Recognizing My Episodes

By: Emily McGuigan

Realizing when an episode is approaching terrifies me because I never know how long it’ll last or the intensity it will be this time around. Mine are anywhere from two weeks to a month long depending on life circumstances. As much as I try to stop one in its tracks, I find that my control is limited.

Recognizing them as “episodes” not only reminds me that they are temporary, but also allows me to pay closer attention to my triggers and symptoms. Some days I wake up feeling different, so knowing when I am entering, enduring, or emerging from my episode helps me help my loved ones understand and look for the signs as well.

The following list is comprised of the biggest symptoms I experience with episodic Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

Social Changes:

– Silence

The first thing someone asks me when I’m quiet is if I’m okay, because my social interaction is completely different. I lack the energy to converse. I am too afraid that if I open my mouth, I might lash out from my anxiety translating as anger, or comment on the reality of how I’m feeling and have the person think I’m being negative or am suicidal, so I stay silent. When I am spoken to I reply with short answers. I force smiles because I don’t want anyone to think they did something wrong. I avoid eye contact so that someone won’t see emptiness or sadness in my eyes. I may laugh at jokes but I don’t really respond with my usual witty remarks.

– Detachment

I detach myself from my family and friends. After being around people all day I need space to recharge or crumble. When I am home I retreat to wherever I can be alone. I don’t respond to messages as frequently and have an emotional guard up. I don’t want to burden anyone with what I am struggling with, and I know they have a lot going on themselves. Many think that because I am open about my struggles I would reach out if I needed to, but I don’t. I feel like it isn’t fair for me to make my loved ones my therapist.

Cognitive Changes:

– Suicidal Ideation

I am not suicidal, but I often think about how much I don’t want to be alive. Or rather, I don’t want to be in pain. It’s hard to explain the grey area of wanting to die, but not wanting to kill yourself. I don’t want to hurt my loved ones, so I internalize the suffering. It’s like when I’m driving, instead of thinking, “I’m going to hit that tree,” I think, “Maybe It wouldn’t be so bad if a car hit me and I didn’t make it.”

– Forgetfulness/Disassociation

It takes me a few extra seconds to register when someone is talking to me because I am working through the cloud in my mind. When I forget simple things, multiple times a day, it brings me to tears because of the frustration of my brain not cooperating and it affecting the work of others. I feel awful when I can’t recall memories I share with someone  or that I’m not sure what the last thing we talked about was a minute ago. I don’t want them to think I don’t listen or that I’m absent in our relationship because I can never remember that one thing they have told me time and time again. It feels like telling them it’s because of my mental disorders is a lame excuse, so I don’t. I don’t tell them that days blur into months that blur into years that are blurred chunks of my life gone because my brain decided it couldn’t handle it. Eventually, my brain couldn’t sort out whether it wanted to block out only the traumatic parts, so it started blocking out the good parts as well.

Physical Changes:

– Fatigue

Fatigue follows me whether I am in an episode or not. I walk around feeling like I have a weighted vest on and over-caffeinate every day to make up for sleep deprivation. If I do manage to get a few hours of sleep, I still feel like I haven’t slept in weeks. I am always running late in the morning because it takes me so long to sit in bed and decide if/why life is worth pursuing. I always get up, though, because other people are relying on me and I can’t live with letting them down.

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