I joke about my anxiety and depression and OCD here quite a bit, because most of the time I’m in the right frame of mind to view those diagnoses as just another part of me, like being ridiculously near-sighted or having hay fever. When the meds and therapy and the planets are aligned, I can just shrug off my, um, quirks and make it through each day without dreading the next.
Last Thanksgiving, nothing was aligned. This Thanksgiving, I’m on an even keel because I finally did something I was terrified to do before.
I asked for help.
And I got the help I needed — new meds, new therapist, support from my family. And that led to an infinitely better day job and a fantastic part-time gig that are finally resolving the financial problems that dragged me down in the first place.
But part of me is still resentful that I had to ask for help. Why didn’t anyone around me notice what was happening? All I wanted was someone to care enough to see my distress.
Logically, I know that no one else can see my anxiety and depression — because I work so, so hard at trying to hide it. That doesn’t make the bitter berries taste any better. The woe-is-me voice keeps saying “I shouldn’t have to ask.”
So. Here’s where I’m going with this.
(1) If you’re overwhelmed, send out the SOS. No one will think less of you. There is nothing wrong with taking meds. There is no shame in talking to a professional. Trust me on this — and trust your family and friends enough to be honest about your fucked-up brain.
(2) If you’re concerned about someone, don’t take “I’m fine” as the final answer. Ask questions. Be nosy. Please.
(3) If you’re an author, for the LOVE OF GOD, do your homework before using any kind of mental illness as a plot device or character trait. OCD is much more than being a neat freak. There is no Magical Orgasm Cure for agoraphobia. Panic attacks do not require a Tragic Past. Put your characters on meds and in therapy.
Thus endeth the lesson. Now, on to the Literary Analogies! Because this is a book blog, after all, not a whiny “let me dump my angst all over you” blog.
Depression = Dementors
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”
That one was easy, right? Not quite. The real dementors of depression are invisible. They’re always there, hovering, waiting to infiltrate your brain and take hold. The coldness comes on so gradually you don’t even realize it. Chocolate does help, but the demons are never the “it’s all in your head” boggarts that can be laughed away.
However…there is a Patronus charm: “I need help.” It takes courage and practice, but it’s there. Sometimes you just need someone to teach you how to use it.
Anxiety = Bellatrix Lestrange’s Gringotts Vault
Hermione screamed in pain, and Harry turned his wand on her in time to see a jeweled goblet tumbling from her grip. But as it fell, it split, became a shower of goblets, so that a second later, with a great clatter, the floor was covered in identical cups rolling in every direction, the original impossible to discern amongst them.
…”They have added Gemino and Flagrante curses! Everything you touch will burn and multiply, but the copies are worthless — And if you continue to handle the treasure you will eventually be crushed to death by the weight of expanding gold!”
It took me a long time to figure this one out. Everyone knows the “black cloud” depiction of depression. We’ve all seen the TV commercials with blank-faced people huddled on the couch hugging a pillow. Every bit of that is true.
There is no universal metaphor for anxiety — because there are at least eleventy thousand different ways to be anxious and eight kajillion thing to be anxious about.
Yeah, everyone worries. Everyone gets anxious once in a while. But an anxiety disorder makes it impossible (and I am not exaggerating here) to turn off those thoughts. It makes your brain expand all those horrible thoughts and explode them all over the place and heat them up until you’re buried under a smoldering pile of what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-me-why-can’t-I-be-normal that will inevitably reignite and start the whole damn process over again.
Anxiety disorder also causes run-on sentences. There is no medical proof of this, but in some cases anecdotal evidence is enough.
And maybe next year, I’ll be thankful for my hard-won ability to make a simple phone call without Xanax.