Right. So, this is something personal. I’ve made no secret about my struggles with anxiety and depression. Historically, I’ve taken a stance of being open and honest with these struggles, because doing so may help others battling the same demons to know they aren’t alone. However, I’ve not gone public with my most recent battles because…well, I needed some time to heal first. I wanted to make sure I’m on the mend first before saying anything. I’m writing this today because I think I am, or at least I’m getting there.
Truth is, I haven’t felt like myself for a while now. At least since June. By the time NECON rolled around, I’d hoped the days away seeing friends and peers would help me out of my funk, but things didn’t work out that way. Things got worse. If you were hoping to connect with me at NECON this year and found me absent, please accept my apology. My anxiety was off the charts during that whole conference, and I spent most of the time either off-site or hiding in Amelia’s room. Some of you who were there and talked to me may not have noticed anything was wrong, and that’s the way I intended it. I’ve got a lot of experience burying my symptoms because I don’t want to inconvenience anyone.
So, NECON came and went, and I returned home to the daily grind. I’ve also made no secret about the instability of my work situation and my feelings on the matter. Anyone who’s read The Smile Factory knows all too well. I was back at work two days when I had an anxiety attack. A few days later, on Monday morning of the following week, I had another one while I was getting ready for work. This time, I called in sick and made an appointment with my doctor.
Along with increasing the dosage of my anxiety meds, my doctor also suggested I remove myself from the environment for a while so that I can get back on my feet, clear my head, and heal. I’m fortunate in that I was able to file for a leave of absence through my employer (FMLA) and also submit a claim through my insurance for short-term disability (STD). Everything started August 1st. I haven’t been back to work since.
Since then, I’ve gone through a gamut of emotions. I spent the first week in bed, so exhausted that I slept most of the days away, and invested a ridiculous amount of time filling out paperwork for my insurance company regarding my claim. The hits kept on coming, though. Two weeks after my leave began, the insurance company denied my claim to short-term disability on account of the wording my doctor used when she filed her paperwork. We filed an appeal. Then my grandmother passed away, and Erica and I drove to Kentucky for the funeral.
Depression followed. I managed to get an appointment with a therapist, who has helped. She referred me to a psychiatrist in order to get my medications in order, and for the last few weeks, I’ve been on an antidepressant as well as my regular anxiety meds. Aside from some weird mood swings and a lack of appetite, it seems to be working (so far).
I’ve busied myself with other projects, like preparing the paperback edition of Tony’s book, and completing my King in Yellow project. Lately, I’ve been working on trimming down the Devil’s Creek manuscript for my agent. I’ve caught up on my reading. Watched a lot of movies and TV. Gone for walks and had many, many naps. More importantly, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my mental health and well-being.
Anyone reading this who has anxiety or depression knows these things aren’t something you can just shrug off, sleep off, or move beyond with positive thinking. It doesn’t work like that. Anxiety and depression are chemical imbalances in the brain. You can’t shut them off or simply decide to not feel that way anymore. They have to be managed, and I’ve spent a lot of time figuring out what triggers them.
For me, that means avoiding crowded places for long periods of time (like retail spaces), avoiding situations that I perceive to be hopeless or pointless (like my day job), and avoiding as much negativity as possible. It means trying to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night, accomplishing something every day no matter how minuscule, and keeping myself hydrated. It means breathing exercises, meditation, immersing myself in media for a few hours to get my mind off matters, and doing things that bring happiness into my life.
That last point is important, I think. I knew I’d reached a particularly deep period of depression in August when I no longer felt joy doing the things I loved. I stopped reading, writing, playing video games, or watching movies. I literally did nothing all day, and then felt awful and useless because I’d accomplished nothing, even though I had no desire to. See the contradiction? That’s depression and anxiety in play, folks: Anxiety over the lack of action feeding the depression sapping the energy to act. They’re a vicious cycle that will perpetuate themselves forever if I allow them.
And I’m fucking tired of letting them control my life.
So, I’m taking steps to regain some form of control in my life. The medication and therapy are part of it, but I’m also trying to change the way I approach obstacles and circumstances. I’m trying to find a reason to smile every day, because no matter where I look, there’s always a reason. I have an amazing wife, an incredible son, and some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for. I’m beyond grateful for those things, and if nothing else, I will always have a reason to smile because of them.
So, even though I’m still awaiting a decision on my appeal from the insurance company, even though my day job has stopped paying me in accordance with FMLA, even though I may be forced to go back to work before I feel ready due to the insurance company’s bullshit, I still have reasons to smile. I still have reasons to be grateful. And I’m still me.
I think I’m going to end on that note. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk soon, okay?