Among my close friends and family, it is no secret that I have anxiety. In truth, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t plagued by worry. Vividly, I can recall the summer before 4th grade, lying in my bed, worrying that I might die in my sleep, simply cease to breathe, and thus never make it back to school. With shame, I remember a night in my early adolescence when I refused to let my mother and stepfather leave for a dinner they had scheduled with friends, because I was convinced they would not return home, that a horrible accident would occur and take them from me. I barricaded myself in front of the door, screaming and crying until they agreed to call their friends to cancel their plans. I was thirteen or fourteen at the time, old enough to know better, but too strongly convinced of my worry to listen to logic.
The source of my worries has always been relatively easy to understand. Having lost my father when I was five, I recognize in these instances of anxiety a knowledge that I gained at a very young age: Nothing is ever certain, and anything can change in an instant. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to being an anxious person, and I do a pretty good job of managing this anxiety, especially outwardly. On the surface, I have a good poker face, calm and collected even if my mind is spinning with what-ifs.
But I really wasn’t prepared for what has crept up in me since school began two weeks ago. My anxiety has mixed with dread and created a profound sadness that I can’t shake. On Friday, after crying five separate times (but never in front of my students), I finally broke down and called my psychiatrist, a woman I had seen previously to help me manage my anxiety. After explaining my situation, her answer was instantaneous and simple: “Well, I’d say you’re depressed.”
In one sense, this diagnosis is a validation of my sadness, lifting the pressure I had been placing on myself to “snap out of it” and “cheer up.” But it also raises many doubts and questions. When will I begin to feel like myself again? (Because I certainly don’t feel, nor am I acting like, myself now.) If it’s my job that’s making me depressed, how long can I really stay? Is it teaching altogether that’s causing these feelings, or would I do better to change the environment in which I teach, perhaps considering a different community or grade level? And if the depression is not situational, that is, related to my job, then how long will it stick around? Will the depression become part of me just as my anxiety has done? I feel sincerely shaken, because while my anxiety is familiar and manageable, this depression is a new and very unwelcome feeling.