How I — Sort Of — Learnt to Cope With Crippling Anxiety & Depression

Humble advice from a “run of the mill” sufferer

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

I’m not a great example of how to deal with anxiety and depression. But at the end of the day, I think that most of us aren’t. This is not a story from a self-help guru who defeated anxiety and is now a multi-millionaire and married to a model. This is just my short story, on how I learnt to cope:

The year was 2007, I was in the prime of my life. In the morning, I walked onto an airplane, for a business trip, as a (relatively) normal human being. In the evening I arrived home as a different person. Still (relatively) normal, but not the same. After two months of struggling to come to terms with a new life: fatherhood, the end of university, and a new job (all within 2 weeks), the “universe” decided that I needed a new challenge.

This was the beginning of my journey with anxiety and depression, a journey that still isn’t over 12 years later. It’s been a bizarre journey at times, and I have to admit, it must look funny from the outside. For instance, here is a short list of the times/places I was convinced I was about to die. And by “die” I mean last breathe, “goodbye world”, dig me a grave, die:

  • On every airplane I have ever been on, for the last 12 years.
  • Climbing a mountain, with two friends, for no apparent reason, about 10 hours from any help.
  • Driving my car to work, about 50 times (at least).
  • Swimming (or in my case, synchronized drowning)
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Standing
  • Sitting
  • Sleeping
  • Hospital. I have about 20 ER trips under my belt. If hospitals had a frequent visitor program I’d have enough points for a tummy tuck by now. And at 35, I’m starting to need it.

You get the picture, and it’s ridiculous enough to be funny, but in reality it has been really tough. Not just for me, but for those around me as well. As I got worse and worse I became more withdrawn, self-centered, moody, lazy/tired, and, at times, a bit horrible.

So how did I deal with all this? Is there one guaranteed path to improvement? Am I even a good example? Unfortunately not, but here is what I do know:

  1. Everyone, including the worst of the worst, can improve

It might seem like an insurmountable obstacle at times, but mental health can and does improve. Even after resigning myself to life long misery I have made major improvements, and I believe I can continue getting better every day.

I’m not special though... In fact in a lot of ways I’m the worst at improving! I can be stubborn, lazy and lose all my drive. Trust me, if I can improve so can you!

2. Don’t get bogged down in details

The research and information about mental illness is constantly developing. It’s a pretty complicated field really, or at least seems so to me. There is a lot of information out there, but it can be contradictory, wrong, unhelpful… That’s why I think it’s best not to get bogged down in too much detail.

I spent hours and hours reading articles, doing research, looking at other peoples stories, trying to rationalize everything I felt. The reality though is that excessive reading (in and of itself) won’t fix a mental illness.

In this regard, it’s better to find a solution and commit to it. There is no silver bullet so stop looking for it. For most of us (especially bad cases), research does seem to indicate that a mixture of medicine and CBT, or related therapy, is probably your best bet, but it really depends. It’s important to get the right help!

3. You are not as bad as you think you are…

… and others are not as great as you think they are. I remember feeling that I was just the worst, the most useless, the most lazy etc, so many times. I looked at people who had recovered, people who had written books etc and thought “what is wrong with me?”.

The reality is everyone, even if they’ve written 50 self help books, has issues. Even the people writing self-help books now needed help themselves at some stage. Whilst you might be going through the worst now, you are not an incurable, anomaly! See 1! You can do it!

4. Exercise is your friend

This is double edged sword because exercise can make anxiety worse and people with depression have notoriously poor drive. However, if you can push through it, exercise can and will make a massive difference to your mental health.

My best moments, and best times of my recovery, always happened when I was exercising. It might be co-incidence but the available evidence would suggest not.

5. Don’t mess around with your medicine dosages etc…

Just don’t! Take the dose prescribed, don’t wean without consultation, don’t experiment… I can confirm this is a bad idea. It my experience doesn’t convince you then maybe read this article in the Harvard Medical School.

P.S. I really want to get off meds, so I can understand the dilemma, but I’m going to do it slow in consultation!

7. The path to recovery is not linear

I used to think recovery would be simple. I would just take some pills, do some therapy, and one day I’d wake up feeling fine. It would be like the problem never existed, and the “old” me would be back. In reality, recovery can be a bit like a roller-coaster at times. Sometimes you will feel good, sometimes you will have a little relapse, sometimes you could even have extended periods of feeling like you are going nowhere.

The most destructive, and misplaced, feeling I had when I had a relapse was that I was back to square one. That I would have to start all over again. In fact, in my whole journey, this was the thing that made me feel the most low.

This simply isn’t true though. If you used to have an anxiety attack everyday, and you now have one for the first time in a week, you are not back to square one. You actually just made a substantial improvement. Maybe next time you will go two weeks, or even more?

Remember: When you have a relapse, you are not starting from scratch. You are starting from where you left off!

Conclusion

My advice is humble, and hopefully taken with a pinch of salt. Just like most of you, I’m still trying, and often failing. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t know much, but I do know mental health issues can be overcome. I do know tomorrow can be better than today. I do know that finding the best you is a journey. I do know know that YOU have what it takes. Keep Trucking!

Disclaimer: I feel that it is very important to make the disclaimer that I am just an “average Joe” and no self help guru! I still have moments of anxiety and depression after 12 years, and it still has a major impact on my life. While I have researched the subject extensively (I might have OCD as well), I am not a doctor, not a psychologist and not even a very good example of how to deal with mental illness.

If you are struggling (with anything), please seek professional advise. It’s NOT embarrassing, something you need to apologise for, an indication of weakness. You are special and you deserve the best.

Just an Average Joe writing (poorly) about things that mean a lot to me…

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