Posted on 30 October 2016 by Michael Dahl

clawing my way back out of deep Depression and severe Anxiety

I’m going to start with the moral of this story: If you think you are Depressed or experiencing Anxiety, if you find your emotions are out of whack with what normal circumstances would warrant, seek help.

I am a fan of a three-pronged approach to chronic Depression and Anxiety: doctor prescribed medications, talk therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Life is too precious to let these mental illnesses run roughshod over the normal life you deserve to live.

The following is my most recent story of dealing with chronic Depression and Anxiety:

In August and September of 2014 I fell into a temporary Depression. I can’t remember exactly when It started. But I remember the Depression being strong at the time of Robin Williams’ suicide in mid-August … something that hit me much harder than I expected, as I was never a huge fan of his comedy.

I also remember major happy and powerful experiences surrounding me, and yet I could not feel joy. In fact, when the happy and powerful experiences passed, I felt an extreme sadness that could only be described as Depression. I could do nothing to simply snap out of the negative places my brain was going to and staying.

My current med doctor said it was quite likely the medications I was taking at that point had just stopped working for me — something that is not an uncommon experience for those who take drugs to address Depression and Anxiety.   (In fact, I had had a good spell with the drugs I was taking then — six years of mental health.)

By mid-September I could no longer deny I needed professional help. However, when I made the call to my psychiatrist, I learned that he had recently retired. For a couple days this hit me pretty hard. But by the time I resolved to find a new psychiatrist, my Depression receded.

Regrettably, that stopped my search for a new doctor and psychiatrist.

Months passed and Depression stayed away from me. However, I was becoming more and more anxious. I started to write about my Anxiety quite often in my journal.  On one particularly bad day I wrote about running out of my workplace as a panic attack completely took control of me.

More panic attacks happened, but it seemed I was also permanently stuck in a state of Anxiety. Within a couple weeks, I again decided I needed professional help.

(As an aside, I must admit that looking for new professional help is a process can spur Anxiety all by itself. But thankfully (with my wife’s encouragement) I plowed through as I made several calls to med doctors and psychiatrists who were not accepting new patients. However, within a couple days, I found a clinic that had both med doctors and psychiatrists ready to help me find my way out of the mess I was in.)

I remember fidgeting on my current med doctor’s couch. Stilted words and a jittery voice, describing my life’s history of mental illness: OCD, the winter blues, and deep Depression and a near lifetime battle with Anxiety.

My doctor, seeing the mess I was, said quite frankly that my current meds were not working. I needed to taper off them ASAP while tapering on a new drug that might help.

Unfortunately, our first try at a medication did not work, and I descended even further into Depression and a higher level of Anxiety. When I wasn’t working, I was in bed. For a few really bad weeks I was sleeping at least 16 hours a day.

Eventually we found some new meds that would deal with at least the Depression, I was still in bed for long periods of the day. In fact, for a few more weeks I was would get myself to work for a handful of hours, but then be worn out. So I’d head home, get in bed, and try to put in a few hours more hours of work there as well.

Slowly, my energy levels returned as the Depression lessened.

As luck would have it, my Depression disappeared just as my wife and I embarked on a trip to Maui in late June / early July of 2015. That meant my energy levels were returning, and I could take part in hiking and kayaking, and day trips to parts of the island that would have been impossible only a couple weeks earlier. I even had the energy to hike one mile down Haleakalā mountain and back up again. I felt a huge sense of achievement then and for the next several weeks as my energy levels continued to rise.

Most of this blog has been devoted to trying meds and med mixtures in an effort to get my Anxiety to an acceptable place. And I’ve reported on therapy visits that brought me to tears as I learned why I was likely experiencing elevated levels of Anxiety and tactics to help me address the tense states I frequently found myself in.

The struggle with Anxiety … the slow work of getting it to a manageable place has taken much longer than I expected … 18 months! Eighteen months of med doctor and talk therapy visits — each for the better, but until recently, not quite there.  Thankfully, I stuck with it, as I am currently at the best place I have ever … EVER … been.

That does not mean everything is ponies and rainbows. Certain types of tense situations can still bring on Anxiety. And my last panic attack happened only a few months ago.  Also — and this has been one of he hardest things to get used to — this major bout has created a new me.  I am not the same person I was before this all started

Things that used to scare me before, no longer do and visa versa.  Meanwhile, my strengths and weaknesses have changed somewhat, making navigation in this new self surprising and difficult.  Also, the type of Anxiety I experience is completely different than the type I had before.  It’s all very strange.

But I started this post, because I am better.  Not “all better.”  Just much better … and acceptable and manageable better.

I have learned how to take my meds so I no longer have two hours of hell each morning — something I experienced regularly until just a few weeks ago.  Also, while I still suck at dealing with Anxiety once It hits, It sticks around for shorter periods of time, and  have stopped beating myself up so much after the Anxiety has passed.  I am also getting a little better at mastering the sometimes effective tactics to outwit Anxiety.

Lastly — and this is the most important one — I have returned to experiencing joy.  The Depression is gone.  The Anxiety no longer has such a hard grip on me.  And the normal life activities that should make me joyful have begun to have the effect.  In other words, Anxiety no longer haunts me the way it once did.  Only a couple weeks ago — before the last (and very successful) med tweak by my med doctor — I always knew that Anxiety could steal away my joyful moments, so my brain wouldn’t let me experience what would obviously be temporary happiness.

Now, I control my emotions much more than my emotions controlling me.  And because none of life is all ponies and rainbows, isn’t that all we can ask for?  Emotions that match the situation you are in?  As I’ve said many times in this post, I am not completely there, but I am close.

And that fills me with joy.

As for this blog, it will continue for at least a few reasons:  (1) I will still experience Anxiety, and writing about it is therapeutic to me; (2) I plan on learning a lot more about cognitive behavioral therapy as well as how to increase my resiliency … I’d like to share what I learn with others who suffer; (3) life is unpredictable; and (4) I want to end the stigma attached to mental illnesses.