I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend. We briefly touched on the topic of mental health, and he told me how it can be hard to be a person of faith who lives with depression and anxiety. He told me how medical treatment felt like a “lack of faith.” This small conversation struck me to the core and I really started thinking, digging deeper into my own experiences.
In my experience, our society doesn’t address the topic of mental health as much as it should (or so I have personally experienced). People still genuinely don’t understand mental illnesses or the stigmas that follow them. What are they like? How does it affect your faith? Can you really not control it?
As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, let me just tell you, it is complicated, it is messy, it is hard for others to live with, but yet… somehow… it can be beautiful. The truth of the matter is, people don’t really understand what it means to depressed or how to interact with somebody with depression.
Depression is a dark cloud that covers your head wherever you go. It’s like being stuck in a rainstorm, with no control over the rain or cloud that follows your every move. For me, depression is not necessarily extreme sadness, but nothing at all. It’s the lack of feeling; the sensation that is complete numbness. That’s why so many people turn to self-harm or other deteriorating forms of escapism: they’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.
Depression is a lack of appetite for life, when no matter how hard you try or how great your life may truly be, you can’t change the fact that you don’t care. But you do care about not caring, you want to care so bad… but you’re just stuck inside your body with no way to escape the constant nothingness.
Depression can be oversleeping, lashing out at friends for no reason and sinking into self-destruction that you’re too transparent to care about. Depression is hopelessness, guilt and restlessness.
And honestly, that shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of. Yet sadly, so many people experience shame, guilt and silence associated with mental health because our society just doesn’t truly comprehend the seriousness or effects of these illnesses. People struggle alone because they’re uneducated and don’t feel safe in coming out about their disorder.
Before I go any further, I’d like to say I’ve struggled with anxiety as well. Anxiety, in the singular sense, and social anxiety.
Anxiety is being afraid of asking that question in class you genuinely want to ask, but knowing everybody would look at you, and hear you, and know you exist if you did ask that question, so you don’t. Even though your question is very important and you’ll end up fumbling around, overthinking every next choice in that class, never knowing the question to your answer.
Anxiety is waiting, not eating your apple in class, even though you’re hungry, just because people may watch you eat or hear you chew. People could judge you, and besides, you don’t want to be a disruption. So you don’t eat it, or better yet, if you do eat it, you wait until every last person has trickled out of the room to throw it away.
Anxiety is being a small child on vacation, asking your mother what the plan for the day is every hour, even though you already know what the plan for the day is, but you just need that validation.
Anxiety is constantly asking what time it is, just in case hours have passed, even though the last time you asked was three minutes ago.
Anxiety is feeling like somebody is sitting on your chest, pinning you to the ground, to the point where you’re unable to breathe.
Anxiety is physically shaking in your core whenever you think you might be making a bad decision, or doing something that feels risky and unnatural to you.
Anxiety is feeling alone and out of place in groups of more than three people who you’re not fully familiar with. Are they judging you? Do they secretly hate you?
Anxiety is waiting for somebody to acknowledge you or invite you into the conversation before you talk, even if you’ve been there for an hour and had so many things to say, simply because you can’t bare to make the first move or put yourself out there. Don’t get me wrong, you wan’t to put yourself out there so bad… but there’s something inside of you that will physically and mentally not allow you to.
Now let me say this: anxiety is different for each person. It wasn’t until recently I was able to look back on my life and connect the dots that all pointed to anxiety. Someone else’s anxiety may look totally different than what I just described, but no matter the difference, it’s still valid and needs to be addressed.
All you can do is be there. Be present with that person and wait for the wave of anxiety to pass.
As you can see, the topic of mental health is something I’ve become passionate about. And I think you should too, because it affects so many of your loved ones, friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers and classmates… but the reality of it is that most of those people probably struggle in silence.
In a time of depression or anxiety, it’s like you may be stuck in a tunnel with no sign of light on the other side. I’ve learned over the years the depressive or anxiety inducing moments and chapters will pass. Nothing is the end of the world.
But sometimes it doesn’t pass.
And that’s OK.
So you just keep on keeping on, hanging by the threads, trying your hardest to balance life.
And after that, when it does pass, you go back to life.
Now with all this being said, what can we say or do for those who may be struggling with a mental illness? Here’s a tip: don’t tell them it’ll be OK, or to get over it. Don’t compliment somebody to make them feel better by placing a band aid on their gaping wounds. Instead, show up in that moment when they are struggling. Don’t say anything at all. Instead, listen. Be present in the moment. Hold their hand and give them a hug. And when you don’t know what to say or do, just be there with them in that moment.
And to those of you reading this thinking that I’m either “crazy” or just a really intense writer, I strongly urge you on behalf of all of your loved ones and strangers: just show up.
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Thinkstock photo via kotoffei