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The 'Ugly' Parts of Depression and Anxiety You Can't See

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I’m one of the unlucky ones. I’ve fallen victim to a disease you cannot see. There is quite an effort these days that goes into accepting and understanding mental illness, which is great, but there’s a lot of writing that romanticizes it, as well. It makes it seem like something deep and powerful, sometimes even beautiful. While it is deep and powerful, it is by no means beautiful. I would like to show you what you may not know: the ugliness. You see, that’s what matters. That’s where the pain sits. Most of all, that’s where the truth is.

If you come from the viewpoint of a healthy mind, then what you don’t know is how much it hurts. When you read articles or Instagram posts talking about anxiety and panic attacks, it’s usually the part of the disease you can see. A panic attack, when one is hyperventilating and crying hysterically, you can see that.

What you may not know is there is a kind of panic attack that is invisible, but just as painful. It’s when you sit and stare at a space on the wall, and your mind has about a thousand thoughts per minute. It takes so much effort just to try to make sense of these thoughts. The rest of your body shuts down, and you become paralyzed. It hurts. Sometimes, there’s no crying. There’s just silence. In your head you’re screaming, throwing things, crying and praying someone will come and fix you and your unimaginable pain. On the outside, to the unknowing bystander, you are simply daydreaming.

Depression looks the same sometimes, but it feels totally different. You can lay in bed and be struggling with your depression and anxiety at the same time, but your body doesn’t move an inch. What you may not know is when I lay completely still, staring at my ceiling, it is either because my silent panic attack is in progress or it could be because my depression has reared its ugly head. When I tried to get up out of bed, it said, “Nope, not today.”

What you may not know is someone who struggles with both anxiety and depression is in a constant state of unease. Imagine it this way:  You are a toddler, and you have just woken up with so much energy. You want to run, play, scream, yell and get it out of your system. Imagine this energy as your anxiety, but there is an adult, much larger and stronger than you, who is holding on to you. Imagine this adult as depression. This adult feels you need to get away, but they hold on with all their strength.

On a good day, you can escape their grasp. You can fight against it and push through. On a bad day, their grasp is too strong. You can wriggle and try to untangle yourself as much as you want, but you are not going anywhere. So you stay there, with all these thoughts of needing to escape, but you cannot move at all.

Most importantly, what you may not know is someone like me needs constant validation. If you have someone in your life who insistently asking questions seeking affirmation, then chances are this person is struggling with their anxiety and is genuinely afraid they did something wrong. Their questions may look like: “Did I do something wrong?” or “Why did it take you so long to reply to my message? Are you mad?” or  “I’m sorry if I’m bugging you. I just wanted to make sure everything is OK?”

They truly believe you will leave them at any given moment. If you are like me and you have this problem, then you probably feel as though the moment people find out how needy and difficult you are, they will run for the hills. Considering how I am, I wouldn’t really blame them. So if someone in your life is always asking if they did something wrong or if you are mad at them, then please don’t get more angry or annoyed. Please, just let them know they are important to you because really that’s all we need to hear sometimes.

The truth about mental illness lies in the invisible ugliness, which is what we need to talk about because it is lonely. It is sitting amongst a group of friends at dinner and suddenly feeling like you can’t breathe and not understanding why. It is the puffiness of your eyes the morning after you’ve cried yourself to sleep for no reason. It is constantly asking yourself if anyone actually likes you or if the whole world is simply tolerating you out of common decency. It is being terrified to be happy because you know how quickly happiness can be ripped away from you and how easily you can fall back into the deep black hole of sadness no one else can see.

This is a raw, ugly feeling no one wants to feel and no one wants to hear about. Let’s change that. Let’s talk about what is uncomfortable so those of us who are suffering with this every single day can feel slightly less alone.

Originally published: June 30, 2016
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