I can imagine my thoughts as a forest. When I am feeling well, I control where I walk in the forest. Sometimes I walk to a place that it turns out I don’t want to stay, and I can choose to keep on walking. So, sometimes, I walk through mosquito-laced bogs. I just choose to keep walking, because I don’t want to sit around getting bitten by mosquitoes. When I’m not doing so well, my depression or anxiety control where I walk.
When my depression takes over, it seems that I’m more likely to end up in a bog. Even worse, I’m likely to lay down and refuse to get up even as the mosquitoes persistently bite. I grasp at each mucky leaf I can find, scrutinizing it from every angle until I know all of its wretched details before moving on to the next. When I catch my reflection in the swampy puddle, I look like I belong. So I stay.
When my anxiety takes over, every place I walk feels risky. I may be strolling down a wide, flat path, but my lungs will contract and my stomach will churn as though I’m teetering on the edge of a cliff. I stop to agonize over which fork in the path to take, even when that fork is not for miles. I am paralyzed with shame and regret over choices for my route that I made in the past.
The thing is that it’s difficult to predict when my depression or anxiety will take control. Sometimes I struggle to wake up, let alone move forward, because my thoughts are just…bogged down. Sometimes I’m jarred awake over and over again all night by a fear response to the thoughts I was having in my sleep. Sometimes anxiety and depression take turns passing my thoughts back and forth until it’s difficult to imagine that there’s anything in the forest at all except for deep swamps and towering precipices.
Over the past year, anxiety and depression have been in control more frequently, for longer periods of time, and with more fervor. So, I’m in the process of seeking treatment. And I’m trying to externalize my experiences by talking about them, because I know that I struggle to attribute reality to things that are stuck in my head.
Inspiration for this post came via the stories of John Green and Erika Moen. I highly recommend checking out both if you are looking to learn more about how people experience mental health issues. See also: If you see the light by The Mountain Goats.