A Looming Presence
Tianna G. Hansen @tiannag92
What mental illness do you suffer from?
I suffer from severe depression and anxiety which I have had my whole life. I never realized my anxiety was so bad until I was talking to one of my therapists about how my toes sometimes go numb (in the summertime when there is no reason for it), and she told me it’s because I clench up all my muscles in my body due to my high form of anxiety, actually cutting off the circulation to my feet. That’s when I realized that I suffer from near-debilitating anxiety along with what I had long known as depression. I also was recently diagnosed with PTSD.
When was the first time you noticed it and how?
I have never known a time when I didn’t feel this way – I believe it probably started in second grade during my parents’ divorce, though it could have started before that. I don’t think I ever really had that “aha!” moment with depression the way I did with my anxiety, it was always just like a looming presence dragging down my good moods, choking me even on my “good” days.
How does it affect your life as a whole?
As a whole, I would love to say that it doesn’t affect my life, but that would feel false because it does affect my life in often surprising ways. Recently, it has made me feel unfit to be a wife (though I am to be married in a few short days!), it has made me feel self-doubt in nearly everything I do. It has kept me up at night replaying a stupid thing that I said and chastising myself for my own behaviors, though there is nothing I can do to change the past. It has battered me with guilt over seemingly inconsequential things, and it has also made me choose some very poor romantic relationships in my life which opened my eyes to abuse – physical, mental, emotional, verbal, and sexual. Not to mention the self-abuse that came along with it. Blaming myself for staying in relationships I knew were no good to me. Hearing the one I thought I loved and who I thought loved me call me names like “whore,” “cunt,” “slut,” “bitch,” etc. Seeking acceptance from people I shouldn’t. Relying on those who I thought I could but who only worsened my mental state.
How does it affect your day-to-day?
On a daily basis, I am plagued by these unpleasant thoughts and feelings. I often have to pull myself out of them. I self-taught myself a well-known technique for dealing with trauma called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to help cope with my flashbacks and negative thoughts after being sexually abused and coming to terms with a lifetime of trauma. I have learned that your mind has more power than you think it does, though it is often easy to slip into the negative rut, as I call it. I continue to try coping with it every day, though there are often months where I find myself stuck in a black cloud.
These mental illnesses have also leaked into my work life, where I am an Assistant Editor which requires me to go out and take pictures, conduct interviews, attend events, etc. – all of which can often seem very overwhelming and can nearly send me into a panic attack just thinking about it.
I often psyche myself out about it for days in advance, and when there is a last-minute event I must attend, I get severely anxious and panicked. My heart pounds and I begin sweating at the thought of being surrounded by unfamiliar faces, of entering a place where I am expected to perform highly but believe there is no possible way that I will make it.
Describe a time in which you felt empowered in spite of your disorder.
When I leave many of these events, my head is spinning with the weight of it all, as if I have entered a cloud and stayed there to cope with what I had to do. It often takes me a few hours to “unwind” and feel “normal” again afterwards, but there is also a sense of accomplishment and pride I get with each new successful event.
It is empowering, and makes me believe that despite my anxiety, despite my depression, despite my inclination to panic attacks and feeling unworthy or incapable, it makes me realize I am capable. I am able. I am more powerful than I know.
Thank you for doing this, Maddie. I think it’s so important to discuss mental health and illness openly and defeat the silence and the stigma surrounding it.