A man walks away forward as an avalanche is behind him

Managing My Depression and Anxiety: My Latest Experience

Prior to the year 2020, my life with multiple sclerosis (MS) was, for the most part, pretty stable and moving forward in a positive direction. I went for walks every day, worked out several times a week, did lots of stretching, had a decent diet, and had an assortment of healthy habits that kept me moving forward. My mental health was the best it had ever been. If my life was a machine, it was operating so smoothly because I worked hard to keep all the moving parts clean and well-oiled. But, as absolutely everyone on planet Earth knows, it didn’t take long for the year 2020 to change everything.

Uncertain times

I’ve always subscribed to the idea that we as people fear the unknown. An MS diagnosis (for example) tends to be a scary experience for most, because it brings with it an avalanche of questions with no concrete answers. 2020 marked the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with it came a planetary-sized avalanche of unknowns. Especially for those living with health conditions like MS. What little we did know was sometimes just as terrifying as what we didn’t.

This environment of uncertainty was without a doubt the worst-case scenario for my mental health. Worst of all, I was so distracted by all the fear the coronavirus brought that I didn’t even notice how I was neglecting my health.

Well, this is new: anxiety

Fast-forward to the end of 2022. My previously well-managed depression was now worse than it had been in years, and I had developed a crippling amount of daily anxiety, which was new to me. I’ve been living with depression since my late teens, so over the years I’ve learned a lot about treating and managing it. But I didn’t really know anything about anxiety. I didn’t know what caused it, how to treat it, or how to manage it. All I knew was it felt terrible, and I desperately wanted relief from whatever this was.

Time to find a new anti-depressant

I had been on Zoloft for years, and I had felt pretty good. I felt stable. Maybe something about my body or my chemistry had changed, rendering Zoloft ineffective? I asked my latest neurologist (my previous neurologist recently passed away) about changing anti-depressants and helping manage this anxiety, but he told me he doesn’t deal with any of that… he told me to see my primary care. So… I did. Over the next few months, he had me try a few different anti-depressants, even mood stabilizers that were supposed to make certain antidepressants more effective.

I don’t usually have any issues with side effects and when I do, they are almost never bad enough to make me want to discontinue treatment. But all the medication he had me try had terrible side effects that I just could not bear. Because I’ve tried so many over the years, he asked if I would be willing to try TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation). It has shown to be a potential option for those who have tried other anti-depressants with no luck.1 I was definitely interested, so he referred me to a psychiatric group that specialized in TMS.

Back to square one

Long story short, I had a terrible experience with this place and TMS never happened. I was only able to get this psychiatrist to put me back on Zoloft so I could move back to square one. Well, square one with the addition of soul-crushing anxiety, which the only thing I was given to manage it was an antihistamine. Maybe it works well for others, but for me? It just made me drowsy and anxious, making it even more difficult to function throughout the day.

Where did things go wrong?

At this point, I felt like I was totally on my own. I started trying to consume everything I could about managing anxiety. It took me a while (depression slows you down like that) but at the start of January 2023, I realized that a lot of the advice I was finding (regarding the management of anxiety) was the same as what I had learned helped me manage my depression in the past. Exercise, diet, journaling, etc. Then it dawned on me – I wasn’t doing any of that anymore!

When I sat down to think about “where it all went wrong,” I realized it started in 2020. The pandemic is what caused me to stray from the path I had been on. I had slowly replaced all my healthy habits with unhealthy coping mechanisms that became unhealthy habits.

Trying to get the machine running again

It wasn’t easy at first (nothing is when you feel depressed and extra fatigued), but I’ve since started walking 2 miles every morning once the sun comes up. I’m trying to eat better, I journal to reflect on what I’m feeling, and I’ve been working on shedding many of the habits I developed in the early days of the pandemic. Every day is still a struggle, but I feel like “I stopped the bleeding” (no thanks to the Sponge Bob Band-Aid my doctors gave me). I have an appointment with another psychiatric group coming up, as of my writing this, and I’m eager to get this under control, but I don’t feel as desperate for help as I did a few months ago.

In my experience, managing depression effectively requires us to attack it from multiple sides at once. Medication on its own isn’t enough to me. Diet and exercise on their own isn’t enough to me. Neither are all the little habits that promote better health. But all of them combined? Well, that’s what I call a well-oiled machine. A machine with many moving parts working together to accomplish a task.

I’m really hoping my next appointment will bring me the last part I need to get me “back up on my feet,” so I can continue rebuilding all the healthy habits I once maintained and can successfully manage my depression and anxiety.

Staying on track

I always kind of felt like managing my depression was like jumping onto a moving train. Trying to get on is difficult and will probably require multiple attempts. Once you do get on, you mostly have to focus on staying on, which is usually the easy part. However, it’s always possible that you will fall back off this moving train, which can really hurt. But once you’ve brushed the dust off your shoulders and collected yourself you, once again, must try to jump back on this moving train.

I’ve been through this many times in my life but this time around, it’s like I didn’t even know I had fallen off. And it’s like they say: identifying that there is a problem is the first step in solving it.

Do you feel like your mental health has declined since 2020? Did it take you long to notice it? To “fix” it? Share your experience(s) in the comment below.

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