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The Bear Facts

Fighting the monsters living inside

Zoee Rogers, Writer/Photographer

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16 years and a few months; that is how long I have been alive. In that very small amount of time, things have happened – things you would never know about just by looking at me. Honestly, writing this column is not easy and I’m scared, but I’m hoping maybe it will shed some light on a very common, yet rarely understood affliction of the human existence. More importantly, I am hoping it will help some of you out there reading this, whether you see yourself in these paragraphs or someone you know. What I’m talking about is one of the most common tormentors of the mind – anxiety.

I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was 14, due to the sudden chest pain, headaches, difficulty breathing, side-to-side blurring vision, and the overall panic I would experience “randomly” two or three times a week. The doctor suggested I keep a journal of the episodes and all their details, including what was going on in my life at the time. After a few months, he reviewed my entries and made the diagnosis.

The doc told me that it was up to me, whether or not I could handle it without meds. I opted out of the meds; I avoid medicine like the plague if I can get away with it. At first, it was hard. When I start to have a panic attack, it feels like I am suffocating. My lungs just close up and my chest gets really tight and it hurts to breathe. At the same time, this fear consumes me and my eyes get tight with tears as a raging headache starts up and I just want to run until my lungs burn to get away. Usually, if I am with someone it gets worse because I’m so afraid of public humiliation. My mind runs a million miles an hour during all of this and all I can think is how I’m going to be torn apart, either by losing someone in my life, failing at something important, or being cast out by my peers and friends. That helpless, powerless feeling can destroy a person.

I did get a handle on it, eventually. I have learned to breathe and wait. I just stop thinking and focus on the feeling of my lungs working and my heart beating and I look at my shoes. I remind myself that I am okay. Then I pick  myself up and I go to a mirror somewhere alone. I look at the girl in the reflection and remind myself of all the wonderful things that girl does and has in her life. I remember that the girl is me.

Eventually, I took up art (an interesting adventure, let me tell you) to help prevent panic attacks. It brings me peace like nothing else. My writing, my photos, and my drawings all help me channel my thoughts and emotions into something productive; then the tension of life just sort of leaves me. A good cup of coffee, a rainy day, and something to create is the perfect cure for me. If you’re struggling with anxiety or even just life in general, the best thing you can do is find something to put your energy into – art, dancing, going for a drive or a run, anything will do. You have to find the thing that gives you that calm quietness the soul craves and just take it in.

Unfortunately for me, there was something even darker lurking in the depths of my psyche. At the time, my doctor diagnosed my anxiety; he also suspected I was depressed. But, he never gave the official diagnosis because I insisted I was fine and didn’t need a prescription, so why diagnose? It actually took me the better part of an hour and a half to convince him not too (because then I’d have to tell my family, was he crazy?). He told me he was there if I ever felt I needed help. Unfortunately, I did not listen (surprise, surprise), or ask anyone for help.

At this point, I am at a loss for the best way to tell you what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety (at the risk of sounding like one of those ridiculous commercials with butterflies floating around everywhere – like are they serious?), so I guess I’ll tell you about my freshman year, when everything spun out of control (and I do mean completely and utterly OUT of control).

The first few months of freshmen year were amazing. I was doing well in all my classes, and I had just met and fallen head over heels (please forgive me, I was young…) for this older guy in my Geometry class. I was a grade ahead as far as math, so he was about 17 when we got together verses my age of 14 years (I really should’ve seen where this was going considering we were reading Romeo and Juliet in English). I was over the moon.

But as things went along, he showed me a side of him that I wasn’t ready for; he had been through a lot of rough things in his life and his only protections were never trusting and “getting even.” His favorite way to do this was with mind games. During the steady progression of our relationship, I told him everything and talked with him every night. I also did not tell my parents about any of it.

I didn’t even realize how bad things were getting because I thought he was looking out for me. I was getting panic attacks almost every day (that happens when you’re a double agent) and the guilt over lying to my family and “hurting” my boyfriend were helping my depression tear me down.

That’s the kicker – all the drama with my boyfriend and my family didn’t cause my depression. It only fueled it. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good or bad your life is. It can happen to anyone, anytime. For me, it was the feeling of not being enough, not deserving to feel sad about anything, not deserving to be cared about, and overall just having every hurtful thing I had ever thought about myself or heard others say echoing in my mind, such as: “It’s your fault that people hurt you, you deserve it.” “You are worthless, why would you think someone would ever care about you?” “People have their own problems, you shouldn’t feel this bad over nothing, you’re pathetic.”

Then it started affecting my life. My grades were slipping, I was getting in more and more fights with my parents and friends, and the more I kept everything hidden, the better I got at lying to myself, and everyone else. (Please Note: Not everyone reacts this way; many people can be in a deep depression for years and appear perfectly “fine.” I happened to react with cruelty and anger to cover up the “weakness” of how I actually felt.) I was convinced that no one could help me, and that I didn’t deserve it even if they could. The fear of what those closest to me would think kept me loyal to my lies. The whole time, my “relationship” was still  a secret. A friend of mine finally called me out, and brought to light all of the things I thought I had been hiding so well. I fought it at first, and tried to push him away like I did with everyone else, but he didn’t fall for the cruel comments and don’t-care-about-anyone-or-anything attitude. (Again, people can react and deal with depression in a lot of different ways.) Instead, he kept being there for me until eventually I caved and told him everything. He convinced me to be honest to my family and let them help me.

I was terrified of what they were going to say to me, but they all just seemed shocked as I recounted the events of the last few months, including the conversation I had with my doctor. After I finished, my mom pulled me close and just held me as she cried. The rest of my family joined into the group hug and they all just held me while my mom and I cried.

It was an exhausting day, but my family helped me through recovery and within a few months, I was happier than I had ever been. I got so much closer to all of them.

Now a days, I don’t think of myself as the sad girl. The truth is that no one did anything to me; no one caused it, not even me.  I was just a person suffering from depression. I isolated myself and gave my depression the perfect opportunity to get to me. That is another important fact – depression is not the common cold; you’ll have good days when there isn’t a trace of it in your mind, and you’ll have bad days where you have to fight not to listen that lying voice that mimics yours and tries to bring you down. But, you can be happy. You deserve to be happy. Having good habits for stress relief and calming down can help a lot, as well as having a good, trustworthy confident.

As for me, I am doing well. There are a lot of great moments to enjoy in life. If none of this has had an impact thus far, then let this be what stays in your mind when you finish this article.

You are not what happened to you; you are not your past or your parents. You are who you choose to become.

 

 

 

 

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