Usually it seems that my all friends and family are happy and healthy.
Today, a friend told me that he's not ok. I wouldn't have known.
Depression and Anxiety
When talking to my buddy, I asked him how his project was.
He opened up and said that he wasn't working on it because he’s been struggling with anxiety and depression for the past few years.
The pandemic has exacerbated everything.
It was brave of him to bring it up. It started a dialogue.
He opened up. I opened up.
I shared my dark episodes him. I'll share them with you as well.
He is looking for professional help.
Now he knows that he can reach out to me as well.
I cannot imagine how he must feel since everyone's experience is different.
If you are suffering, please remember: There are people who love you and who will be there for you. That's what your loved ones can do.
You are not alone.
My Dark Episodes
In my life, I've had two episodes where I was experiencing severe mental pressure.
At age 13, it was expectations from my family that I wasn't able to meet.
The external pressure increased to such a degree that I started showing physical symptoms:
- gag reflex when I was at about to fall asleep
- inability to fall asleep easily
- lack of energy
- lack of focus
- inability to perform academically/socially
- more mental pressure
- vicious cycle intensifies
Doctors told me that there were no physiological reasons as to why I should feel like this.
They told me I should ‘just relax and try to sleep’.
After a couple of weeks, I started doubting that I’ll ever be able to sleep proberly again.
I don’t know what triggered the positive change, but at some point, I decided to ‘shut out any external stressors’.
I stopped listening. I stopped caring.
Oddly enough, this change made me more relaxed. I started sleeping better and my grades and quality of life improved significantly.
This dark episode lasted only a couple of weeks but it certainly felt like much longer.
Ever since, I try not to put too much attention on external stressors (expectations; opinions; etc.).
At age 22, my mental state almost destroyed me physically.
While in college, I worked a non-profit job that paid barely anything and still required a big time commitment of 40-80+ hours per week*.
* the variance comes from the fact that it was an events business where working hours significantly increased around peak/event times.
As one of the longest-serving team members, I thought it was my duty to be a role model and to help where I could.
Burning the midnight oil was a regular occurrence. I was also taking on too many tasks – even those that were originally assigned to other people.
No one told me to do it, but I wanted it.
Or at least I thought I did.
I pushed myself to do more and more.
The working hours got longer, my social ties outside of work crumbled. No time for family and a relationship. No time for past-time activities (sports; hobbies; etc.).
I neglected the most basic things that made me happy. In hindsight, this was a very bad decision.
After months, I started showing physiological symptoms. This time I caught the flu and never recovered fully.
I developed chronic bronchitis.
Doctors said there's nothing wrong from a physiological perspective.
Nothing wrong with my lungs, nothing wrong with my respiratory system.
Everyone asked if I was stressed. I couldn’t accept that this might be the case.
I had bronchitis for 11 months and lost almost 10kgs.
As the condition remained, I started deteriorating mentally. It felt hopeless.
I was certain I would never recover from this.
I was scared it would destroy me.
Very dark times.
Luckily, the circumstances on the job got so bad that I was forced to make a call.
I decided to leave my job.
I kid you not; after a week, all the symptoms went away.
This was a holy sh** moment for me, as it showed me how interconnected our bodies and minds are.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help
I got lucky.
I came out of both episodes well. But it could have easily gone the other way.
What I learned as a result was that my friends and family were and are very supportive when I discuss my struggles.
Friends and family tell me they see it as a sign of strength that I'm able to talk about it openly.
When friends and acquaintances open up about their challenges, anxieties, and fears, I find it incredibly courageous.
It shows vulnerability. It shows trust. It shows action.
Talking has helped me to understand and process my challenges. Many friends who have shared their episodes mentioned that verbalizing it helped them.
I don't know how to close this since there's no one-size-fits-all solution.
If you yourself are struggling, or know someone who is, then remember:
- There are people who care for you and would want to be there with you.
- You can ask for professional help.
- You are not alone.