Anxiety to Depression and Back to Life

Confession: I have terrible anxiety. Most of my loved ones know this about me but many others do not. I have never felt the need to tell strangers, until now. Maybe it will help more people learn to deal with it as I did.

Misconceptions: Most people equate anxiety to a singular, fleeting feeling, like being nervous. That is one definition of anxiety but it’s definitely not the only one. People can range from mild to severely anxious but it’s my personal belief that a large percentage of the population have very bad anxiety and haven’t yet recognized it.

My Case: I have always been a very detail-oriented, conscientious, and organized person. I am always looking to the next step so that I can be prepared for whatever life throws at me (I’m one of those people who carries an entire survival kit in my purse). However, when I started college, things escalated. I found that my brain would never turn off. There was no point in my day when I could just sit down and think, “Hm, that was a great day, now I’m going to sit down and relax.” My brain never stopped so neither would I. It’s hard to explain to people without this condition but it was like a movie reel that just kept spinning and spinning even though there was no film left. Even after my endless to-do lists had finally been accomplished my psyche would make up new things to think about. It was awful.

By the time I was 20, I was plagued by such overwhelming anxiety that all I could do was cry. A lot. My frustration just turned into sadness at the thought that I would never, ever be able to relax. I dove into a deep depression that stopped me from enjoying my life. It must be said that I am one of the most selfless people you’ll ever meet (obviously I’m not quite as humble, haha). I would never take my own life because of the pain it would cause my family and friends, but it was during this few months that I understood people who try to commit suicide.

Thankfully, I have an incredible support system. My family was available to talk over the phone anytime and I had an amazing boyfriend who would have done anything to see me smile. (I think every one has support like this, they just have to accept it.) The problem was that not one of my supporters truly understood what I was going through. After a couple of months, I knew I had to figure this one out for myself.

My Solution: Therapy. < my mom correctly pointed out that therapy was only one small part of the solution. Actually, it was a combination of self analysis, exercise, forgiveness, and therapy. The problem was that I’m from San Diego and only had emergency health insurance in Boston where I lived. So I did some research and found a group of doctors that provided help for only a much as I could pay. I scheduled my first appointment with Dr. Linda Puretz and the healing process began. I was still really busy with school and work so I only saw Dr. Linda once every two weeks but just that little bit started the ball rolling.

For about 1/8 of her normal hourly rate (that was all I could afford), she helped me practice coping mechanisms like muscle relaxation and meditation. But that was just a fraction of what I had to do for myself. I began exercising on a more regular basis but instead of focusing on weight loss I did it for mental health. I would use those workouts to clear my head of everything but technique and breathing. I also found yoga videos for really cheap online and started doing yoga and guided meditation whenever I was feeling overwhelmed. But most of all, I started to forgive myself. I started to realize that being productive wasn’t everything in life and that sometimes, the best moments and opportunities result from relaxed downtime. I just stopped putting so much pressure on myself. Pressure to be smarter, faster, skinnier, funnier, and more appealing to everyone else. I started to try to be HEALTHY. In mind and body.

Step Two: Although I had finally broken the loop, anxiety still floated around in my head like a free agent, looking for something to destruct. When I started grad school, it struck again. The combination of financial worries and intense academic obligations sprung up all those precursors to depression. Because of my self-analysis years before, I recognized the warning signs and took action immediately, before things could get worse. My mom had recently also been through some weird mental stuff and tried a new method, hormone medicine, or bioidenticals.

I still had three months before I got home to see our doctor so I started taking some depression medication. It definitely pacified my erratic thoughts but dulled my personality and zest for life. I was so excited to get the hormone testing when I got home in December.

December break finally arrived and I got my blood tested for my hormone levels. It turns out that I had almost no estrogen or progesterone in my system. Both things contribute to lack of relaxation and lower energy levels. Dr. Kelly Austin at California Natural Health in San Diego analyzed my hormone levels and prescribed me a couple of creams which I now apply, twice daily, to my arm and leg skin. Within 30 days, my anxiety had become manageable again. YAY!! I am still on the hormones one year later and consult with Dr. Austin every three months to make sure my anxiety and energy levels are on track, along with a host of other things that are affected by hormones. Also, it should be mentioned that hormone imbalance can affect any person of any age or sex. It can be pretty expensive to get tested but I know there are payment plans and it is seriously worth it. Just your nearest health center and ask some questions!

Finally: Its been three years since I pulled myself out of depression and one year since I started hormone treatment. Unfortunately, depression and anxiety are similar to addiction and it never actually goes away. I have learned to recognize the warning signs and to reign myself in when my thoughts get out of control. I still exercise regularly and practice some preventative yoga so that my brain never forgets how to relax. I learned an incredible amount from that period in my life but what I want to shout to the world is this: Every life has the potential to be wonderful, no matter your finances, family, or genetics; but every sad person has to find the strength to break their vicious cycle before they can improve their lives.

Something Fun: On a totally different note, I am on vacation with my family in Santa Cruz right now and I got to visit one of my best friends, Katie! We raced bikes together in college and now she works at Specialized (the biggest bike company in the US) in San Jose. We got to tour the office and everything! I am so insanely jealous of her work place.

20120816-145026.jpg^ yep, it’s a building INSIDE a building. With a fire hydrant and a car and everything!

ps. If anyone else can relate to this post, please have the courage to comment. Put yourself out there so you can help others.

9 thoughts on “Anxiety to Depression and Back to Life

  1. Ben Emmert-Aronson

    Damn Ashley! Wait, wrong intonation… Damn, Ashley! I saw that you started your blog yesterday, and almost wrote then to say that it sounded grand, and how exciting to be starting this new venture and such. Then I saw today’s post. You are such a rockstar! I don’t know that we ever got to talk about what we do outside of spandex, but I’m getting my doctorate in clinical psych, and I work in an anxiety clinic. It’s called the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (and it’s SO full of anxiety!). The kicker is, it wasn’t until I started my program that I realized the amount of anxiety I harbor too! There’s this joke that everyone goes into psych to figure out themselves or their families. I knew my family was a little nuts, but didn’t feel a need to figure them out more. I felt like I was doing pretty well, and didn’t really need to be figured out. Woh man! Hindsight is really something huh?? Looking back, I was a pretty miserable little kid. That has steadily improved since, well forever, but improving from a crappy place has led me to, at 28, finally be generally fairly pleased with myself, and only periodically experiencing bunches of anxiety (for example, I still grind my teeth every night despite cycling, frisbee, yoga, and knowing first line psych treatments!). But that wasn’t the point…. My point was, in our brief meetings, I had no idea. You seem like such an excited, care free person! How awesome for you to spread the word like that, because anxiety, and mental health stuff generally, IS so very prevalent, and so rarely talked about. So awesome for you to grab it by the hoo-hah and say “We’re gonna talk about this!” Seriously, three cheers, at least!

  2. Ruth Rainwater

    Good for you for putting it out there! Mental health is so fragile, and we need more people to talk about it; there is still so much stigma attached to it. I worked in psychiatric hospitals for almost 20 years off and on during my nursing career, and I have to say that attitudes have improved greatly towards those with any kind of mental issues, but there is still a long way to go.

    1. Ash Hopwood Post author

      Ruth, I feel a bit selfish writing these because they’re so cathartic. Haha. Glad you got something out of them. I just want to inspire people to make they’re own happiness. As it seems you are too with your blog. Keep it going!

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  5. Hilary Curtis

    Hiiii Ashley!
    How are you!? I hope you and mike had a good time in Boston on your way home, and that all is well out in Peoria! It was so nice to meet you up at the loaf!

    I’ve been meaning to send you an email or fb msg. It seems like we have so much in common- I wish we had had more time to talk! On top of all your dietary restrictions, I heard you mention that you have had trouble with anxiety.

    I started to write you a fb message, not wanting others to know of my struggles, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was contributing to the silence surrounding mental health challenges. I so commend your bravery for putting it out there that you have struggled with anxiety. Talking about it is so key for breaking down the stigma associated with mental health. So I’ll put it out there- I’m having a real tough time with anxiety too. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. It’s especially nice to know that anxiety can happen to anyone- including a down to earth, avid cyclist, yogi, health conscious, awesome person like you!

    We should chat!

    1. ahappylass Post author

      Thank you so so much. This is probably the nicest email (definitely the nicest comment) that I’ve gotten. Honestly, I just don’t even notice that this is a taboo subject. When it comes to personal stuff, if I think someone might be able to relate or that we might be able to help each other, it just makes my life so much easier putting it out there.
      Bouncing things off other people, getting their opinions, has become an incredibly effective and rewarding way of learning.

      I think that you are equally awesome. You always had a smile on your face and just have a positive and happy aura about you. I kept thinking after you left when we would next meet up. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later!

      Let’s keep in touch until then!

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