WHEN DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY HAVE BEEN THE ENEMY
When I first read the prompt “What do you celebrate about your mental health?" I was at a complete loss. Celebrate? About my mental health!? For the last 12 years, I’ve seen my depression and anxiety as the enemy, a separate entity in my mind I fight against to survive (sometimes I lovingly refer to this entity as my dementor; a soul-sucking evil that I use all my energy to persevere against). Some days that feels like a celebration, and some days my mental health feels like a hole I fall into and can’t get out of. There have been days I couldn’t get out of bed to get to class or work - days when my panic kept me from going out and meeting new people or caused me to get “gently” fired from a job because I missed too many days for work.
One of my bravest moments was telling my current boss and coworkers about my mental health and how it impacts me. I felt so vulnerable admitting that anxiety and depression are a part of my life that impact my work. It felt like my weakness was exposed and the part of me that sought respect was challenged because of aspects of myself that I couldn’t control. The conversation about my mental health led to me having a panic attack (because of course it did). But turns out, I had nothing to fear. They were more supportive than I ever imagined. It reminded me to focus blame on one of the root causes that allow my anxiety to fester and grow - the pervasive shame that surrounds mental illness and what that shame means for my ability to thrive.
I’m working to see my mental health as a part of me, instead of this thing I’m constantly at war with. I have to remind myself of my strength, perseverance, and resilience. Doing all these things in spite of fear makes me brave. I strive to get up every morning and remind myself that I’m capable of making today a great day (even if that means warding off a dementor or two).
“Celebration” is a tricky word, but a concept that feels more in reach every day. No matter how many times I’ve thought about giving up, I keep going. There are hard days where I feel so overwhelmed by my anxiety or a sense of hopelessness that I still bury myself in bed. But even after a bad day, I remind myself of all that I’ve accomplished. I graduated from college. I moved from a small town in Illinois to New York City. I married the most supportive partner anyone could dream up. I got my masters degree while working a full-time job. I’m now working as a librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library and spend every day helping people. In spite of all the self-doubt, I’ve managed to find someone I am proud of. Society may try to force stigma on me and others who are challenged by mental health, but we can’t let it win anymore.
If I could go back in time to the darkest points of my life, I’d give myself a giant hug and say, “I know this seems hopeless. I know you’re scared and feel like there’s no way you’ll get through this moment. But you will. And you’re going to be amazed by who you become.”
I celebrate: going forward with joy, acceptance, and LOVE!
Madeline is a Librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library.
You can follow her journey here.