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When My Son Found the Perfect Way to Describe Anxiety and Depression


My son is going to be 12 at the end of this year. He’s bright, easily carries conversations with adults and I’m told he impresses his teachers. But he’s occasionally insensitive, and sometimes he can hurt feelings. I’m sure it’s normal, but because of this I was understandably nervous to talk to him about the mental health problems I face.

What I take for granted, I suppose, is that he overhears my conversations on the phone and sometimes reads things over my shoulder as I write them. I sometimes forget I’ve said things out loud while he’s been near, which is easy to do because he rarely looks like he’s paying attention to anything. He’s usually absorbed in his own activities, whatever they are, apparently lost in his own little world.

As far as I can recall, I haven’t directly spoken to him about depression or anxiety, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover what he had to say when we had a little chat the other night. Here’s how the conversation went:

What is depression?

“Thinking that nothing can get better, and thinking there’s no hope even if there is a bit.”

What is anxiety?

“Fear. Knowing what’ll happen next but hoping it doesn’t happen.”

What do you think about people with anxiety and depression?

“They’re trying hard. They’re getting through — just about.”

Do you know that I have anxiety and depression?

“Yeah.”

What do you think about that?

“I think you’re doing well, you’re working hard.”

What do you think people should know about anxiety and depression?

“They should try to understand and give some respect. For those who have it, their lives are harder.”

Then, he said the most clever thing of the whole conversation.

How would you describe depression and anxiety? 

“It’s like a jar inside you, full of the anxiety and depression, and the jar is really hard to open. If you could just get the lid off the jar the anxiety and depression would get out and you could be happy, but the lid is stuck. You try really hard to get it off, but can’t do it alone.”

I must add I’ve had a difficult week with my son. He’s about to transition into a new school and routines are currently inconsistent. It’s been a bit stressful for him, and in turn has been extra stressful for me. But just when I was beginning to doubt him, he comes out with this.

He does listen. He does care. And I should never discount that perhaps his knowledge of what I’m going through affects him, too. But all in all, I’m so proud his true understanding and compassion is greater than what I’ve seen in many adults. So instead of feeling guilty that I might be adversely affecting him, I think it’s safe to say his experiences have aided his understanding and compassion for others.

I don’t think you’ll find bigotry toward anxiety or depression coming from my son anytime soon.

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Follow this journey on Talking This and That.