20 girlfriends for “women ‘n’ wine.” And I have more than a thousand friends, colleagues and followers on social media.
Yet, among all these people, I felt alone, isolated by my fear and anxiety.
Anxiety, hallmarked by fear of the future, leads to depression. Depression feeds on the memory of a past situation, and the helplessness of that situation. May the good Lord help all who suffer along the unpleasant journey of anxiety and depression. During this dark episode, I felt as if I were in the toilet bowl of life.
From one who’s been there, I can offer a few things that have helped me through two distinct episodes of anxiety and depression.
Stay engaged as much as you can. I know it’s extremely hard — when you can barely pull your head off the pillow in the morning to care about anything — but try to care about others. This will help you get your mind off of your fixation — that destructive loop of fear-based questions — all within your head. Your mind is both the easiest and the hardest thing to control. Take heart in the wedding experience with my niece. By helping her, I got out of my own head, albeit for a few moments. Getting out of my obsession, it seemed to break a bit of the dark spell.
Another thing that helped me was finding pillars. Within my vast network of family, friends and colleagues, exactly three helped me during my first bought of anxiety and depression. Absolutely no criticism to all the others in my communities. Many people wanted to help me and knew I suffered, but they simply did not know what to do or how to help. A pillar understands where you’ve been, where you are now, and firmly believes in where you have the potential to land — upright and on your feet. Lean on these pillars to lend support when you cannot stand entirely on your own.
Counselling, Emotional Fortitude and Cognitive Strength
Thirdly, seek counselling. In this, the 21st Century, just like the effects of concussion, recognition of and conversations around mental health are becoming more and more commonplace. Counselling and talk therapy are normal activities that normal people partake in. Support your own mental fitness. This is your journey and your fortitude depends on your emotional strength.
Finally, if you have a prescription for a psychopharmaceutical, take it. My doctor did eventually prescribe me anti-anxiety meds. I don’t like the idea of relying on drugs but I like the idea of suffering mental anguish even less.
No one else can walk in your shoes or live your specific journey. You must take care of yourself.
Coping mechanisms abound and differ for each of us. What works for me may not work for you. The bottom line is that on the bus, at work, or in a family gathering there’s a high likelihood that you’re sitting next to someone who battles with some version of anxiety or depression.
Park your judgement
I recall in my younger years, when someone was depressed, I thought they could cure themselves by a little sunshine or exercise. Really, shouldn’t everybody be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps?
Wrong. And this type of judgement does not help. Judgement of others or self-judgement. Self-compasstion is of the utmost importance to seeing yourself through this journey.
We may feel broken or like there’s something wrong with us for feeling anxious or depressed. It’s hard not to let that feeling become part of a downward spiral, spiralling down that toilet bowl of life. Believe me, you’re not weak or unusual in struggling to cope with shit times. Shit happens.
Blessings to all those wrapped in the suffocating python of anxiety. It’s not an easy path to navigate. And it’s not easy to ask for help or lean on a pillar. However, recognize if you’re the one tapped, it’s an extreme honour and golden responsibility to be a pillar.
The underlying intention of this blog is to help women avoid feeling isolated in their journeys. If I could get one key message out to all, it would be: you are not alone.
Resources: Depression and Mood Disorders
- Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia
Provide support and education to people with a mood disorder, their families and friends.
- Mood Disorders Society of Canada
A non-profit organization committed to improving the quality of life for people affected by depression, bipolar disorder and other related disorders.
- U.S National Institute of Mental Health
Marketing and communications professional ErinRose Handy leads her operations from Vancouver, BC, Canada. In 2018, she founded WomenNavigate as a passion project designed to help women navigate life’s often challenging courses. Principal consultant for Handy Communications, you may contact ErinRose for business opportunities at Handy Communications.