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Why Using Humor to Answer 'Are You OK?' Helps in My Mental Illness

We live in a society where “How are you?” has become a greeting instead of an actual question; it is sometimes said in passing with no real expectation of an honest answer. Those times, it is asked only out of social nicety, and from my own personal experience, I can say that when you have a struggle with chronic mental and physical health conditions you get tired of saying “I’m good thanks!” when you really just feel frustrated saying the words.

Sarcasm and satire have always been my favorite style of humor, and the thought of being able to smile and give someone a quirky answer that didn’t taste like acid on my tongue was very appealing. Humor has been my saving grace; even in the midst of depression I can normally still see the funny side to things, and during the bad pain days, I can be amused at my own misery and melodramatic tearfulness.

So with the above in mind, I set about thinking up some new answers to reply with when heedlessly asked: “How are you?” Generally, one of two things happens — the person stops and laughs, or they just don’t even notice what you said. But sometimes, something surprising happens — a conversation starts up! No matter the end result though, it can be amusing and you don’t have to feel like a liar.

These are some of my favorites:

1. I’m awesome from my ankles down.

2. I didn’t read my name in the obituaries today, so I figure I’m not too bad.

3. Upright and still breathing!

4. Good, but I’ll get over it.

5. Fine so far, but there is plenty of time for everything to go wrong yet!

6. Tilt your head and stare at them for a second, narrow your eyes, look puzzled and say “Why do you want to know?”

7. I hear good things, but you should never trust rumors.

8. Smile over the top sweetly and say, “I’m so happy I have to sit on my hands to keep myself from clapping.”

9. Look nervous and reply, “My lawyer says I don’t have to answer that question!”

Is humor a magic panacea? No, it cannot obliterate the trials we face or the traumas we may have been through. It is true a simple smile doesn’t cure our depression or anxiety, and laughter certainly doesn’t take away chronic pain or other health problems. However, the one thing I have always found is this: when I can embrace the issues I’m facing with a sense of amusement, then that mirth can help to dull the agony that would otherwise take over. It does not cure the problems, but it does make it easier to cope and live alongside them.

I would encourage everyone to find the lightheartedness in the darkness in any way they can. It can be difficult, but it is worth it.

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When I Realized I Overworked Myself to Distract From Depression

I would like to say that my workaholic tendencies stem from watching my father work as much as he did during my upbringing, that as a child I was a sponge and what I witnessed was then ingrained in me and I was bred this way. Sure, I can place the onus on my upbringing and that lens was shaped to see life from this perspective. I can then say it is because of the world I live in — this narrowed view that we must “do” more, and when busy equates to success, resting is no option.

Fast track 30 years later and I have learned to take ownership of my actions, behaviors, and my life. Realizing now my addiction to keeping busy was only a distraction from the inner turmoil and dark pit of depression that was often too comfortable to sit in. So I resided to working as much as possible to cut the probability of crawling into my darkness.

Not surprisingly, the work I did was never satisfying. It leached the life from my soul and dampened my spirit to the point that I lost touch with what fulfilled me. Looking back, it astounds me how I did it. The resilience to keep going despite the dragging weight of depression on your back and the anxiety choking at your chest. You just keep going. For someone like me, who kept piling on the tasks, you begin to understand that when you do stop, everything will hit you like a car crash. From knowing this, you do not stop. You lack the appreciation of rest. And you quickly believe you are unworthy and undeserving of anything more.

The reality though, is there comes a point in your life when you do wake up. It’s as if the universe is nudging at you, reminding you there can be more to life than this. You catch a glimpse of what a nourishing and fulfilling life can look like. Once you feel this, nothing will ever be the same again. This feeling begins its rise to the surface and sits there patiently waiting underneath your skin, but the pressure to be released into the world is palpable.

The warrior within you stands up and says this is enough.

You are enough. You are worthy of more than this.

So I humbly accepted that I played the role in working myself to the point of illness. I will not point the finger at my father or my upbringing or the fast-paced world I was born into. Hell no. This is a story of a woman taking ownership and taking back control of her life. I am a woman who has lived dark days where the depression has carved deep lines into places where no one can see. Instead of the shame I riddled myself with in the past, I now see that as courage.

I have vowed to take space and step away from working too much. To sit and converse with depression and anxiety, to embrace those parts so familiar to me. To ask. To understand. To question. The vulnerability in creating space after years of distraction is just as difficult as the first time I walked into my well of depression. The intimacy of learning about yourself, really honoring all parts of you, shadowy, awful pieces you may feel shame about, it’s beautiful. And I believe when we create space in our life, the universe will rush in and gift us with profound change.

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4 Misconceptions I Believed About Mental Illness Before I Was Diagnosed Myself

Before I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I believed some seriously false assumptions about mental illness. It wasn’t until my personal experiences didn’t match what I thought I knew about mental illness that I realized I was wrong about so much. Here are just a few things I used to believe, and what I’ve discovered.

1. You can pick out depressed people easily because they wear black and seem sad or angry all the time. 

Yes, my naïve self actually believed this at one point. Wrong. Mental illness is not a style or a fashion trend. I wear whatever I want, or more often, I fling on the first thing I see in my closet when I finally gather enough motivation to get out of bed in the morning. More importantly, with any extra motivation, I usually put on makeup to hide my tired, weary eyes. You can bet I don’t mention my negative feelings. In fact, I’ve been told my “joy is contagious” and my “smile lights up the room,” even when my depression is at its worst. You might be surprised to know the people who smile the biggest and seem the most enthusiastic are sometimes the ones struggling the most. I felt so full of shame as soon as I was diagnosed with mental illness and I had no desire to admit I was really struggling. When I did find myself in the middle of conversations regarding depression or anxiety, they were often full of non-helpful statements, assumptions and misunderstandings. So I plastered on my fake smile and acted super fun and optimistic. I think many people dealing with mental illness become well-versed in putting on masks and acting the opposite of how we feel. It can be extremely difficult to know how someone is feeling emotionally and mentally, and I was wrong to assume the outer appearance of a person is a reflection of what’s going on inside.

2. Mental illness only affects people with serious issues in their environment.

While environmental factors can play a role in mental illness, there are so many other factors that have an effect too. When I was diagnosed, there was nothing going on in my life that would “cause” me to become depressed. In fact, depression came as a kind of imposing dark cloud to an otherwise sunny life. Main point here: depression (or other mental illness) can affect anyone — even those with “great” lives. It doesn’t pick and choose based on specific circumstances.

3. People with depression are lazy and need to just try harder to feel better. 

I couldn’t even write this one without cringing, because I now realize how incredibly inaccurate that statement is. Every time someone asks, “you’re not just lazy?” or says, “try doing ___ and you’ll feel better,” I have to work so hard not to completely lose it. I am not a lazy person. I am not a weak person. I am trying. If you are struggling, you are not a lazy person or a weak person. I work every day to fight these feelings of worthlessness, the force tugging me back into bed and the serious lack of motivation. It takes extra effort to get through a day with what feel like shackles on my ankles and a black cloud above my head. And yes, there are some days the fight is too hard. But I guarantee my inability to move is not from lack of trying.

4. Medicine makes people with depression feel better.

I guess this all depends on your interpretation of the word “better.” For me, in the beginning, “better” meant “like depression never existed.” First off, everyone treats their mental illness in different ways, and only some people with depression take medicine. I also realized after I personally started taking medication that it does not provide instant relief, and it’s definitely not a miracle that takes away my depressive symptoms and makes it like they never existed. In addition, different medications have different effects on different people and they can be super helpful, terribly harmful or do absolutely nothing. I found some medication just took away all emotion and made me feel numb, some made me feel a little better (in this case “better” meaning more optimistic and motivated), others had terrible physical side effects and some did absolutely nothing at all.

Sometimes I get so angry when I meet people who are so clueless about mental illness, people who consistently say the wrong things and make hurtful false assumptions. Then I remember the things I believed about mental illness before it entered my own life. I’m realizing I need to try to accept others where they’re at and hopefully give them some insight on what I’ve learned thorough my experience.

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What It's Like to Look for a Job While Feeling Depressed

Looking for a job while experiencing depression illuminates how thick a slice of self-confidence can be that gets hacked off in the process. Just like that. I’m not talking about the “normal” kind of insecurity that reminds us we’re human. The kind that well meaning friends, family and lovers point to in an effort to bring you some calm, to help you feel not so alone. Because, “everyone feels insecure at some point. You’re not the only one who feels this way.” But it can feel so desperately alone.

Things like items on bullet-pointed lists of job postings that interest you, but sum up requirements that seem improbable for you to fulfill. Fearing colleagues you imagine you would work with already dislike you and wonder why you were offered the position. Worrying you’ve fallen behind on your task list for a project you’ve not yet been hired to manage. Depression is a creative jerk. It creates colorful cognitive dioramas, falsely foreboding failures and fissures. It’s a fucked up fantasy. Debilitating bullshit serum. It’s a snake with three heads. A tiger with tentacled talons. A shade of black too dark for the human eye to see.

Besides feeling this way sometimes — fearful, hesitant, twittered, jittery — I also do the things I enjoy (like record silly raps for potential employers and Vanilla Ice covers) and have meaningful interactions with people. I’m not always depressed or anxious, but sometimes I am. Sometimes my mind feels like a cognitive stew with a side salad. Sometimes my mood rides out pretty smooth an entire day. Sometimes my body and mind course through multiple moods by noon.

Follow this journey on Silent Retreat.

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5 Reasons Why My Friends Make Me Afraid Sometimes in Mental Illness Recovery

First off, I want to thank you. I have so many things to thank you for. Moments when you have cheered me on, moments when you have held me while crying, moments when you have made me smile, even while in the throes of depression.

You are some of the reasons I have continued to work toward my goals. The reasons I have not given up. The reasons I am still alive today. Still, you’re also the reasons why I’m afraid. The reasons why I get wrapped up in my own brain, hesitating to tell you anything I am going through. These are the reasons why.

1. I have never had someone who has known some of the darkest moments of my life.

This is mostly because too many have left me behind as I’ve begun to trust them.

2. My mask is not as strong as is used to be.

I’ll admit, I can be far too proud at times. My mask is not as strong as it used to be, but there are times when I cannot let myself show the emotions I feel, because my brain and experiences tell me it is weakness.

3. I’m scared I will say too much. 

I’m afraid you will get scared when you hear of the times I almost left this world and the ways I coped with my pain.

4. I don’t want to be a burden.

I’ve been feeling this pain for so long now that I never want anyone to feel that way — even if it is secondhand.

5. I don’t want you to think I only appreciate your friendship because you listen to my problems.

I appreciate your friendship. Enormously. But I do not ever want you to think it is only because you listen to my problems. I value you and the crazy and wild moments we share together too much.

All of this said, there are so many reasons I love having you around and confiding in you.

1. You have never judged my past.

But you’ve always understood how it shaped me into who I am today.

2. You somehow convince me happiness is possible.

You show me things will not always be as dark as they are right now.

3. You understand I do not want to feel this way.

You know I am fighting this battle almost every day of my life. You have seen it firsthand.

4. You embrace my wild days.

You allow me to say and do weird things like walking around the kitchen like a dinosaur.

5. You make me feel loved. 

You make me feel like goofy friendships are worth the annoyances we may cause each other, because we know there will be somebody in our corner when we need them.

So yes. I am afraid. I’m terrified. But more than anything, I am grateful for your friendship, your love, your goofiness and your support. I’m sorry for the moments when I run, hide, shut down, cry or need someone to carry this weight with me. I will never be able to thank you enough.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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5 Things I Want People Who 'Mean Well' to Know About My Depression and Anxiety

To the people who say or do unhelpful things, I know you probably mean well, and in writing this, so do I. Here’s what I need you to understand and what you can do to actually help.

1. My conditions are my responsibility, not my fault. 

I have an invisible disability, as well as anxiety and depression. It’s my responsibility to manage them, but that doesn’t mean they’re my fault. They are not an excuse, a choice or a lack of effort or motivation. Assuming as much won’t change anything about my situation. Support me in managing my symptoms and challenges, instead of criticizing me for causing them.

2. Comparisons aren’t your place.

I am currently unable to work, but eventually doing so is a goal of mine. Saying things like, “There are people way more disabled than you who work” is infuriating. You are not the authority on anyone’s level of impairment or their ability to do anything. Encourage me to reach my goals instead of shaming me for not reaching your expectations.

3. You only know part of my story.

Only my therapist knows everything about my situation. I have a right to privacy, and my own reasons for when, how, how much and to whom I disclose. I do what I feel is best at the time, with the options and resources I have available to me. Please don’t force me to share everything with you or defend myself. Also, the fact I don’t share every detail of my treatment with you doesn’t mean I’m not engaging in it.

4. You are not a professional.

Speaking of my therapist, you aren’t responsible for treating me. Depending on our relationship, you are welcome to engage in certain aspects of my treatment with me, ask me how it’s going or bring up any changes or concerns you notice. However, the only treatment suggestions you should make are that I comply with my existing plan or discuss changes with the appropriate person.

5. You are not the expert on my relationships.

Depression and anxiety can cause me to isolate at times. Encourage me to get back out into the world again, go out with my friends or go to family functions. However, if I have decided a relationship or social situation isn’t healthy for me, please respect that. Boundary setting of this kind isn’t easy. If I’ve done it, it’s because I feel it’s what is best for me, at least for now.

I appreciate you’re trying to help, and I know we’ve all said or done things with good intentions that backfired. The best thing you can do to help me is listen, encourage positive steps and accept I’m a competent adult capable of managing my own life and making decisions that are in my best interest.

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Thinkstock photo via kotoffei.

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