At the beginning of last semester, I provided library instruction for a new group of Spanish and Portuguese graduate students. As a new librarian,
I was excited to share what I felt were valuable insights into the research and writing processes. The class was engaged, and all seemed to be going well, until one of the students requested help researching the Mexican writer Emilio Carballido. I started to type his name into a search box, but I couldn’t do it. The letters were jumbled in my mind. I froze and eventually had to ask how to spell a name I knew extremely well. Several students, trying to help, started shouting out the letters. I struggled to type. I began to feel my heart rate change. My hands and feet were now numb. This had not happened for several months, and I felt ashamed. I could hear the students whispering.
I somehow managed to finish the last ten minutes of the class without significant disruption, but my mind was in another place. I was having an anxiety attack.
For the past few years, I have struggled with anxiety and depression. Many of you, particularly if you think you know me well, are probably surprised by my confession. You might be thinking: “But you are one of the happiest people
I know!” Depression, for me, is not about being sad. “And you seem so sure in your professional work!” Anxiety, for me, is not a lack of confidence.
I emphasize the words for me because these issues, though often characterized within one-size-fits-all stereotypes, manifest themselves in a variety of ways. As I write about these sensitive topics, I want to be clear that my thoughts and experiences are my own. Though I hope my insights will be helpful to some, they cannot necessarily be generalized, and certainly should not be imposed upon the very personal realities of others. Indeed, depression and anxiety present challenges as unique as the individuals who are affected by them. Writing about my mental health will not be easy for me. It is also a bit risky. But so is remaining silent. In any case, I feel the need to openly describe how anxiety and depression impact my life, what they are for me personally, and, perhaps most importantly, what they are not.
I am very confident, especially in front of groups, and yet I have occasional anxiety attacks. I am a proactive leader in a national teaching association, but sometimes making basic daily decisions is nearly impossible. I am relentlessly self-motivated, but some days I can’t even leave my bed. I am generally very patient, but I also have isolated angry outbursts over small matters. I am athletic, but when I am deeply depressed I hardly have the energy to sit up. I am an optimist, but occasionally a deep hopelessness
takes over. I love life, but some days I am consumed by the thought of death. I regularly complete complex tasks, and yet one day in a library instruction session I was unable to type a familiar name into a database.
I am a happy, fun-loving, and capable person. Like you or someone you love, however, I am actively battling depression. Depression itself does not
define me any more than another disease or illness might, but my choice to deal with its mental and physical effects most certainly does. Simply stated, I have a medical condition. It is called depression. Sadly, it has taken me a long time to forgive myself for that. Some people have diabetes. Others hypothyroidism. My brain happens to misfire its signals at times.
But I am more than my anxiety. I have some dark days, but I continue to move toward a brighter future, because the real me is so much more than