I love visiting New York City but have always, deep down inside, been very intimidated by the city. It’s also made me feel a bit afraid as well despite the fact nothing threatening my safety has ever occurred while visiting. I always enjoy myself but usually with an edge of discomfort floating around on the perimeter of my brain.
Something happened on this last visit where I was incredibly comfortable in my skin and enjoyed myself to the fullest while wandering around the city, despite being 5 months pregnant. I walked around alone and never once felt the usual intimidation and edge of fear. It was very freeing. Most would say it was because I have been there enough that finally it felt familiar so I wouldn’t be nervous.
If I am being honest with myself, I know the real reason of this change in perceived fear is because of how my anxiety and depression have been doing these days. It’s not a topic I talk about too often, especially my depression, unless I show how silly anxiety can make me feel. The best way I can describe my depression is I wear it like a backpack. I feel it there, it has a pressing weight on my back, it’s an extension of me, & as long as I keep it in my sights I typically do just fine with it.
It took me many many years (and umpteen therapy sessions) to understand that a lot of my depression is directly correlated with my daily anxiety. As a result, I have worked very hard to teach myself daily awareness, coping skills, and now make decisions to alleviate my anxiety. I have also learned there is no shame in this and I am honest with the people who love me about how I am feeling. I explain the not so great days and It feels like by doing this I don’t let the mountain of negative feelings and sadness build up because I admit to them right away. I don’t bury it deep in my secret shame drawer (which eventually explodes with being overly full and overwhelms me). This seems to do a great job at keeping my depression at bay and just hanging on me like a backpack versus cloaking me in its Darth Vader cape and making me disappear.
When my depression & anxiety does get ahold of me, it can make me feel very isolated and tiny in this big world. I get lost in the idea I am a meaningless cog in the overwhelming wheel of life. I am convinced I am a burden to the people around me. It envelopes me into a fear bubble of a perceived reality that my rational self KNOWS is not real but is too overwhelmed to fix this point of view.
I have had three very serious depressive periods of my life: first when I was 16, again during college, and then in my late 20’s/early 30’s. These periods didn’t come on all at once. Instead, I describe it as standing on the ocean’s shore watching a tidal wave come painfully slow at you and feeling powerless as it crashes over you and then pulls you off your feet into its murky depths – all happening at such incrementally slow speeds that you are thinking you are ok and then you are underwater wondering what has happened. Then, I fight to not drown and it’s exhausting.
During these times I was fully functioning in both school and work, an expert at performing to my fullest abilities but all while walking around inside my bubble of fear and loneliness. I was not truly connecting with those around me but still looking the part. This is exactly why when people decide to take their own lives it typically shocks everyone around them and comes as a complete surprise. During depression, the light is figuratively on but no one is emotionally home.
So, what changed for me? A catalyst in my finding a way to keep the depression and anxiety from becoming full blown episodes was watching the Brene Brown TedTalk Listening To Shame where she said:
“If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive”
That statement stuck with me and began a very long and involved process of teaching myself to be honest, owning up to my feelings, leaning on those I trust, and stop living in my petri dish of shame. Some might say I am overly honest these days about my anxiety and depression but it’s the biggest coping method I have to try to fight against the chemical processes of my brain.
And that’s how I know this is the real reason why I did not feel that overwhelmed stress and fear while visiting NYC because this time I was honest with myself and forced myself to feel empowered during my visit. I spoke aloud my discomforts and fear to my husband and friends who then gave me very rational and emotionally supportive responses. I believed them (no matter how hard my anxiety/depression makeup didn’t want to) and confidently took on the city feeling like I had the skills I needed to enjoy myself and connect emotionally with my surroundings, instead of walking the city inside my bubble of fear and isolation.
I no longer let myself take this isolating bubble tactic in life and it has made my world an incredible rainbow coloring full of love and empathy which helps me to have more good days than bad. It’s the recommended way to live. Trust me.