It’s a great day for playin’/In the playground after school

The swing set’s a-swingin/And the slides are pretty cool

But alone in the distance/A boy sits with intent

He wonders what it feels like/Outside the chain linked fence

A better world instead

I’ve got sunshine and rainbows in my head

-Sunshine & Rainbows, Music Monster, 2014

These lyrics from my song, “Sunshine and Rainbows”, paint a portrait of a young boy who wants to believe there is a better world for him out there – the one he’s in doesn’t make sense. He doesn’t belong to it. So he looks through the fence and sees people walking, talking, living, and thinks that’s where he belongs. In his head, he can imagine everything, and it’s so much better than where he is at that moment. He begins to ache – first in his heart, then the pain spreads through the insides of his chest and arms, then goosebumps.

That boy was me. Probably around 7 or 8. Most days. Not every day, but enough.

It was probably apparent to some of you at one time or another, but I suffer from anxiety and depression. It’s been there since I was a kid, but I wasn’t sure what was going on. It would affect every aspect of my life, from personal relationships to professional engagements. It manifests in a number of ways – altered moods, sadness, chest/arm pain, irrational thoughts, you name it.

I wouldn’t start to really take it seriously until a couple years ago; it put a strain on my working relationship and friendship with Ashley, and I wasn’t sure how to fix it. I seriously believed, like most people suffering from mental illness, that it’s entirely my fault, and if I just got my life back on track by getting a new job, getting a house, stable income, etc., that the issue would eventually work themselves out.

But the brain, it’s a clever one. It becomes used to feeling a certain way, and that’s the way it is going to feel, whether you like it or not. In fact, it has conditioned you to like the feeling. And when you finally start to come around, the brain finds a way to put you back in that place.

And that’s just the depression. Couple that with anxiety – irrational fears abound, irritable mood borne from the unknown, increased stress and health problems – and it just is a recipe for problems later in life. It resulted in a drop in productivity, increased self-loathing, and job issues that would cause me to leave a few different jobs before I really gave them a chance.

It’s not something that some folks understand because it just seems like another mood swing, or an eminently solvable problem. “Just smile more”, “Just get over it”, and “It’ll pass” are common phrases you’ll hear. And sometimes, you believe them. Sometimes you think it’s entirely your fault and you just have to power through and make it work out through sheer force of will. You try a bunch of things – self-help books, online courses, etc. – but it doesn’t work. The brain has a hold on you, and it will do things its way.

In late January, I went to see a specialist for an evaluation, and he prescribed me the drug escitalopram, more commonly known as Lexapro. He warned me it might take about a month – maybe two – before it would take effect. That first month was very difficult. I felt like I was getting worse, not better. Or, at the very least, there was no improvement. I often thought about talking to him again to change something, but I just soldiered on instead.

Whitherward was scheduled to do a video shoot in early March, and I don’t mind telling you, I loathe video shoots. They are my least favorite thing to do on the planet. There are a number of reasons – the tedium, the time involved, my own personal insecurities, to name a few – but they also cause me a gigantic amount of anxiety. It completely destroys my mood for the whole affair, which affects the people I work with.

Around a week and a half beforehand, I was just having a difficult time with the anxiety of the impending shoot and considered messaging Ashley and Howard to cancel. However, I decided that would be too much of an inconvenience, and that I had to just push through. I sat there for about 20 minutes and calmed myself down, reassuring myself that it wouldn’t be that bad and that I can just get through it. And then, a miraculous thing happened.

The anxiety about the video shoot just…went away. And it never came back.

The video shoot(s)(!) progressed just fine, and I had no problem with either one.

It was as though I could put my hand on a volume knob and turn down the anxiety; I was never able to do that before. It was incredible. I would notice more times that this would happen, in situations that would have completely stressed me out, I have been able to get through them without any problems. The depression, which would always be hovering around in the background, just melted away.

I still get sad from time to time, and I still have many more things about my life to work on, but the giant obstacles that were my out-of-control anxiety and depression have been removed from that progress, and I feel better than I ever have been.

I want to stress that my experience so far has been very fortuitous. Not everyone gets the medication right on the first try, but I did. And I’ll do that as much as I can until I don’t need it anymore, but I may need it forever. At any rate, I’m just glad that I got the help.

Here’s what I’d like to stress to you all during this Mental Health Awareness Month. Don’t misunderstand depression or anxiety for just a bad mood. There are differences, and to overuse a phrase, the struggle is real. Do some reading, talk to someone, be there for your friends. And if you suspect that you suffer from a mental health issue, just talk to a professional. You don’t have to go on medicine right away, or at all. Just talk to a therapist – someone who’s a professional who knows how to best guide you on your journey to normalcy, wherever that takes you. Good luck.