F*#@! My Brain Broke.

F*#@! My Brain Broke.

my brain broke depression anxiety and the arduous road to my new normal ashley allyn the messy badass

My brain breaking due to anxiety and depression was the catalyst to a different life. That’s really the only way to describe it. Broken. And reborn.

I never saw the signs I had anxiety and certainly not depression. In hindsight, they were all there. Piles of them. They flashed at me like red WARNING! DISASTER F*@KING AHEAD! signs my entire life.

When I was 13, I plucked out a nickel-sized chunk of hair right at the damn front of my head. It was an obnoxious bald spot, front and center, like the shiny white beacon of a unicorn missing its horn.

My mom helped me hide it with a big poof, a sh*@-ton of Aqua Net, and a barrette. Luckily, that look was all the rage in the 90’s. Crusty high bangs, Hyper-Color shirts, and plaid flannels. That was the stuff. And bodysuits, but I had far too many issues to rock one of those.

Then I gave myself three eyebrows. A few times. I ripped the hairs out one by one. It never quite grew back the same, that eyebrow. My friends call it my crazy eyebrow, say it’s a signature trait. I suppose it is.

Trichotillomania is one hell of a bizarre disorder: ‘Hey, let me just pull out my own hair. That sounds like a FAB-u-lous idea!’ On the plus side, I didn’t need to shave for years; I was my own personal waxing system.

Then there was the eating disorder and mild OCD. As I mentioned before, the signs were there. My issues had been giving me a massive bitch slap upside my own head for decades, yet I was completely oblivious. I tend to cut myself a lot of slack and like to think I’m a fairly insightful person, but wow. W-O-W. I was a dum dum.

Anyhoo, there I was piling years of pain and hurt and insecurity and stress upon my own shoulders and not talking to anyone about any of it. One day, I was Wonder-f*@king-woman ‘helping’ everyone else with their problems, the next I was behind the wheel of my car unconscious in the ditch.

It really felt that sudden. And even though I know it had been building toward a precipice for decades, the break was fast. One day: Look at meeeeeee…. I am SO freaking awesome handling my sh*@! Next day: Fetal position and possible thumb sucking.

The day of ‘the incident’ is blurry. Fortunately, my boyfriend at the time was just down the road when I returned to consciousness, and I phoned him for help. I vaguely recall convulsing, terrible chest pains, my head feeling like it was going to pop right off of my neck, screaming, “I’m dying!” on our way to the ER.

Due to the chest pains, I was admitted quickly. It’s also likely they wanted to remove the ranting, thrashing, crazy lady from the waiting area. Hysteria is not the most attractive look.

Multiple tests, scans, and sedations later it was declared: Anxiety Attack. I didn’t understand. To be fair, I didn’t understand much for several months.

My boyfriend called in sick for me and I spent almost two weeks in previously mentioned fetal position. I sat in darkness because light was blinding. I sat in silence because noise, any noise, was deafening. My boyfriend spoke to me and his words floated past me, terrifying sounds, none of which made any sense. A single thought, any thought – it could have been as mundane as ‘I wish I could focus on TV’ or ‘I really should go to the bathroom’ – spiraled in my head, literally bouncing off the sides of my skull for hours at a time.

Ashley Allyn

I rocked myself to sleep. Then, I drank myself to sleep. Beer, cheap wine, vodka, anything and everything to ease my chaotic, spinning brain. Alcohol helped for a minute, then the buzz waned and I was back to more alcohol. Booze was my breakfast, my midnight snack. When I awoke in the middle of the night – which I did frequently – sweaty and panic-stricken, I’d slug down a few drinks and pace the room until the buzz hit chanting, “You’re okay,” over and over, hoping to believe it. I never did.

I was living a nightmare. A vicious, terrifying cycle, repeating itself day after day.

I had several more panic attacks and called 911 convinced I was dying. One ambulance visit consisted of 5 male paramedics huddled around my bed all adamantly insisting I was not dying. Some may say 5 men huddled around your bed lavishing you with attention is pretty cool. It was not.

I called a friend who had pills and making that call was like climbing Mt. Everest. I had lost my ability to communicate in full, coherent sentences. He gave me Xanax and I self-medicated my way back to work. I couldn’t drive and wouldn’t again for over 2 years. I was a shell of a person: a pill popping, drinking imposter with a fake smile as a mask. I felt like Pennywise, ready to pull those around me through the gates of hell, but somehow, people bought the act.

My shifts were often over 8 hours and I have no idea how I got through. I exchanged pleasantries with my customers, poured beers, and delivered Philly Steak sandwiches like it was any typical day. Customers asked me how I was, and I smiled and lied through my teeth: ‘I’m great, how about you?’

I told no one the truth. I was ashamed. Alone. Broken. As I write this now, I feel my familiar foe – anxiety – knocking at the door. I feel the pressure in my head, my heartbeat accelerating, confusion. He is always there, just lurking beneath the surface.

I hid behind the mask of self-medication, debilitating anxiety, and depression for well over a month. It felt like an eternity. I experienced no joy, or love, or peace, and even worse, I couldn’t recall what happiness felt like. I questioned if I’d ever actually been happy. The fissure between who I once was and who I had become was absolute. I couldn’t function, couldn’t breathe. I fell into the hole of black despair and paralyzing confusion. It stretched out before me – an endless, infinite, all-consuming void of nothingness.

Chaotic skeletons and notes

At work after my shifts, I sometimes counted my till for 2 hours straight through tears, unable to perform simple math on a calculator. I couldn’t keep track of the hours I worked. I ticked them off on my fingers and anything beyond one hand became overwhelming.

At home, I found myself on the floor, belly down at random moments, hands over my ears, attempting to squeeze the thoughts out of my head. I popped my ears over and over to relieve the pressure. I begged my boyfriend to turn off the television. I hung my head outside of the window like a dog as he drove me to work, gasping for air. I cried until there were no more tears to cry.

I was spent. Used up. Exhausted. I literally looked myself in the mirror expecting to see someone else. The reflection was me, although her eyes were dull, marred with dark circles underneath and where dimples had once been were just barely visible lines, but I recognized her. At the same time, I didn’t. And when I knew I couldn’t make it any longer living as a stranger, I finally got help.

A friend drove me 30 miles to see a specialist and, in all honestly, they both saved my life. I was diagnosed, began taking medication, joined online forums filled with the support of others like myself, and eventually received counseling. Step by excruciating step, I made my way from the darkness back into the light.

Still, I told no one. My illness remained my dirty secret for such a long time. Over the past 7 years, I have learned to love myself again and to accept it’s perfectly okay to be far from perfect. It’s okay to fall down sometimes. It’s okay to struggle getting back up.

I still can’t drive on the freeway during rush hour. I still pop my ears and self-medicate at times. And sometimes, not often, but upon the rare occasion, I sprawl out on the floor and shut out the world. I will not be ashamed.

Months ago, I lost my job after experiencing another wave of depression and anxiety. I was late to work several times. It was the same job I was able to maintain while in the midst of my breakdown 7 years ago. I was silent then. I suffered in secrecy. Not this time.

No more shame. No more secrets.

Losing my job was hard. I knew what I needed to get better. I talked to a doctor and got back on medication. The blip on the radar was short, but the damage had been done. 

For a few days afterward, I felt like an a*@hole. I wasn’t even suitable to keep a job in the service industry – a job I had worked since I was old enough to wear an apron. My mom owned a restaurant when I was a child, and I grew up in the industry. I felt like a garbage person. I’d just been let go from the only profession I’d had for almost 25 years.

Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the shame was replaced by an almost euphoric sense of empowerment: I had refuted the shadows of shameful secrecy. I had chosen transparency regardless of the consequences. I had taken control of my illness and come back on top. Simply said, I survived. I am more than the clinical terms that attempt to define me. I am flawed. I am honest. I am strong. This is me.

I survived…

I spent 5 days in stinky, sloppy PJs watching The Price Is Right and Judge Judy in bed with pizza boxes on my chest. 5 days! I consider that a drastic, miraculous improvement. 

When the lazy stank permeated the room and my greasy hair could no longer be tamed, I got my ass out of bed. I took a shower and jumped, reinvigorated, into my next endeavor.

Until I experienced it, I didn’t understand depression or anxiety. I thought mental illness was exaggerated, that those afflicted lacked a ‘mind over matter’ way of thinking. How naïve and ignorant I was. My lack of understanding and empathy in those days makes my skin crawl. 

I refuse to believe we can’t, to a certain degree, empathize with what we haven’t experienced first hand. Perhaps, we will never know the gravity of what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes, but I desperately want to try.

I now know I am surrounded by people living with anxiety and depression daily. They were always there, suffering in secrecy. I wish, years ago, one of those friends had sat me down and confided in me. I wish they had shared their pain. It never happened.

We live in a world where people who seemingly ‘have it all’ fall victim to suicide. I’ve lived in the void; I don’t find it shocking. We are silent, shamed, and don’t know where to begin. Our brains deceive us.

I want to be a person who not only survives but thrives; a person who refuses to let society or anyone else invalidate my truth or dictate the topics ‘acceptable’ for discussion; the person I was waiting for all those years – a voice for others.

Depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness are real. They may change us, but they do not define us. I am still a capable, intelligent, strong, badass bitch, and even more so for my experiences. To say I am proud of myself, my growth, would be a vast understatement.

If you are a person like me, before, a person who doesn’t understand or know how crippling mental illness can be – please see us. Please acknowledge us. Please attempt to empathize with us. We are your co-workers, your employees, your girlfriends, your wives, your friends, your mothers, (and although my writing is more geared for the ladies, don’t think I don’t mean you, too, gents) and on the outside we can appear like we have it all together when we absolutely do not.

And if you are someone like me, after, I know what you are going through is real. I see you. I hear you. I stand by you. We’ll get through this together. Messy badasses and all DUM-DUMS unite! Xoxo

Do you suffer from anxiety? Read related posts:

5 Things To Help Manage Anxiety

Open Letters To Those Affected By My Anxiety

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