You Are NOT Alone
It might feel like it sometimes but you are not alone! Ali Williams and Robyn Rychards discuss the challenges they face dealing with anxiety and depression.
Ali Williams shares her experience living with anxiety.
I don’t seem like an anxious person.
Everything about the image that I project out to the world screams confidence, from co-hosting a podcast, to smashing it in my job, storming through my PhD, and even organising a conference for early next year. All of those things seem to be things that an anxious or depressed person wouldn’t be able to do.
It’s not true by the way. I both suffer from anxiety and kick arse on whatever project I embark on. I just second guess decisions I make and sometimes slip into a cycle of catastrophising where I live out every remote possibility of disaster in my head over and over again.
And for me there are gradients of anxiety, and my day to day standard is pretty manageable. I reread what I’ve written in emails or texts a number of times before I send it, and then worry about the phrasing afterwards until I get a reply. If I send it straight away, it’s either because I’m pissed off, or I trust the other person enough.
And meetings. I’m pretty smart and I know my shit, and so in meetings I either put across my points clearly and confidently, or I ask a number of questions to help me understand better. Which is a good thing, but if I’m not leading the meeting or the training, that often means that I’m the only other person engaging with the person speaking. I’ll be fine in the moment, but post-meeting I agonise over whether I spoke too much; what people thought of me; if I should just learn my place and shut up (hello there internalised sexism!)
So far, a little exhausting, but not too bad. And to be honest, my brain’s been wired this way for so long that those kind of worries barely even register anymore. If I get too stressed about a meeting, I check in with a colleague to confirm that I was fine; and if I’m really unsure about an email or text, I’ll get a friend to look it over before I send it.
But occasionally my brain overheats and my anxiety gets exacerbated.
I’m surprisingly good at being self-reflective after the fact, but in the moment I rely on my personal tells to know that I’m spiraling.
Tears. I start crying over everything. Now, I cry over films, tv shows and books all of the time, but it’s when I start crying over professional wrestling storylines, or when a song chokes me up that I know that things aren’t quite normal.
Then comes panic over deadlines. I’m the kind of person who needs to keep busy – I find it very difficult to switch off – and so projects help me focus all that nervous energy into positive outcomes. Most people have a work-life balance. I have to find a work-PhD-life balance.
My studies are like having a second full-time job: I work a 7.5 hour day, and then have to find time around that to study, which means getting up at 5.30 every morning to read and get research humming in my brain before I go to work. And then come home in the evening and relax or do some reading before bed – because goodness knows I’m too tired at that stage to take in any really complicated theoretical concepts. Weekends are for studying, and trying to make time for family and friends and the people I care about.
So when deadlines come around, my stress levels hike and I start doubting everything I’ve ever written. And the inner monologue starts: What were you thinking? Working and studying at the same time? That was stupid. How stupid are you? You’re never going to get this done. Read that feedback again. What makes you think that you could possibly aspire to any of this? You don’t belong in an academic community. You’re a fraud. An imposter. You know nothing.
I actually just had to take a break from writing this, to get up and walk away from my laptop and take some deep breaths. Because, if I’m brutally honest with you, dear reader, and with myself, that has been me this week. I had some feedback on my report on Monday, and it’s now Friday and I have three days left before the most important deadline of my first year of study.
I’m lucky enough to have two incredible supervisors, and when I met with my theoretical supervisor today we had such a great meeting that I’ve come away excited to get stuck in this weekend, but that vitriolic spiel above? That’s been running through my head for every second of the last four days.
And I know that it’s because I’m tired, because I’m worn down, and because I need to just take a break and stop. But I have deadlines to meet and work to complete and so the cycle continues.
My partner is better than anyone else at telling me to stop that go go go, and persuading me to spend the afternoon with him on the sofa watching wrestling or reminding me that I’m better off not missing the football, because every time I go I let all my emotion and frustration drift away as I live and die with the action on the pitch.
There are little things that help you live in the moment.
Like telling people when you think of them. Spreading positivity out there reminds me of the things that keep me grounded and safe in my own life.
Talking to people. Not everyone about everything that’s in my head – because I can barely contain it all – but different people about different worries and concerns.
Strengthening your support network. Especially when time is short, it’s so hard to actually find space to breath just for yourself, let alone with other people, but spend time messaging the people you care about. It’s important; for you and for them. The worst thing you can do is deprive people of the glory that is you – especially when they’re the ones who’ll remind you of it when you’re down.
Taking you time. This is everything. Sometimes you have to say no to events you really want to go to and things you really want to do. But that’s okay. Your friends will understand. You have to make sure that you’re okay.
And sometimes, you have to speak to a professional. I’ve done counseling, and I know that if I ever need a top up, I can book a one-off session. There’s no shame in it. At all.
In fact, if you take away anything from this piece, let it be that. Be open with people. There’s no shame in how your brain works. I often say that I’m wired differently, that this anxiety is part of who I am, and it is. It doesn’t mean I always like it, but it’s formative and makes me a better listener, better at empathising with others, and really passionate about the importance of openness. Yeah, I live with anxiety, but that doesn’t make me any less awesome. I just have to remind myself of that fact sometimes.
Ali Williams is a romance editor, academic and writer, and one of the hosts of Into the Stacks: The Bookcast, a podcast about speculative fiction. For more information about Ali and her projects, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Robyn Rychards, talks about depression and not letting it get the better of you.
Being a romance writer with depression is challenging to say the least, and it affects so many aspects, sometimes I’m amazed I ever got published. It’s a double-whammy for someone who battles depression because depression makes romance and happy-ever-afters difficult to think about. Therefore, writing the romance in the first place is challenging. Add to that the string of rejections you get when submitting that finished manuscript which send you into a bout of depression, and sometimes I wonder how I ever did it. Now that I have, though, there’s the stress of coming up with a new story and the pressure of getting it done in a timely manner. My readers are waiting for the next book and if I’m too slow, I’ll lose them and have to start all over getting readers… The struggle is real, people!
I’m genetically disposed to depression, suffered bouts of it off and on since I was a teenager, but it was nothing that affected my ability to deal with life until I reached my thirties and had some hard emotional knocks under my belt. Having been around people with depression, I wasn’t affected by the stigma of depression or the taking of medication to deal with it. So needless to say, I’ve tried a variety of remedies over the years, and one thing I am sure of, self-medicating is not the answer. No one should feel like a loser, or a failure, for getting professional help. There’s no shame in it. Just as there’s no shame in a diabetic taking insulin to compensate for the body’s inability to produce something that’s necessary for it to function properly. So your brain isn’t capable of providing the necessary chemicals to work like it’s supposed to, why is there something bad about giving it what it needs to work like it should? Not that that’s always an easy thing. A lot of times it takes several tries to find the medication that works best for you. And I’ve tried quite a variety! It can be time-consuming and depressing in itself, but it’s well-worth it in the end. Which is what I keep telling myself, when all I want to do is quit trying. It will help me be the mom my kids deserve. It will help me get those words on paper for my readers who are waiting for my next story. It will make life easier for my loved ones, because I can be the person they need me to be. The person I want to be. A person who gives to them and not just takes from them. It’s the best thing you can do for those you love, so if for no other reason, do it for the people you care about. The ones who are there for you on your dark days.
Which leads me to the next thing in dealing with depression. Number one is taking the plunge and getting professional help, but that by no means should overshadow the need for a support system of people who care about you. In my opinion, the more of those the better, because that way you don’t burden one person with all your junk. Unless, of course, that one person is a therapist! Talking about your feelings with someone who cares about you is very helpful and spreading that out to a couple of people you care about makes it easier on everyone. It also gives you some different perspectives, which a lot of times is beneficial as well.
Now for the last thing I want to address… Natural remedies. I’m all for them. I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, after all, where doing things naturally was a lifestyle before it became popular. I’ve tried St. John’s Wort, aromatherapy, GABA, SAM-e, Valerian Root, Skullcap, seen holistic doctors… The list goes on. And some of them have worked when the depression is minor, so by all means, read up on these things and see if any of them might work for you, but don’t rule out the heavy-duty prescription choice. Sometimes you need to call in the big guns!
Looking at it as helping your loved ones is a good way to motivate yourself to do what you have to, to get your brain functioning like it should. And don’t take it personally, like it’s something you can control on your own, any more than you can control how much insulin your body produces. Sometimes what you do on your own can help, but sometimes the problem is too big to handle on your own. Don’t give up, and do what you can to conquer the depression monster! I’m living proof it can be done! But don’t forget that monster is a life-long battle, and if you stop doing what’s working because you feel better, the monster will start getting the better of you again. Always stay on guard!
Is depression or anxiety something you struggle with? Do you have any tips or tricks to help you stay the course? Let us know in the comments or join the #NotAlone discussion on our Social Media where you'll find yourself in very good (and supportive!) company.