My Struggles with Anxiety and Depression

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18.1

I am one of those 40 million people. As far back as I can remember, anxiety has dominated my life. Being anxious is part of the human condition- it’s the nerves before a presentation or a big game, a first date, or a job interview. However, anxiety becomes an issue when it hinders decision making and holds you back from living the life you want to live. I can’t tell you the number of times my anxiety has talked me out of potential opportunities because deep down, I didn’t feel worthy of said opportunities or the imagined potential disaster. As the saying goes, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Anxiety is a bully, taunting and mocking you constantly. If anxiety brings along his buddy, depression, then you’re in for a really bad, no good, awful day. In my experience with anxiety, I for many years did not label it as anxiety. I and others thought of me as “quiet,” or “shy,” or my personal favorite, “socially awkward.” Though great strides have been made in the medical and psychiatric fields concerning the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. For those with anxiety, depression, or any other illness, having to fight our inner battle with the outside perceptions of others can delay our healing process as it did with mine. Mental illness is a serious issue, it should never be joked about or dismissed. Just because someone doesn’t “look sick” doesn’t mean their issues should be swept aside with flippant comments such as “What do you have to be depressed about?” “It’s all in your head.” “You need to do more of this (pray, give it to God, etc),or “Get over it.” If a friend or family member had cancer would you tell them, “Turn that frown upside down and suck it up”? I would hope not. People with mental illness are not weak or lazy, as they are some of the strongest people out there because they fight every day to get up and try to live a “normal” and highly functional life. Compound a mental illness with any number of autoimmune diseases, and life becomes even more difficult.

Since I have done my own research into my anxiety, I can truly see how much it has controlled my life. When my anxiety was triggered, physical symptoms would follow: deep breathing, shaking hands, a racing heartbeat, the “fight or flight” response, becoming agitated, stuttering and stammering over my words, all of which made want to dig a hole and hide. These attacks would come on during social situations such as job interviews, leaving the house to go to work, or simply going to family gatherings. However, people often comment about how calm I am and never appear to be rattled, which in all honesty is my learned ability not to show the outside world what’s going on inside of my mind. The next time you watch ducks swimming on a lake or pond, just remember those calm, peaceful birds are peddling their legs in the water as fast as they can; I believe that is a fitting analogy for how I have managed to hide my anxiety.

I tried different techniques over the years to deal with my anxiety and depression. The first is that sheer will power “put your nose to the grindstone” mentality. That only wore me out and wore down my nose. I came to faith in Jesus Christ back in 1999, which I hoped my faith, studying the Bible, praying, and “Let go and let God” would free me from this darkness. After all, Jesus said not to worry (Matthew 6:25) and the Apostle Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing,”(Philippians 4:6), plus there are 365 verses in the entire Bible that tell us to “fear not,” so why be anxious? However, I began to learn that my depression and anxiety were not going to go away by saying prayers or shouting out Scripture. I came to the rational, logical, conclusion that my battle was not with demons or doubt, nor was it because a talking snake convinced two people in a garden to eat a piece of fruit, but there was something wrong with me mentally, biologically, and chemically, which could be treated.

I tried to deal first with the depression and made the decision in 2008 to talk to my family doctor and he prescribed me Prozac, which I took until 2010, when I felt good enough to try to conquer depression on my own. Things were good for a couple of years, then life began to pile up on me: my health declined, my wife had problems with her health, grief and loss, family issues, infertility, a crisis of faith, and being laid off from my middle management job and starting over at the bottom, to changing careers at mid-life. I could not cope and went back on the Prozac from 2016 until mid-2018, when the Prozac stopped being effective. My doctor then prescribed me Celexa, which is also used to treat anxiety. I do feel better mentally, though I am not completely free from depression and anxiety, I do have more good days than bad ones.

Though my faith is not what it used to be, I have found comfort in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, listening to classical/instrumental music, and trying to implement Stoic philosophy into my life. Stoicism is a practical philosophy, which in a nutshell is managing your responses to what happens to you and determining if the event is within or without of your control. Stoicism is incidentally one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Though I know that my war with anxiety and depression are far from over, I have won many recent battles and that gives me hope. My hope for you is that if you are struggling with your mental health, please seek treatment and determine what is best for you. You don’t have to live life as a prisoner of your mind. The keys are within reach, grab them and work on freeing yourself. Stay encouraged, there is hope, there is healing. You can’t erase what has been written,but you can change the narrative. Be the hero of your own story.

A Thousand Heartaches

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By Michael W. Raley

Stabbed in the heart,

Numbed to the pain

Of a thousand heartaches

Which after a while begin to feel the same.

I’ve done everything I could to make things right,

Sacrificing my life, health, and peace of mind

Along with my heart, spirit, strength, and might.

No matter how much I gave,

It was never enough.

I would find myself lonely and abandoned

When times became tough.

You have your issues

And I have mine,

Yet I held on to the belief

We would have worked them out given more time.

I guess it wasn’t meant to be,

As you’ve decided it’s time for things to end

And for you to be set free.

The Ruins

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By Michael W. Raley

Life of late has been contentious,

As the weight upon my soul has been strenuous.

I search for peace of mind

Across my own lot of space and time.

However, the ocean of memory has washed away

The promise of a renewed, hopeful day.

The ocean’s salt has eroded

And the bitter acid rain has corroded

The temple’s once impenetrable foundation,

That now stands as a relic from a past civilization.

This monument long past its glory is ready to crumble

With the slightest pressure or rumble.

What once symbolized the bliss and joy of salvation

Is now littered among the ruins and dilapidation.

 

 

 

I Cannot Say

 

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By Michael W. Raley

I’ve reached a mental block,

Wedged between a wall and a giant rock.

Nothing makes sense

As my fatigue and anxiety become more intense.

I  want to break out,

But I’m also comfortable in the house.

I’m disillusioned with former truths I held dear,

As I’ve realized they were only tools for conformity and fear.

This is not the way it was supposed to be,

Bound up because I am meant to be free.

I will be free one day,

But when that will be I cannot say.

 

 

 

More of the Same

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By Michael W. Raley

Unless someone has walked your same path,

They can never fully understand

What you’re going through

And the struggles you face.

The fatigue you fought just to get out of bed.

The pep talk you gave your anxious self just to leave the house.

The chronic sickness that fights you every step of the way.

The inflammation that reminds you of the pain.

The thoughts that you suppress and fight

As you try to live life as a fully-functional person.

You try to enjoy the present moment,

Only to be haunted by the past

Or receive a harbinger from the future.

You have faith, you hope, and pray,

But the silence lingers day after day.

You know you need to make a change,

Yet remain in the quicksand of malaise.

You seek to make today a better day,

However, the forecast looks like more of the same.

Monday Morning Rambles

Another week is here whether or not I’m ready for it. I’ve been very uninspired and angry while trying to get through this maze we call life. “Now what?” is the operative question floating around in my head. You ever reached a point of mental exhaustion where all the faith, philosophy, and self-help motivation isn’t going to help? I’m there.

I try to take care of myself concerning my celiac disease and my overall health, but I keep hitting walls and having setbacks. I’m emotionally spent, as my discouragement has sank me back into depression. It’s hard to find the bright side when it’s a dark and cloudy night. Everything I try is another dead end. I’m trapped like a rat on a sinking ship.

As I stated at the beginning, I’ve been angry about the way things have turned out. I know my reaction is under my control, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when you have to watch yourself and the ones you love struggle through undeserved trials. Deserve- I’ve been dwelling a lot on that word. Maybe life isn’t about what you deserve, it’s just dealing with what you get and you get through it the best you can. My faith teaches me that there is a plan for my life and everything will work out, but who knows what this plan is? None of us seems to know and we just go through life attributing events to “God’s will.” I just wonder why doesn’t the Almighty make it easier for us mere mortals to figure out this plan?

Maybe I’m jaded because I have suffered loss in the spirituality department or maybe I’m more discerning and deliberate in my forties, but I’ve reached a point where I’m not falling for the vague promises of someone on the campaign trail:

“It’s a great plan. I can’t get into specifics, but it’s going to be good.”

Wouldn’t God be better served, both literally and figuratively, if He was more forthright as to what we are supposed to do? Why do I have to die to find out how it all fits together? I have to live this life now. I cannot sacrifice enjoying the present for some vague promise of what’s to come. I know some Christians would question and abhor  my skepticism, but I need facts, I need data. I am a man of reason, this must be reasonable if I am to make an informed choice. I have neither the time nor the inclination to play the spiritual equivalent of  the game “Guess Who?”

I must be intellectually honest with myself or I’m going nowhere. My faith is a struggle and I have a hard time believing. To use a human analogy: If you were in a relationship with someone- a significant other, friend, or family member, and they repeatedly allowed you to be hurt or disappointed, how would you feel about trying to start over? If you’ve read this far, thank you for allowing me to get this off of my chest.

Depression

By Michael W. Raley

Ask me how I’m doing?

I will tell you “fine,”

Despite the overwhelming feeling life is in ruins.

I would tell you, but you may not have the time

To hear me to explain

This physical and emotional pain.

I could tell you about how it took the strength of Hercules

To get out of bed

And how it took the reasoning skills of Socrates

To think of a reason why.

I am not like this everyday,

As there is occasional joy along the way.

Though I may not “look sick,”

This ailment is not one that I picked,

For this is complicated and difficult to understand,

No matter how strong you are as a woman or man.

“It’s in your head,” is the wrong thing to say,

To someone who lives with this monster every day.

The Place Beyond Exhaustion

If there is a place beyond exhaustion, I think I have discovered it. For the time being, I can probably have my mail forwarded here.

Have you ever reached a point in life where no matter how much sleep you get, no matter the amount of caffeine you consume, or the amount of pleasurable activities you engage in, you are just tired? You’re spent. You’ve had it. I’m there. I find myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually burned out.

Any one situation or a combination of factors can trigger such events, but what can you do when the constant bombardment finally breaches your defenses? You find yourself trying to rebuild the stronghold while simultaneously fighting off a never ending horde. The physicality of the fight consumes you and everything you do is done through a sheer act of will power. The simplest tasks-getting out of bed, going to work, and the rest of your daily activities are chores of epic proportions. You become like a slower version of the Energizer Bunny- you keep going, but the battery finally runs flat.

It would be great if life had a mercy rule, where a referee stops the fight and says, “He’s had enough. No more trials.” Speaking of mercy, I often ask where is God in all this? I try to connect with Him through His word, prayer, and try to live the best life I can-nothing. As a Christian, I have heard frequently of God’s will and God’s plan, but He doesn’t seem forthcoming with how everything fits into His will and plan. Life seems like a jigsaw puzzle with critical pieces gone or other pieces belonging to an unrelated puzzle.

I know it could be worse. I know there are people out there, maybe some of you, that have been through worse situations, but for my fight, this is exhausting! I have spoken about this in other blogs, but I believe this is one continuous narrative of how the last two years have been one setback after another. Just when I think I know the opponent’s plan, something changes. Anemia; Laid off and unemployed for four months; Starting back to work for less money;Celiac disease; The suicide of my nephew and the family turmoil that followed; Start another job; Go back to school while working six days a week at forty-years-old; A complication of Celiac disease- osteopenia, or loss of bone density; My parents are experiencing health problems in their early retirement years;My wife’s health and our infertility struggles; Frequent relapses into depression and anxiety- no wonder I’m exhausted!

Christians say that God’s working it out. The Stoics say to control what you can control and to be content with your lot. “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.” However, I’m starting to think that me and God have a difference of opinion on how much I can handle. In boxing, they call it “a puncher’s chance,” all it takes is the right punch at the right time can knock out the most formidable foe. I have survived darker days and I know that I will get through this. I might come out a little more jaded or more pragmatic, but I will get through this. There are positives to focus on, as I have graduated and I am working a new job related to my field for better pay, so I can start there.

Whatever it is that you are facing, keep swinging, keep punching. Thank you for taking the time to read my rant. I normally don’t write this way, but I felt the need to get this off of my chest. God bless you.