I am okay again. Yesterday was bright and beautiful. I spent three days in the fog, and everything looked terrifying, but I rested, and I climbed out and came back.
I used the words mental illness because they were being tossed around in the wake of last week's tragedy. I find it hard when those words are used without much thought or distinction. But an anxiety disorder is a mental illness, and I'm not afraid to own it. It still is hard to write about my anxiety disorder and what it does to me. My second blog post ever was about the woods of depression and anxiety and how they plague me. That was over twelve years ago, when I was twenty-five years old and hadtwo kids and one on the way. I have learned many things since then. I have explored neurological reasons for anxiety and found some help there. I have learned a lot about myself. I am much, much better.
But I have these things I call meltdowns, and they are terrible, like a pit that I fall into. Any interaction is terrifying. The Internet is terrifying. People are scary. Life seems horrible. And I can't escape. There is no way to get out of my own head, so the nearly physical presence of my anxiety nearly undoes me. They take days to get over. And as you know, I have people in my life, lots of them, who count on me.
Because it had been so long since I had a bad meltdown, I thought perhaps they were gone. Shame and disappointment overwhelmed me when I went through another one. I want to be free of them. I want to go through life without fearing that my brain will turn against me without warning. The qualities I admire are strength, joy, consistency, safety and grace. And sometimes I am the opposite. Ugh.
But today I can see that this is cause for rejoicing. Because it had been so long since I fell apart like that— it took me by surprise. And I came out of the pit quickly. I am learning.
Here are the things I do to keep my mind well and not fall into the pit:
-Take herbs (rhodiola rosea- I highly recommend 350 mg a day, but as always, I am not a professional, talk to a doctor if you are not sure)
-Eat well and make sure I get tons of iron and vitamins
-Go on long walks in jungle and forest
-Keep religious about sleep
-Drink lots of water
-Pray and meditate
-Get up very early for time alone to write books
-Write blog posts and gratitude journals and poems. Keep lists and bullet journals to keep from getting overwhelmed.
All of these things help me, and yet none of them can guarantee that I will not fall apart from time to time. There is no guarantee.
A friend once gave me wise advice. She said that we often expect ourselves to focus or remember all the good things about love and God and our belovedness and our faith when we are in the midst of a crash. But those are the hardest times of all to remember. She said she stopped putting pressure on herself to think it through when she is down. Instead she surrounds herself with every comforting thing: books, movies, good food (for me, comedy) and when she is well, and her mind is clear, that is when she fills her mind and heart with things that will carry her through: meditation, exercise, reading good books and scripture, journaling. I do this now, and it helps. I have two people, nearly. One who can handle it all and learn and run with things, and one who just needs to hide away.
I write about this here because it is hard to find writers (let alone Christian writers, and thankfully there are many more people these day) who are honest about these things, and people tell me it helps them when they find me. I know many, many people struggle with similar burdens, and I have had parents of kids who experience anxiety tell me it helps them too. We all need a little insight into the mind of those who struggle. Some people struggle just to be.
Over the weekend, I struggled with why. Why does God not say yes to our most well-meant requests? I don't know. It doesn't seem helpful for me to be this way, and a long life with this thorn stretches out ahead of me sometimes… it is daunting. And there are still people who deny the neurological and chemical nature of depression and anxiety.
There is a beautiful man here in this town. He is a gentle soul without a home, who finds places to busk with his bamboo flute. I often see him in the market or on the street. He is a friend of mine, though we don't say much more than hi and how are you? Sometimes he stands motionless for a long time, flute to his mouth, with no sound coming out. None at all, for minutes and hours. And oh, I understand this. How hard it can be sometimes, even to stand at all, let alone play the flute that you have to your mouth. I love that he tries, and that sometimes he can play. He is a brother to me. This is something I feel often. When I see someone on the street in San Francisco, shouting or crying, I feel that I am one bad week away from that person's reality. Take away sleep or comfort, and that is me. My hold on my mind is fragile and I guard it carefully.
And maybe some of us need to understand the struggle, to write about it and have eyes of understanding. To say, "I know how fragile we all are, how easy it is to fall." Or maybe there is no reason, it just is. I know, in good moments, which are more plentiful these days, that I am loved I am loved I am loved. And that I am never alone. God is with me and this is enough. It will always be enough.