Yes, it’s a real illness

by Lisa Allen-Agostini

Two handwritten notes that say 1)
Caption:

I dragged myself to my doctor who gave me a letter to send to the client informing them I was ill with depression and anxiety. The client’s response was to demand a full refund. I always wondered if I had sent a letter saying I had cancer if the client would have reacted like that.

Credit:

©Artur / Adobe Stock

Anxiety and depression are real conditions, with real consequences


I suppose I don’t have to say anxiety and depression are real to you, Dear Reader.

You probably know the paralysis they can cause, the physical pain and terror that grips you when you have a big deadline looming, or the awful blanket of self-loathing that descends, telling you that you’re worthless and inept and you’ll never finish what you’ve started. I have lots of stories about that, but I’ll choose two to share with you, Dear Reader.

I’m a freelance writer. A few years ago I got a contract to deliver a project. The assignment looked easy: the client would supply the raw interviews, and I would put them together in a coherent piece. Everything was great until I got into their discussions and realized they all had to be done over. No problem, I thought; I’d subcontract someone to tape new interviews.

The problem with taping is transcription: it’s tedious and takes an enormous amount of time. I decided to outsource the transcription but even after paying for the service things just kept going wrong and I realized I’d have to do it myself. Cue the panic attacks.

The project ran late, of course. And, of course, that made my panic worse. With panic came depression. If I couldn’t complete this simple task, what was I good for?

The answer, in my disordered mind, was nothing. I was good for nothing.

By this point, I had spiraled and was barely able to get out of bed. I dragged myself to my doctor who gave me a letter to send to the client informing them I was ill with depression and anxiety. The client’s response was to demand a full refund. I’d already paid out money on the job, a loss I had to absorb in addition to the loss of income from the job itself.

Anxiety and depression are real, just as real as cancer

I always wondered if I had sent a letter saying I had cancer if the client would have reacted like that. The second story is more recent.

I wrote a manuscript that was accepted by a publisher but needed revisions. Of course, I procrastinated, and the longer I did, the more the deadline seemed to overwhelm me. I hid in my bed for weeks. I finally responded to my publisher’s many emails and admitted I was ill. To my utter shock, she understood. Just knowing that she understood freed something inside of me.

It wasn’t overnight, but I did get out of bed and complete the revisions. Happily, I still made the (revised) deadline and the book came out. I’m glad about that.

Home Home, that Young Adult novel, is about a girl with anxiety and depression. I think a lot of young people could benefit from knowing kids get anxious and depressed too, and that it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Adults too.

It’s shameful to admit that there are many days I can’t get out of bed. I’m embarrassed that I can’t force myself to work when I’m ill. I also worry that prospective publishers and clients will read this and avoid hiring me because of the possibility that I couldn’t deliver on time.

But I think about the bigger picture: somewhere there’s another person – a student with a paper that’s overdue, maybe – who might read this and feel a little less alone.

Dear Reader, take hope. Some people understand and give you the room to allow yourself to get better.


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Lisa Allen Agostini
Article by Lisa Allen-Agostini

Lisa Allen-Agostini is an award-winning journalist and author from Trinidad and Tobago