I have struggled personally with depression and anxiety for years. The past year has been a hard one for me as my anxiety in particular has become an increasing challenge to manage. At my worst, deeply despairing because I cannot “positive thinking” my way out of the depression or anxiety, and unable to believe in my heart that my struggles are but a momentary affliction and I will get through (even though I know in my head that this is true), I have developed a deeper and clearer understanding of how it is that a person can come to a place in their lives where they might think about or even attempt suicide. I am not suicidal now, nor have I ever been (before you ask or worry).
The world is quick to talk about mental illness as though all mental illnesses are the kind of batshit crazy sort of thing you read about in great psychological thrillers or see depicted in movies or on television programs. (You *do* know that they portray the most “exciting” diagnoses in books and on screen, right? It can make for great storytelling…). But, there is a whole subset of people who live everyday with mental illness that is not obvious. You know people who fall into this category; probably more people than you think. I don’t know any statistics on this, but I’d be willing to guess that the majority of people who have diagnoses of mental illness can be described in this way.
On the outside, they look and act just like you and me. They have families, jobs, and friends. They have hobbies that they enjoy, causes about which they feel passionate, and future things they look forward to. They work hard to be as “normal” as possible, as much if not more for themselves as for anyone else. They *want* to be normal. *I* want to be normal. But they struggle. They struggle to get things done. They struggle to find the physical and emotional energy to get up and go. They battle every day with the voice in their heads that constantly asks “What’s the point?” or “Why do you even bother trying?” or who taunts at every failure, however mundane, “See? I *told* you you couldn’t do it. See? I was right. You’re really not good enough for this. See? See? SEE?” and after hearing that voice inside tear them down time and time again for years on end, they begin to believe it. They begin to think like it thinks. They act like it acts.
And then they worry. They worry because if the voice was right before, it might be right again; they can’t see that it might also be wrong and quiet it, much less put it to sleep. The vortex of worry, self-hatred, lack of confidence, and exhaustion sucks them in deeper and deeper until they can no longer distinguish what is really real from what they perceive reality to be. They *want* relief, but cannot find it; in the vortex, it’s hard to know which way is up. And, being stuck in the vortex with no obvious way out, life can become even more hopeless than it was before.
This month is Suicide Prevention month. It is my hope that in sharing some of what I have experienced with depression and anxiety, others who may be experiencing similar struggles might recognize themselves in my writing and seek help. There *is* help available for people who struggle as I have described here. Talk to your doctor about treatment options; don’t be afraid to see a therapist. A good therapist can help you change behavioral and thinking habits/patterns that might keep you from progressing in your treatment or finding some relief from your symptoms, and they can be a listening and encouraging ear who will hear your experiences of depression and anxiety without judging you or your experience. Don’t be afraid to try medications, if that is what your doctor recommends. Sometimes medication is required to treat depression and anxiety, and that’s okay too.
For those of you who have not experienced depression and anxiety, but who very likely know people who live with it every day, maybe this reading gives you a little more insight to what it might be like for those you know and love who *do* experience depression and anxiety. Maybe reading this will help you understand their experience a little better. Maybe it will help you not to be afraid of what depression and anxiety look like in real life.
***I am not a mental health professional. Nothing I have shared here should be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. My experience is my own, and may not be representative of others’ experiences of depression and anxiety.***