But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
It is difficult to grasp the true weight of experiencing an Anxiety Disorder. My roommate this semester has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. With her permission I conducted an interview to understand what her experiences with anxiety has been like. Being so close to the source and helping her through this rough time, I have also made my own observations, and experiences which will be discussed below.
Question: Are there any questions that you find people ask you too often?
Response: I think the question I get the most often is ‘How are you?’. It is not a bad question but asking it over and over again does not change my response nor does it make me feel better. Other common questions are “Have you been better lately?”, “Is there anything I can do for you?”, “Are you feeling any better?”. I always appreciate the concern but the circumstances don’t change. It’s like being set on fire and someone asking the same question, the circumstance is horrendous, it hasn’t changed and the question doesn’t help to smother the flame.
Q: What coping mechanisms have you found most beneficial?
R: Checking the facts, distraction, exercising and holding ice cubes have helped. The three I mentioned first are Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills. Checking the facts is a great skill because it allows me to realize how justifiable my emotions are in a situation. Distraction is great because when you are drowning in stress and misery this skill allows you to step away, gather yourself and then conquer it later. For me exercising and holding ice cubes are the blurred line between self harm and coping. While they do distract me from my current situation, the physical pain from the workout or from the ice cube that slowly numbs my hand fuels me to keep going. As I reach my threshold for pain tolerance it helps me feel like I am in control of what happens and takes my mind off of the emotional and mental pain.
Q: Have your interactions changed since sharing your diagnosis with others? If so, how?
R: Everything changed. While I had a few trusted people that saw the signs of my illness and accepted it, they become more worried about me than I would have wished. I have begun to feel very alone and mute since I was “labeled”. Everyone is so eager to help me get better that they are literally throwing themselves at me. While there is a sense of support, I feel pressure because they all want to see results that I don’t think I am capable of giving them. Too much of a good thing is never good and sadly that applies to good intentions too. It is hard to explain to people who “check up” on me everyday that I am not getting better and that even though I am in a crowd of caring voices I feel alone, mute, and lost.
Q: What does Anxiety feel like for you?
R: Anxiety is like having my phone constantly buzzing with reminders but not being able to turn it off because some part of me needs it. I may wish to decrease the amount of reminders or silence the volume. But, I can not distinguish which reminders are valuable and which ones are not.
Q: What does depression feel like for you?
R: It is more than the feeling the world is over because you failed a test. It is the constant assurance of being a failure and a burden to others just by existing.
Q: What advice would you give or have you given to your friends that are still in the hospital?
R: I would tell them that even though today is awful, you have to just get through it in hopes that tomorrow will be a better day even if you truly believe that it won’t be. We may not have chosen this mental illness, but it chose us. All we can do it try to take back control one day at a time…if that’s even possible.
My roommate has come a far distance but definitely has further to go. Each day is a battle of life falling apart quicker than she can pick up the pieces and before she realizes the pieces turn to dust unable to be mended back to its original form. Yet, she has to proceed with everyday activities while managing anxiety and battling depression. Many days turn out well, but each still feels as bad as the last. Although she may not believe the next day will be better, she has the courage to proceed, refusing to allow these illnesses to control her. This journey of my roommate has been tough to witness and seems to encounter a new phase every week. Yet, I am constantly reminded of the analogy of being a caged bird. In the midst of all this darkness and difficulty she still sings hoping that this season will soon pass. Longing to be freed from the shackles of anxiety and depression, she shall not be defeated.
Sara Biljana Gaon. (2015 June 25). Caged Bird [image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/sarabiljana/25482708874
Maya Angelou. (1969). I know why the caged bird sings [poem]. Retrieved fromhttps://allpoetry.com/I-Know-Why-The-Caged-Bird-Sings