Survival Mode at the Crossroads of Anxiety and Depression

There was a cup of water in my hallway.

I stepped over it several times before I realized I should probably pick it up. Once more, before I gathered the motivation.

This is survival mode.

We have a no screens rule on school nights. Lorelei is eating fun dip in my bed while playing on her Kindle.

Fun dip. In. My. Bed.


My mental illness du jour is anxiety.  Depression is usually only available seasonally. OCD is the side of cole slaw that nobody wants. Pseudo-panic is a hot pepper that sneaks up on you and then burns intensely.

Every once in a while my brain seems to receive a shipment of out-of-season depression. It tastes about as good as moldy strawberries in December.

I don’t even like strawberries.

This time it has snuck up slowly, riding a wave of anxiety. There’s a lot of stress going on in my life right now, and I think it has finally surpassed my coping mechanisms, whatever those may be.

I’m having trouble even calling it depression. Maybe if I don’t name it, it won’t be real. Or maybe because I’m functioning it’s not worthy of a name.

Friday morning, I sat on the couch in my psychiatrist’s office, trying not to downplay my feelings. The day before, my therapist and I had talked through what I was going to say.

“I promised H that I wouldn’t downplay this. We’re having financial trouble, my husband lost half his hours at work. Two kids is difficult. Work has been stressful, recently. Our hot water heater died. Then the lawnmower. Rowan has been sick a lot, and we’ve had to take him to the ER and every cold goes to his lungs.”

“Oh shit,” she said. Her voice is so calm it honestly doesn’t even sound right saying words like, “shit.”

“It’s just a lot of small things, really. Death by a thousand paper cuts. It’s all adding up.”

“Those don’t sound like small things.”

I wanted to ask her if maybe she had to take a class in medical school to learn to talk like that.

I hadn’t even gotten to the part where my cat is dying.

After explaining that even the things I normally find fun are just not, I left with a shiny new prescription. So far I haven’t died of dysentery or whatever the hell pick your own demise option from the list of potential side effects.

Getting by with a little help from my friends

In the last few weeks I’ve had friends insist on picking me up and taking me out for drinks, invite me skating, and simply sit down with me to grill me about what is wrong. Zach has had to pick up some of my slack around the house — mostly in the form of dealing with the kids while I lock myself in my bedroom so I don’t completely lose it.

Friday, I got home from work to find Sean Spicer lurking among my bushes. There is seriously no way to say that that doesn’t sound dirty. I appreciate friends who get that maybe it’s difficult to laugh, but it’s important to try.


How did this happen, anyhow?

I’m most at home when actively problem-solving. Whether that is coming up with fun plans, giant projects, or solving actual problems. But sometimes life throws problems that have no tenable solution — and that is where my brain spins out.

I’ve often described anxiety as being an overwhelmed feeling, as though my inner spring is so tightly wound that it vibrates when touched. It keeps winding tighter and tighter.

Eventually, my ability to relax disappears almost entirely (and I can’t afford frequent massages, which I think might be the only thing that could make me relaxed by the time I get to this point).

I will wake up in the morning and have a brief lull. The cool morning air, sounds of birds, and white noise from the fan are all calming and serene. Until I realize that I’m both awake and not anxious. There is a very short window where I recognize the pleasant feeling before my brain swirls around the fact that it will not stay that way. The anticipation of anxiety creates the anxiety. It’s a self-fulfilling wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey paradox. And I have little control over it.

For me, anxiety is frequently, primarily, a feeling. Yes, there are plenty of anxious thoughts, but it quickly spirals into something that I call not-quite-panic.

My muscles twitch, I have to remember to take adequate breaths, my skin hurts, and I desperately want to flee my own body. It becomes hard for me to hold on to complete thoughts. Little wisps of thoughts race by, but I can’t grab hold. I can’t settle down. Every fiber of my being is preparing to fight or flee, but yet I’m trapped.

The anxiety about anxiety compounds it. I get all judgmental about my thoughts. The more I try to control them, the less control I seem to have, and the worse I feel.

Sometimes, I’m so busy fighting with my brain that I don’t notice the dark clouds forming.

It sneaks in through the vulnerable cracks in my foundation. The anxiety starts to feel hopeless. My brain’s last defense seems to be to dampen as many feelings as possible.

Maybe if I jettison all energy I won’t have any energy to spare on worry. If I take away the motivation for problem-solving, maybe I won’t fight so hard. The by-product is not having any motivation for much of anything. Somehow the anxiety remains.

And that begins the slide towards the intersection of anxiety and depression.

I use all of my energy to function and pretend. I get out of bed. I do the things that need doing. I have nothing else left at the end of the day. A gentle touch makes me shiver and not-quite-panic. I’ve given all I have to give but there are all these people and their needs.

I’m still trapped in my head and somebody dimmed the lights a little.

It becomes harder for me to process what people are saying, so even if I felt like responding I am always several beats behind in the conversation.

I listen to what the people around me are saying and I think about what my response might be on a normal day.

“That was a very funny thing.”

“I have a related story that I could tell.”

“Insert follow up question here.”

I nod appropriately. I smile when my brain says I should. I can even respond to questions asked directly to me. Though I tend to be relying on gut instinct and physical cues more than any digestion of what was said.

My heart is just not in it.

This weekend I spent two days with dear friends. 16 kids and 12 adults. The husbands sent all the wives out to wander around town and have some free time sans kids. It’s my dream, right? Instead, I followed behind the pack. My brain was convinced nobody wanted me there, that I was simply an accessory. I was aware that on a better day I would be able to argue with those thoughts. But at that moment, I was too far into the pit to argue.

I felt heavy and sad, holding back tears.

The problem with psychiatric meds is that they take a long time to work. If they work at all.

The last few days have been terrible. Lots of frantic emails to my therapist. Semi-hopeless doom and gloom.

I feel like I’m made of glass.

It’s way harder to write about this depression or whatever it is than it is to write about anxiety. I don’t want people to give me the head tilt, “how are you?”

I’m ok.

I mean. I’m not ok. But I will be. Eventually.

Eventually the medication will kick in. Or we’ll make another adjustment. Eventually circumstances will change, the kids will become more self-sufficient. Eventually my brain will just get tired of feeling like this and switch itself back to normal without any rhyme or reason. That’s usually how it happens — leaving me wondering if I’m even correctly remembering how I felt.

For now, I am taking the rest of the week off work. I’m going to try to declutter my house and my brain and reset myself a little. I’ll try to enjoy my birthday on Friday.

And of course, lots of snuggles with Squirt.

Selfie with a dying cat


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1 Comment on "Survival Mode at the Crossroads of Anxiety and Depression"

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Sorry Rhiannon, I’ve been at that intersection and it sucks….

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