I had it in my mind that mental health would be the first hard topic I discussed, and I think because of that, I put off writing my first real blog post that actually admits shit. You see, this is where my low-grade anxiety and depression come in. I kept feeling like when I wrote this piece, it had to be perfect, display all the right emotion, do justice to what so many people are feeling. And if I couldn’t sit down and write the perfect essay, then I shouldn’t write it at all. And so I didn’t write. I procrastinated, I overthought it, I dwelled on how hard it would be to do justice to what I’m feeling. And frankly, most days, I just didn’t fucking feel like it.
But it’s World Mental Health Day, and I’m feeling a bit emotional at the moment so I figured now’s as good a time as any. It may not be perfect, but it’ll be honest, transparent, and public.
Now back to the point..
For the past couple of years, I’ve struggled with having to keep the appearance up that everything is okay, that I’m doing well, everything’s fine. Because who walks away from a stable corporate job to pursue one’s passions and isn’t fine, right? (You’ll hear more about this in another post.) It’s hard as hell to tell someone you’re not okay. So instead, you tell them you’re fine, and you continue to silently battle.
I’ve always been an emotional person and have always struggled with the “I’m just not content” feelings all of my life. Always searching for something better, more to life, reaching that next milestone. I even saw a therapist for about 3 years for a lot of that. But these feelings of “not content” were nothing compared to the full year I spent in a silent battle with depression, and eventually anxiety. (Disclaimer: This is not me saying that I only had depression and anxiety for a year, because honestly, this shit never goes away. This is me saying that I was IN THE TRENCHES for a year battling both every day and have finally found a way to climb out and stand on solid ground most days.)
At first, for me, it started out with issues with my energy. About 6 months after quitting my stable desk job, I found myself feeling like I had no energy, no motivation, no desires, nothing. This led to me never wanting to do anything (both fun or business related). But what I lacked in physical energy, I made up for with a mental ping pong game – I had racing thoughts, worries, and added things to the mental “to-do” list left and right, all of which just made me feel worse about not having the energy to do anything about these thoughts and to-dos. I’d constantly find myself in a negative mental spiral about how shitty I was at making my businesses work, or how useless I felt, or how unmotivated I was, or WHY CAN’T I JUST MANAGE MY TIME BETTER? GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, JILLIAN…
That was all going on in the inside, behind closed doors, of course. Because, when I got myself out of the house, or hung out with people, I was easily able to function and pretend like nothing was wrong. When people would ask how everything’s going, I’d say I’m doing well and “keeping busy!” as if being busy was something to be proud of, a sign of all the hustle and grind that goes into being a business owner. It was just a way for me to make some generic statement that would satisfy people so they wouldn’t dig deeper, so I wouldn’t have to lie and say things were great, or even harder, admit the shit.
All the while, though, I didn’t understand what was going on. Why couldn’t I just make myself do what I needed to do? Why did I want to sleep all day? Why can’t I just keep my thoughts in order? Why can’t I just take action and turn these ideas into completed projects? I struggled with trying to find some sort of medical diagnosis (on my own) that could easily explain why I just didn’t have energy or feel like doing the things that made me feel passionate and happy. I had to have SOME reason to tell my family that they would understand. The thought that I could have depression didn’t hit me until about 8 months into feeling this way. And the only reason it did, was because, as I was lying on my couch feeling exhausted and defeated, I came across an article about high functioning depression, and everything hit home.
I would’ve never thought that all of my issues stemmed from depression – I always compared myself to the “worst case scenarios” you hear about. Even though I had those days about once a month where I laid on the couch all day in silence or cried for no reason, I wasn’t constantly crying or stuck in bed for weeks on end, and I never had suicidal thoughts. These are all the things I thought about when I thought of depression, and it didn’t feel like it fit me. I guess I just thought I was able to function enough and I wasn’t suffering enough for it to be depression, I thought I just felt sad sometimes.
Not long after I started to accept that what I was experiencing was depression, I had my first panic attack. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I remember it like it was yesterday. It hit me out of nowhere, while I was standing in my living room. I suddenly felt breathless, like I couldn’t take deep breaths, like there was a heavy weight on my chest all while my heart was racing. I had to sit down. I remember holding my head in my hands, looking down at my toes, and trying to focus on my breathing. Luckily, I recognized right away what was happening to me, but I still didn’t understand where it came from or why I was having an attack. It only lasted 10 or 15 minutes, but it scared the shit out of me. I never realized that my anxiety was strong enough to cause physical reactions. Most of the time, I just felt like my anxiety was mental, but this was the first time it had manifested physically. To this day, I’ve only had 2 of these panic attacks, but that’s enough for me. Side note: I came to the realization that smoking weed (which I thought would help calm me and my constant overthinking) was actually having the opposite effect – it was worsening my anxiety. Since I stopped the occasional weed smoking (and implemented other self-care habits), I’ve never had another panic attack.
Eventually though, I knew I couldn’t keep going on feeling this way alone. I needed people to know that I was struggling. I couldn’t fake it anymore. And so I told my sister, and then my mom. I saw my therapist again. And eventually, I quit telling my closest friends that I’m doing good and quit using the “keeping busy!” avoidance answer. I started telling people that it’s been hard, and I’m doing my best, because that was the truth. Did I jump down people’s throats and tell them I had depression when they asked how I was doing? Of course not. But I took baby steps away from pretending everything was dandy.
I also had a big long uncomfortable “sit” with myself to realize that this “I’m good” charade I was acting out was for other people more than it was for me. If it was for me, I’d feel good about it. I had to come to terms with the things about myself that I struggled with, and I worked on accepting that that’s part of who I am. Then, I had to decide what parts of my life are serving me and what parts weren’t. For me, not having a routine/schedule with a typical 9-5 job was actually ruining me. So instead of continuing to fight that so that I could keep portraying this life of “freedom,” I decided to get a job that got me outdoors (gardening) so that I could have a semblance of routine back in my life (and also some stable income). This also got me some physical activity/movement and more sunshine in my life, and that helped me as well.
I worked on showing myself some compassion when those days hit where I felt like all I could do was shower and make it to the couch to lay down again. Instead of beating myself up about it, I tried to really feel a sense of understanding that it’s happening because I needed it. This one was a huge one for me, because it allowed some of the negative self-talk to subside.
I figured out what “self-care” rituals helped me in my low moments, and I developed these and leaned on them whenever I needed to. Even when I wasn’t in my low moments. For me, this was journaling (there’s something freeing about putting things into words), using essential oils, reciting positive mantras and affirmations, opening the windows and playing uplifting music, spending time with my closest friends (people I felt most comfortable with), and simply getting outside for a walk with my dog.
When I started to have some semblance of normalcy in my life, I started to look at what health changes I could fathom making. Getting more activity in, eating better, drinking more water, taking foundational nutritional supplements, etc. Even though I knew the health changes were probably the most important, they were also the most daunting and hardest to implement when I was feeling shitty, so I did what I could when I started feeling like I had more energy and control over my emotions.
Eventually, I started adding in some additional self-care, like meditation, chiropractic care, reflexology, massage, and floating. I used to avoid these sorts of things, because I felt like I shouldn’t take the time off of working on my businesses to do them (or spend money on them), but I’ve found them to be a necessary component to calming my body and mind.
This experience made me realize that no one talks about the serious shitty stuff. We all cover everything up and post on social media like shit is perfect and struggle behind closed doors. Maybe not EVERYONE, but hot damn, it’s probably a majority of people. So this is my effort at making it one less person who’s avoiding talking about the shitty stuff, one less person struggling behind closed doors. My hope is that this reaches one person who says “holy shit” because it resonates or just one person who decides that they don’t want to keep pretending everything is okay.
If you’re that person, I hear you, I see you, I’m with you. It sucks, holy hot hell, it sucks. But, as cliché as it sounds, you’re not alone. You’ve got so many people that can relate. So when you’re ready, tell someone. Someone you think will understand, or who won’t judge you, who you feel safe with, or someone you feel deserves to know. Let them know how you’ve been feeling, and tell them how they can support you, because many times, if you’re skilled at hiding it like I was, they won’t see it coming and they won’t know what to say. So let them know that’s okay, and tell them what you need. Then continue to do your best, trust me, I know that in itself probably feels like a lot. You CAN get to place of normalcy (or at least something that resembles it), I’m proof of that.
If you’ve made it this far, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
DISCLAIMER: While I am a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach and Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach, I am not a diagnosing physician or therapist. If you’re struggling, please see a professional who can diagnose you and help you get the support and help you need. The suggestions in this post are not meant to be considered treatment. This blog post is for educational purposes only.