#MHMon: Anxiety, depression, and the inability to reach out

It’s been a while since I’ve pulled out this hashtag. For those unfamiliar, #MHMon is Mental Health Monday, which I started doing on the first Monday of the month to discuss mental health and creativity, how they intersect, and how they impact each other. I haven’t been using it much lately, though, because…well, honestly, it wasn’t getting a very good response. But I do think it’s important, especially with the the state of the world right now, and while it does take a lot of mental and emotional energy for me to craft these posts (hence why I am always open to #MHM guestposts), it’s not something I want to leave behind completely.


In both THE SPIDER’S WEB and THE FERRYMEN, Evie struggles to reach out to new people. She’s very much inside her shell, and when greeted with new people, she automatically treats them with suspicion.

“Excuse me, can you tell me where psychology is?”

The words jerked me forcibly from my thoughts. I hoped my eyes weren’t too red.

I blinked at him a few times. I was still kneeling on the floor, and the customer, who was tall and skinny, looked over me looking confused.



“You mean like self-help?”

“No, like text books.”

I nodded. “Second floor. It’s on the left, after… Just follow me,” I said, hauling myself to my feet with an effort. I felt my joints pop like I was seventy instead of seventeen.

Well isn’t this ironic. Asking the head case where the books on psychology were. That’s a new one.

My brain darted off in a dozen different directions as I led him to the stairs. He’s cute. Why couldn’t he leave me alone? He only asked me because he can tell I’m nuts, right? Is this some kind of sick joke? Did I put on deodorant this morning? I realized with horror the answer was no. Where was my head? What was I thinking? Not like he’d be interested anyway. Why am I even thinking about this? I’m supposed to be working. I might not have a job much longer. Oh, god. What will I do if I get fired? Don’t worry about it. There’s nothing more you can do. I can do better. I’m never going to find another job. Is he looking at me? Can he tell I forgot deodorant? Can he—

Too wrapped up in my own head, I almost led him straight past psychology and into history. “Right here. Is there a specific title you’re looking for?”

On top of the racing thoughts that go along with anxiety–which don’t always make sense with the situation, trust me–she is POSITIVE he can tell how uncomfortable she is, that he can tell she isn’t coping and is going to use it against her. New people are dangerous, no matter how small the interaction.

I tapped my finger nervously on the keyboard rest. I’d already been chewed out once for telling someone we didn’t have their book in stock. Don’t be mad, don’t be mad. I can’t fix it.

He reached across me for the mouse and his hand brushed mine. He hesitated, then turned to look at me.

“It’s okay, really. It’s going to be okay.”

I pulled back. “What?”

“Sorry. I just mean, you don’t have to worry. It’s going to come out all right. It always does.”

Somehow, I knew he wasn’t talking about the e-book versus hard copy debate. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I felt the spun sugar inside me snap. I turned and walked quickly away before I fell apart.

spiderswebsmallOf course, in Adam’s case, he can tell she’s about three seconds away from having a full blown panic attack; Adam’s an empath, so that little brush of the hand is enough to alert him to her precarious mental state.

In real life, however, people don’t have magical powers that allow them to see into the hearts and heads of the people around them, and even if they did, most people aren’t as patient and understanding as many fictional characters. So for those of us living with things like anxiety and depression, closing ourselves off feels like the best bet. Besides, didn’t we all grow up with parents and teachers telling us to smile more? No one likes a crybaby, or someone who whines all the time!

When it’s impossible to put on that happy face, retreating behind a nice thick concrete wall seems like the best option. You don’t want to share your “bad mood” with the rest of the world, and you don’t want the rest of the world to attack you for not being normal. It feels like a no-win situation.

Retreating–for a while–to recover spoons or just to give yourself a break is fine, but when it becomes a habit, every therapist on the planet will tell you it’s a problem. Treatment and recovery can’t happen in a vacuum.

I am a consummate introvert. Given a choice, I would work from home and probably not leave the house aside from grocery shopping (and given that our local grocery store now has curbside pickup available, that doesn’t really count). Right now I work outside the home, but don’t get along particularly well with my coworkers, which leads to additional stress and often has a very negative impact on my mental and emotional state.

I can’t sit here and tell you how to reach out or meet new people when suffering from mental illness. The way it manifests is different for each of us, and we each have our own treatments and coping mechanisms.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned that if I don’t get out of the house at least once a week, all that alone time I find so calming can actually increase my anxiety. As I get less accustomed to being around people, it becomes hard and harder to be around them for positive things.

It’s a difficult thing to do. I started by finding like-minded people online, mostly through Ravelry (which is a website for knitters and crocheters. I was lucky enough to find my “tribe” in one particular group, and by happenstance a fair number of members were local to me. Once a month, we meet up at a local coffee shop to knit together and talk nerdy things like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. Many of them are well-traveled, and hearing about their cruises to Alaska and trips to Germany make my land-locked heart soar. I haven’t been able to meet with them lately, and it really makes me sad.

Nanowrimo is one of my favorite times of year because there are so many local write ins. I haven’t clicked with the local writing groups that meet year round, but I love joining everyone at the library or one of our other locations for two or three hours of intensive writing, swapping stories and bad typos, and learning from the experience of others.

Lately, I’ve been trying to find a sewing/costuming group I can join to share my love of steampunk and historical costuming. I want to find other seamstresses I can learn from, since I feel my skills are woefully inadequate for what I want to accomplish.

It’s hard finding a new group, even if you’re neurotypical. Are these people I’ll spend holidays with, and form lifelong attachments to, baring my soul on my darkest days?

Maybe. But probably not. More likely we’ll have our scheduled meetings, maybe a little bit of online contact, and in a few years, as schedules and lifestyles change, the group will dissolve, as these things often do.

But for right now? It’s a reason to leave the house. It’s like-minded people I can talk to, commiserate with, and learn from. And by having regular, scheduled meetups, it makes it more of a routine. I know when these “social” days are coming, and I can prepare myself.

If you’re struggling right now, remember that you’re not the only one. Small steps sometimes take the most effort, and make the biggest difference.

Like what you see? Check out #MHMon Guest Post: The Bug-Out Bag