I recently interviewed a friend to talk about her experience with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and anxiety attacks. I’ve known her for a couple of years, and I have seen first-hand what her anxiety and depression have looked like, as well as sitting through a panic attack with her. We reviewed some questions and answers to help enlighten those who may not know what it looks like to have anxiety and depression and to continue education for those that do experience these issues. Here’s part one of our interview together.
- What is depression?
“Depression is kind of like what people portray it as in those anti-depressant commercials. You know, someone with a rock tied to their ankle or with a cloud over their head? It isn’t always sadness or feeling bad about yourself, but a big part of it is feeling physically weighed down and unable to do even the simplest things. Sometimes you cry without realizing why and sometimes you sleep through all of your classes for the entire week. Depression is a mental illness that messes with your mind and body.”
- What is anxiety?
“Anxiety is something that also messes with your mind and body. Anyone can be anxious about a situation or test or anything really, but anxiety is more than that. It’s an almost constant state of worry. You can have panic attacks from the smallest things and anxiety attacks that come out of nowhere. Anxiety isn’t always hyperventilating and worry, but also a physical ache. Sometimes [it] makes you believe lies you tell yourself in your head.”
- What is it like to have depression?
“So, having depression kind of disables you in embarrassing ways, sometimes. I never really spoke about the ways it disabled me because I was embarrassed (and my anxiety was telling me I was overreacting and just lazy). For me, I would lay in bed through classes, I would isolate myself from people, sometimes I would put off taking a shower or brushing my hair or washing my face all because it felt like too much. Having depression feels like this weight on your chest that gets heavier when you even think about getting up and doing something. Sometimes it does feel like sadness because the things that brought you joy usually don’t anymore.”
- What is it like to have anxiety?
“Having anxiety is honestly pretty similar to having depression. But, for me, they kind of mix together. When I don’t get up to do things, my anxiety kicks in and the weight on my chest gets heavier (sometimes causing me to have an anxiety or panic attack) and I feel guilt and shame. Sometimes, it’s being with a group of people you absolutely love and feeling like you need to leave or even spacing out and looking back minutes later not being able to remember what actually just happened. It’s caused me to care too much about what other people think and too little about taking care of myself.”
- Can you name an instance where your depression or anxiety hindered you from an activity?
“When I was in school, I had a really hard time getting to class. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed and then have anxiety attacks because of it. When I was on the mission field, I would go and evangelize and talk to the people, but sometimes would be overcome with anxiety and feel like I need to be alone or need to go lay down. I would witness amazing things and would forget about it when I got back. My sophomore year of college, I commuted. We had a big event day at school, and I stayed in bed all day because I physically felt too weighed down to go. So, I stayed home all day and didn’t really do anything.”
- What have you done to help cope with your anxiety or depression? (have you used medications/gotten used to any medications long enough to understand how they work on your body?)
I tried medication a few years ago for a few months. Personally, it made it worse for me, but it also might have been that I wasn’t patient enough to figure out the right dosage and to get adjusted to it. I’ve done a little bit of therapy, [and] that helped a lot! I make videos, draw, paint and talk to friends to help cope, too. Painting and drawing bring me a lot of peace, and I love doing videos because I feel like I’m doing a lot of work, but not needing to leave my room to edit them. I have some friends who are absolutely amazing and encouraging, also. A lot of times, I’ll also read my Bible and journal. I journaled a little bit a few years ago, but finally started doing it again this year and have found that really helps.
- What are panic attacks and anxiety attacks like? How do you manage them?
“A panic attack is usually hyperventilating for me. Sometimes it’s not, but it usually is. [An] anxiety attack is different and usually is just when I can’t catch my breath and have that heavy weight. Minor panic attacks look like the heavy weight on my chest and breathing heavy. Bigger panic attacks can look like hyperventilating, pulling hair, shaking, and laying on the ground in a ball. For anxiety attacks, I usually listen to peaceful music and focus on breathing, or just close my eyes without music. For panic attacks, I try to remind myself where I’m at and what’s real. I usually just try to focus on breathing and wait it out.”
- What’s something you can tell me about anxiety/depression/panic attacks that no one really knows about?
“That small accomplishments for some people are really big to someone struggling with anxiety/depression/panic attacks. Something as simple as getting out of the house or getting to work (or even getting a job!) is huge. Also, because of the stigma behind it, a lot of people with these things feel like they’re overreacting or faking it, even if they know they have it or have been clinically diagnosed. Also, don’t feel like you need to fix the person. That will probably just make them feel worse about not being able to do what you want them to do. All you need to do to help is just be there for them and encourage them. Love on them a little extra every once in a while. Trust me, that does so much more than trying to suggest how to fix them!
- What’s something you hate about having depression?
“All of it. I hate not being able to do normal things like get a steady job or go out with friends without feeling like I need to sit down or isolate myself. I honestly don’t feel like I’m living a normal life and would do anything to be able to do normal things without a problem. I also hate the stigma behind it — feeling like I’m alone and that no one truly understands is really difficult.”
- What’s something you hate about having anxiety?
“Most of it. Honestly, I’m glad that anxiety is there sometimes; it keeps me from doing stupid stuff because without a little anxiety, we wouldn’t really care at all and we would be reckless! But I hate that physical pain in my chest and all of the lies it puts in my head.”
By: Sara Corcoran
Undergraduate Counseling Intern
Olive Branch Counseling Associate, Inc