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On Pretending I’m Not Depressed or Anxious

For a long time, I have avoided admitting to others that I have depression and anxiety. I am embarrassed. I feel ashamed. Pretending I’m not depressed or anxious with others uses up a lot of energy.

Confessions: All the action is in my brain! I am moderately depressed and have anxiety that often has no specific cause and only a general definition. I have moderate post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from my time long ago in Vietnam.

There, I’ve said it!

Embarrassed to talk about it

Like many with Parkinson’s disease (PD), I find Parkinson’s raises my level of depression and anxiety. My levels can vary hourly, daily, weekly, or in even longer cycles. Sometimes my feelings are irrational and sometimes very real.

I have bought into the societal stigmas about depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I am embarrassed to talk about depression and anxiety when the terms and consequences apply to me.

Pretending they don't exist

Object lesson in what not to do: Using avoidance and diversion as coping tools.

I usually deal with my depression and anxiety by ignoring them and, while I could not make them totally go away, I have kept them down to a level of background noise.

My coping tools have been avoidance and diversion. Ignore it. "I don’t have it." Don’t talk about it. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Blame it on someone/something else. Eating momentarily takes my mind down a different direction.

Avoidance isn't working

That was then but this is now. Avoidance is no longer working. As I age and my Parkinson’s has progressed, I am having difficulty just ignoring my depression and anxiety.

Add one extra thing to the equation (real or imagined) and my anxiety is out of control!

High blood pressure

I’ve had high and low blood pressure for years and have always been able to control it with medication and exercise. No big deal.

Over the last 6 months, my blood pressure has been high and my nephrologist and cardiologist are having difficulty finding the right combination of drugs to stabilize my blood pressure at a lower level and not damage my remaining kidney function.

Each change in medication takes 10 or more days to take effect and the success or failure determination is measured by changes in your blood pressure. As a result, I’m taking my blood pressure multiple times a day.

Consistent negative thoughts

Just the idea of taking my blood pressure or expecting the result to be high is causing my anxiety level to increase and my heightened anxiety is causing my blood pressure level to increase.

When my wife reminds me it’s time to take my blood pressure, my reaction is totally out of proportion and, sometimes, out of bounds. My blood pressure rises before I take it.

High blood pressure produces increased anxiety. Increased anxiety causes more high blood pressure. A positive feedback loop with bad consequences.

I’m at the point where my anxiety level and depression are constantly elevated and the negative consequences of uncontrolled high blood pressure dominate my thoughts.

Relaxation techniques

I'm trying to break the cycle and I am experimenting with a few techniques:

  • Deep breathing - It is not automatic. You have to consciously think about it and that can break the pattern of your thoughts that are dwelling on a negative outcome.
  • Whole body relaxation - The process of relaxing each muscle group also takes conscious thought and breaks negative cycles.
  • Activities with positive outcomes - Staying involved with exercise, reading, yard work, all seem to work while doing them
  • Staying positive - I try to focus on positive thoughts or positive outcomes.
  • Talking about it - Talking about the issue and/or writing about it seems to clarify my thoughts even thought it's difficult.

Accepting help

I am embarrassed to admit to depression, anxiety, or anything I can’t handle alone. But so far, the above techniques provide, at best, temporary relief. So what's new or next?

I have accepted and I admit that depression and anxiety are not something I can resolve by myself. I'm making sure my care partner and I understand the tradeoffs of longer term damage from high blood pressure versus medication damage to my already failing kidneys.

I've been more open about sharing with others how depression and anxiety are impacting me. I'm talking with my doctor about prescribing an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication. I’ve also started talking with a therapist.

It's a longer term process, but it may let me address the causes of depression and anxiety. My initial sessions seem to be raising anxiety as I try to lower barriers I’ve had in place for years.

Don't ignore anxiety

After reading my words, here are my take away thoughts for others. Don’t ignore anxiety or depression. If untreated, they can cause emotional and physical damage.

While medication and therapy are the primary treatments, there are positive steps you can take to help minimize the effects of anxiety and depression.

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