There is an aspect of my life that I hate admitting. We all know that we have thousands of thoughts a day, most come and go. For me, suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, those thoughts are not easy to let go of. Both of these disorders tend to cause the sufferer to be plagued with negative thoughts and often our actions/outcomes tend to reinforce those thoughts in a viscous circle. Kind of like a self fulfilling prophesy. We think people don’t like us, so we pull away and people stop reaching out, reinforcing the idea that people don’t like us. I can’t speak for those who don’t suffer from these as it seems its a pattern of thinking and cognition that has always plagued me. This self-reinforcement has caused certain neurons to get used to firing together, creating an “easy” pathway for me to follow. It becomes automatic and comfortable.
People often see me as insecure, shy, or even stuck up. I fight off thoughts that I’m not good enough, that I’m not good enough, that my wife is looking elsewhere for love, that my family thinks I’m a burden, that I’m a failure. The list of negative thoughts goes on forever and is often a constant stream being reinforced every time I make a mistake, when people don’t return my texts, when I have a break down, when my wife is tired and seems distant. I think an important distinction for us individuals that suffer from anxiety and depression is that we are not necessarily insecure in the spirit of the word, we are just tired from constantly challenging these anxious and negative thoughts and simply require some encouragement and reminders that we aren’t what our brain is telling us we are. Not only do the people around us need to start to make this distinction, but we do as well. We need to show ourselves the kindness we also need from others and not judge ourselves for these thought patterns. We need to understand for ourselves that we are not insecure individuals and see ourselves as the weary psychological warriors that we are. Our brains are not firing the same as those who do not suffer from these disorders and it is imperative that we understand this and give ourselves a break.
It is more than just being sad or nervous. It’s not the same as being sad because of an unfortunate situation or being nervous for a test. Those are normal aspects of life. What is problematic is that the sadness and nervousness affect our quality of life and become distressful and problematic. Anxiety is an adaptive emotion meant to spring us into action if threatened by a predator or other physical danger. When we experience anxiety our sympathetic nervous system is activated causing that ever famous “fight, flight, or freeze” response. The problem that we experience with anxiety disorder is that this system is activated almost constantly and isn’t directed at any sort of physical or imminent threat. Since we don’t have a concrete situation pulling our SNS into action, it seems that that threat doesn’t dissipate, causing a perpetual state of stress. In a normal situation, the threat would be reevaluated and seen as dissipated, activating the parasympathetic nervous system to calm our bodies and allow us to go back to a normal state of being. This doesn’t seem to happen for me a lot of the time. Often I am on high alert and I don’t even know why.
If I had a penny for every time I’m been told to “cheer up” or “don’t worry”, I’d be a very rich man. These are things I’m told that drive me crazy. If it were as simple as just smiling more or not worrying I’d jump for joy. Unfortunately it isn’t that easy. There are strategies to help ourselves cope and even heal, but they are a lot of work and can be exhausting bringing about some bad days. There are Psychotropic drugs that can assist in regulating mood and anxious thoughts, but these are spotty in their effectiveness. There are cognitive and behavioural options for us as well. One such strategy that I have been working with is CBT (Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy). This has been shown to effect the same neural areas as drug therapy and has shown real promise as an option. Another strategy that I try to use is mindfulness; accepting myself as I am and the thoughts I have and merely letting them pass by. When challenging the thoughts isn’t working, this strategy can be quite helpful. In the end it is still up to me to do the work and take responsibility for how I chose to act. Don’t feel sorry for us, but please remember as a loved one of someone who suffers from mental illness, when they need reinforcement or encouragement, it’s not insecurity talking, it’s that the fight with the illness has tired them out. Be kind to each other.