My Erratic Mental Pendulum Slams Between Depression and Anxiety

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by Brad Dell |

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(Photo by Brad Dell)


It starts with chemicals too small to see. Too little of this, too much of that. An imbalance.

It becomes a dulled personality. A mixture of confusion and self-doubt morphing to disinterest. A void.

It becomes feeling awake while asleep and feeling asleep while awake. It becomes wanting to be alone, but not wanting to be alone. It becomes wanting to talk, but not wanting to talk. A contradiction.

It becomes wondering why this wondering feels so familiar. A symptom.

It becomes a realization that becomes denial. A fear.

“It” becomes depression. A confession. Maybe a feeling of shame.

“What’s wrong? What happened?” a friend says. What’s wrong? I’m not depressed because something is wrong with my world. Or maybe depression is what’s wrong with my world. 

“How can I cheer you up?” This misunderstanding of depression is partly why I’m reluctant to admit its existence to others. Cheering up is the antithesis to sadness. I’m not sad. I’m empty, hollow, barren. I need to be filled up, not cheered up.

Oddly, sad things can be cathartic: sad music, sad poetry, sad television, sad art.

Brad at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco. (Photo by Kristina Kornegay)

Or maybe pursuing sad things isn’t so odd. If I’m feeling empty, why not fill that emptiness with sadness? Sadness is better than nothingness, and in this world, it’s more accessible than happiness. I’ve endured horrific events, but the sorrow from then is preferable to the emptiness of now.

Then again, the grass is greener on the other side. Like now, I’d love to be anxious. Being beaten to a pulp by panic while basking in the overwhelming emotions it blasts at me. That panic will come soon — it always does.

Just as the tides recede before the tsunami, so too do my emotions: The depression eventually slings into a season of panic attacks. Feeling too little becomes feeling too much. I slam between the two; a pendulum swinging a turbulent path at an uncontrollable velocity.

But yes, when I’m anxious, I’d give anything to be numb again.

There are these seasonal oases. These sweet, heavenly oases. Where I feel confident, walking on water atop smooth seas that once were stormy. “I’ve beaten them for good this time, those mental struggles.”

They hear the taunt and pounce. They dig grimy claws into my shoulders, viciously shaking me, smacking me: How dare you? Smack. How dare you? Smack. I own you. You’re hideous. You’re idiotic. You don’t deserve success. You don’t deserve comfort. You don’t deserve. They cover my precious oasis with muddy waters.

The triggers for my depression are less clear than those of my anxiety. Sometimes it’s the medications; sometimes it’s bad health; sometimes it’s nothing outside of the chemicals swishing around in my brain juice. Most recently, it was the death of a couple of friends.

I feel so insecure. I fluctuate between self-deprecating humor and cockiness. I start bragging to friends about material successes, trying to recover self-worth by building false images of myself because, at that moment, I don’t like the truth of myself. I’ve done things. I’m doing things. I’m strong and smart and brave and limitless. No, no, NO. Smack.

Friend: “You OK, bro? You aren’t acting the same.”

“I’m just tired and stressed, man. Been crazy busy, doing rad things.” I’ve done things. I’m doing things. “More meetings this week. Imma go home and take a nap.” I go home. I don’t nap.

I stay home and think about Little Bradley, many years ago, hurt by needles and caustic medications and big microscopic bacteria. I stay home and think about feeling ugly. I stay home and think about all I’ve sacrificed to live. I stay home and think about feeling too old, but also feeling too young.

I finally fall asleep. And I have nightmares of CF striking back at my transplanted lungs. In my dream, I breathe, and the crackle of air running through mucus plugs sounds like CF’s cackle. I bolt awake in a cold sweat. For a moment, the void of depression is filled with nauseating fear. From my sweaty sheets, I can see my old nebulizer in the corner of my room, gathering dust. I tuck my pillow, my anchor, between my arms and legs and hug tight.

“Focus on the future, focus on the future, focus on the future,” I pant, pant, pant. “Not the past, not the past, not the past.” I’m breathing deeply, no cackle-crackles. “I’m all right.”

Hope for the future is the most potent potion for me. Hope that I’ll see wondrous sights. Hope that I’ll laugh so hard I choke. Hope that I’ll eat something so exquisite that I audibly sigh. Hope that there are legions of beautiful souls out there that I have yet to meet. Hope in future marvelous moments. Hope that, as it always does, the waves of depression and anxiety will recede to reveal the most peaceful, beautiful oases. In those oases, I’ll find joy powerful enough to cut a sea in two.

“This depression is a wave, a wave, a wave,” I lull myself back to drowsiness. Smooth seas are near. I squeeze my anchor; hold tight.

(Photo by Kristina Kornegay)

Check out my tips for battling mental health issues. Then follow my adventures on my Facebook Page.


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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