Welcome! This is my journey with anxiety and depression disorder and I wanted to bring you along for the ride. This is a first-hand look at the challenges and triumphs associated with managing and recovering from depression and anxiety. We often don’t talk about mental illness in the black community and I want to end the stigma around mental illness in our community.
“THE SOUNDLESS SCREAM”
I wake up in a panic—my heart pounding like a racehorse inside of my chest. I want to fight but something has a hold of me, weighing me down squeezing the life out of me. “Lord, please let me go back to sleep,” I beg. I cry out, praying this won’t last long.
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to direct my mind away from my fear. But I can’t steer it, let alone stop it. It’s not supposed to be like this, I think to myself. You’re not supposed to be gripped with such worry and despondency the moment your consciousness returns in the morning.
I feel sad, worried, hopeless—like I don’t possess what I need to get through my day. I long to conquer it—to be like the woman in that famous quote who scares the devil every morning when her feet hit the floor. But this devil with the big A on his chest has my feet in chains. He clutches me and locks me up like the fair lady in London Bridge is Falling Down. I am falling down.
Deep inside of me, another kind of woman lives. My true self. My de-stressed not de-pressed self. She’s the self I long for. The self I most identify with…most envision myself being and yet…she rarely wakes up. How do I shake her out of her slumber?
I lay in bed and want to be her. I want normal. I dare to want better than normal. I want vibrant…the vibrance I feel lives inside of my bones. The positivity I know exists within my being. The larger than life self that wants to wake up the slumbering world around her. But she slumbers, and I want to send this hollow version of myself back to sleep, too.
The thought becomes not how do I stop this racing in my mind, but just…how do I get myself out of this bed and begin another day?
My mind races after tomorrow, spinning like spaghetti noodles around what’s on my plate. I bounce from work projects to house chores to my kids to my goals and future dreams.
I think about the goals that have collected dust, and a pit hits my stomach. As much as my dreams spur me on—they taunt me, reminding me that if I could just…finally…stop panicking or worrying—my life would look so…different. If I could just stop spinning in circles, I could make more progress. If my mind would just clear, I wouldn’t be so stuck sometimes.
I traipse through my nightly routine of washing my face and get a glass of water. I take a long sip and let the lukewarm water hit my throat. Like the water, I feel lukewarm—unquenchable. I tell myself over and over again, “Tomorrow is a new day. His mercies are new every morning.” Tomorrow is a big day for me at work and I need those mercies. It looms over me like a dark cloud and I wish I could look it confidently in the face, stomping through the threat of puddles in my chic rain boots—my cute umbrella in tow.
I crawl into bed and pull up the covers, hoping they’ll surround me in comfort and my mind will settle peacefully into sleep. I beg for good dreams—a solid night’s rest. For deep breaths and long sighs and muscles that relax one by one into the bed like fluffy loaves of warm bread.
I’d give anything to release the tension I’ve carried for so long—the weight on my shoulders. I’d give anything for good dreams and good sleep and a cease to these blips of anxiety that show up spontaneously and wreak havoc on my life.
I can’t help but think that when people see someone like me, they don’t see that anxiety plays here, too. Maybe I don’t look the part, or seem like I’d be one to struggle because I am a dream chaser and do make outward progress. Maybe I look strong, less fragile.
But it does. It plays here, too. I lay in bed and beg this thief of the mind to relinquish me, so I can sleep and dream and live in peace.
Today’s the day of my presentation at work and I haven’t slept a wink. I need to make breakfast, iron the kid’s clothes, and drop them off at school. My mind picks up the web it was spinning the night before and I get caught in it all over again.
The morning comes at me like a freight train. I can’t dodge it, and it’s running so fast I don’t know how I’m going to jump it. All I can do is run after it and try my best to get on board without too many bumps and bruises.
As I iron the kids’ clothes, I go over my presentation in my head. Distracted, I move through the morning in a frenzy but nowhere near present.
I get ready for work and stare at the woman in the mirror. I see the emptiness in my eyes. I don’t recognize myself. I see WORRY, ANXIETY, DOUBT, FEAR, UNWORTHY the -list can continue.
I’m surrounded by people who love me. My husband fights for me, my baby cling to me, and I have some great friends in the world. Yet they don’t fully grasp this inner world of mine.
I cover up the tell-tales signs of lack of sleep and lack of excitement. Concealer masks the dark circles, portraying a restful night’s sleep. I add color to my cheeks—a little false cheer.
I think about all of the ideas I have in mind for how to shift from feeling this way. There are so many journal prompts I long to explore, meditations I want to push play on. I’m 10 books away. 3 daring decisions closer. 5 more months in therapy to a more whole, healed me.1 phenomenal routine to simplified.
But today, I’m not there. And if I don’t get myself moving even faster, I’m going to be late for work.
I get breakfast made and the kids shuffled into the car.
I try to hide my anxiety from my kids, because I don’t want them to know the depth of the spinning, the panic. I breathe and do my best to engage with them on the drive to school, but I can’t stop thinking about this presentation and how tired I am.
No amount of caffeine feels like it’s going to pump me up or prep me.
I make it to work, and I’m trying to put on a brave face but my anxiety fights for control. I look around at familiar faces, but today’s not a day for small talk or lingering.
Invasive thoughts vie for attention. One strong, overwhelming thought rises to the surface: I’m afraid that I’m going to have a panic attack during my presentation and my coworkers won’t understand what’s going on.
Not many people understand panic attacks and not many people know that I have them. My heart races as I start my presentation. Here we go; I’m doing okay. Five minutes must pass.
And then, my hands and armpits start to sweat. My chest pounds, throbbing into my ears. I start telling myself not to have a panic attack and those thoughts make me panic more. My body goes into flight or fight response, and then I lose all control. I can’t get it together; can’t push it down this time.
I have a full-blown panic attack in the middle of my presentation—right in front of my co-workers. Tears fill my eyes, flooding their brim and spilling down my face.
The ladies at work rallied around me. Perhaps, they did understand after all. But I was still mortified. Emotionally done for the day, I left work early.
On the drive home, I sobbed so hard I couldn’t see and had to pull over on the side of the road. I called my husband to try to calm down and he assured me, “Lani, we’re going to get through this.” Finally, able to see again, I get back on the road.
As I pull into the driveway, relief washes over me. I’m home.
I come straight home, kick off my shoes, and bolt to my safe place—bed. I fall into it, burying my head and body. I want to escape. I want to start over. I want a redo.
My worst-case scenario became a reality.
Between the covers, all I can feel is drained. Just empty. My body has nothing left to give.
All I want to do is go to sleep, but I can’t. I replay the day’s events over and over in my head. I try all of the techniques my counselor has taught me. I take long deep breaths to settle my nervous system down, but I turn and turn every word, reaction, and potential thought about me like a washing machine turns clothes on the spin cycle.
Everything is a balled up mess. Why does my mind race like this and cause me to panic? Why can’t I just get over this?
My mind jumps momentarily to what else is required of me for the day. Dinner needs made, the kids will need help with their homework, and I need to do a load of laundry. I should get up. But I don’t get up.
I sit in bed hour after hour after hour.
I’m screaming inside but no one can hear me. While the world sleeps, I walk the floor in the middle of the night, begging to escape this nightmare of panic.
When everyone’s asleep, the world is eerily quiet but my mind doesn’t quiet. I pace in the stillness, fight in the dark. Cry out for something to change; for breakthrough.
When the world shuts down, I start up and when the world starts up, I want to shut down.
No one sees how trapped I am. No one feels how suffocating this is.
I scream the soundless scream that only I hear.
Like puppet strings, anxiety has yanked and tugged me at its every whim. It’s pulled me this way and that, tripped me up and tangled me around my deepest fears. It’s made me dance with thoughts of death and sleep with the seductress of stress. It’s pushed and shoved me between extreme numbness and nervousness.
It’s stolen my days and robbed me of the ability to be present. It’s kept me from engaging with others, playing with my kids and leaning on the shoulder of my husband.
It’s time to cut the strings. They’ve been attached to me for far too long.
To sever those strings, I make a decision. I accept this mental illness. I accept that like any illness it takes time to move through it. I decide to move THROUGH it not with it.
The strings don’t move me. I move me. On my bad days, I move closer to my support system…to my tools. I believe breath by breath that I have control. I give myself grace and compassion and time. Time to heal. Time to unlearn and relearn and rewire this brain of mine.
I stare out the window and savor what I see. This moment is no longer lost on me. I see colors, notice details, and spot possibilities. It lures me into the air outside instead of tempting me to hide.
Scales fall from my heart and my spirit revives. I thank God; praise Him. Each praise blankets my soul and dismantles darkness. I give thanks for my therapist, meditation, soulful music, my husband, and learning how to express my needs. Each thanks gives back to me…the ultimate thanksgiving. I am no longer hopeless.
The sun warms my face as it beats in through the window and I borrow from its glow. I let it fuel me and fire me up; ready me for what lies ahead.
Anxiety may still show up unannounced and for reasons I can’t unearth, but it won’t uproot me. Like the trees I spot outside, I reach down deep for the water I need and stand tall to soak up the light. I bend with the breeze so it does not break me and I learn to let things go—to cast these leaves in season—and trust that I’ll blossom and bear fruit in my time.
Anxiety no longer defines me. I have anxiety but anxiety is NOT me.