Living on the Ledge

The streets below: Jun Ahn high above the chaotic architecture and bustle of Hong Kong

This is a heavy, heavy post shared anonymously by a graduate wife in the USA. We found her to be very brave to share her story with our readers. This graduate journey can be bumpy for some, but when anxiety and depression are added to this mix, in some cases, it can cause devastating results. Our readers are scattered all over the world, so after reading this post, if you have a suicide prevention number for your country, please send it to us, and we’ll add it to this post. You just might save someone’s life. If you are suffering with anxiety and depression, please seek help. You are not alone. You ARE worth it.  – Mandy & M.C.

“If I die, I won’t be worried any more.”

Scary thought? Yes, and it’s one that went through my head. It is also the thought that signaled to me that I needed help, and set me on a path through counseling that would prevent me from acting on that negative impulse. It is my hope that any one reading my story will come away with the knowledge that you are not alone, and that it is acceptable to seek mental health care when you need it.

My struggle with anxiety started when I was young. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a hypochondriac. One sore muscle from sports would build up in my mind until I was sure I would need a limb amputated. When I recovered without losing any limbs, my worry would ease, but only until the next over-blown health problem would convince me I was doomed.

In college, the stress increased until I finally went to the nurse with a list a mile long of all the things I thought were wrong with me. The nurse took one look at me and said, “You’re not dying, you have anxiety, and need to talk to someone”. When the results came back from all the tests I asked the nurse to take, “so I’d have one less thing to worry about,” I agreed to see a counselor.

The campus counselor gave me information about anxiety and some control methods to use. For years, this was helpful, and I was able to talk myself down from panic attacks simply by realizing it was just panic. But while my husband was in grad school, my anxiety reached whole new levels. I was anxious all the time. If the phone rang I was sure it would be devastating news. When I drove I thought the car sounded funny and would catch on fire. Everything was blown out of proportion. I knew this, and I didn’t want to be like this, but I couldn’t stop the thoughts, and I couldn’t stop panicking about them.

There are a couple reasons I didn’t seek help right away. For one, I felt like a failure. I felt like I should be able to control it myself. I had for years, why couldn’t I do it now? For another thing, I knew I’d have to pay for therapy and as the spouse of a graduate student, we didn’t have a lot of extra money. I got to the point where I was at levels 9 and 10 of 10 on a panic scale for days on end. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I vomited because I was physically ill from all the worry. I couldn’t even see straight I was so worried, malnourished, and exhausted. I would think, ”How could I live like this? I’m young! I can’t be like this for decades.” Then, during one of my worst attacks, a new thought crossed my mind: “If I die, I won’t be worried anymore”. WOW. I’d pushed all the other red flags from my mind with my stubbornness, but that one couldn’t be ignored. I decided that my life was worth investing in.

I saw a therapist who helped me with coping mechanisms, sort through things, learn how to not get so stressed. She had drills I could do, ways to think about things in a calm fashion. She gave me charts to write things out on to help me see that my situations were manageable. Anxiety isn’t really cured, but you can learn ways to manage it.

Another thing that helped was reading Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works. Like me, Harris didn’t think meditation was for him. After searching for ways to calm anxiety he learned of its benefits. When I start to feel panicked and my mind starts running wild with unfounded worst-case-scenarios, I lay down, I take deep breaths, and I think about the problem instead of trying to distract myself. I say to myself, “What is actually going on now? That other stuff isn’t, it’s your mind going wild. What is the likelihood that one of those worst-case scenarios will actually happen? Basically zero. And if it does, deal with it then. Don’t stress about endless possibilities that aren’t actually going on.” And so on and so forth.

Anxiety can do amazing things. I didn’t say good. I said amazing. It can heighten your senses, and it can make you feel that the stress in your mind as actually physical ailments, which then causes more stress.

The stress still comes but I now have the tools to deal with it. If I get near those levels again I’ll seek help right away.

If you’re like me, please, please see someone. In the USA, Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Americans are required to have health insurance, and the majority of healthcare plans must cover mental health services. You may be eligible through your spouse’s student insurance plan, your own employer’s insurance, Medicaid, or a state insurance exchange plan. Whatever your plan is, familiarize yourself with the benefits, and what mental health services are covered. If you don’t have an insurance plan, or your plan doesn’t cover mental health services, don’t give up. Your spouse’s university counseling center may be able to refer you to free or low cost services that can help. Another option you have is to call the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline. NAMI volunteers can offer limited counseling, but more importantly refer you to appropriate mental health service providers in your area. NAMI can be reached on weekdays between 10:00am and 6:00pm EST at 1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264). If you live in another country, I encourage you to seek out to understand what your resources and options are.

Finally, if you or a loved one is considering suicide, you can seek help 24 hours a day through the numbers below. I know a lot of GW readers are worldwide, so if your country is not listed below, please let us know what it is so we can add it.

USA: National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800)273-TALK(8255).

UK:  SupportLine Telephone Helpline: 01708 765200.

Canada: CASP/ACPS – This link can help Canadians navigate hotlines based on geography.

Know that you are not alone. Seeking help is worth it. YOU are worth it. Talk to someone.

As a graduate wife, how have you dealt with anxiety and depression? 

 

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2 thoughts on “Living on the Ledge

  1. Hey there… I just wanted to say THANK YOU for being open and honest about your struggles.

    I’m a graduate wife, too… and I also have PTSD, which carries with it all kinds of anxiety and other mental health goodies that frankly makes my life feel like hell at times.

    This August my husband and I moved from Southern California to the midwest to begin his PhD work. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about leaving my friends, my amazing job, and the robust support network I had built for dealing with my PTSD trials. And honestly, I can see why I wasn’t thrilled. Its been SO HARD to begin all over again with a support network, because my PTSD is actually worse now that I am here and without it.

    I’m in counseling, and I’m being intentional to do things that are grounding and that help with coping. I even picked up a third job at a coffee shop to go on top of my content marketing and my Jamberry business just so I could be around people and not at home all the time.

    By no means do I have it figured out. I’m just commenting to say I understand, and its really hard… and I had to admit to my husband that I hit the same low-point a few weeks ago that you described, and that we have even considered not staying out here.

    Its not an easy road. Be aggressive about your own health and happiness. You are worth it. I am worth it.

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