If you don’t suffer from a mental illness, sometimes it can be hard to understand what your family and friends are going through. I can’t speak for anyone besides myself, but I thought I’d give you an idea of what depression and anxiety can feel like.
It creeps up on you at the most inopportune times, right before big papers are due or before finals week. It robs you of your will to keep going, of your motivation, sometimes even of your will to live. It makes you hide in your bed for long hours, avoiding texts, phone calls, class, homework, eating, … pretty much anything. It locks you inside on sunny days and tells you not to reach out for help. It makes you feel like a failure and a burden. It lets you know that since you can’t do this one thing right that there is no point to go on. On the worst days, it leaves you numb, feeling like you are unable to move or speak. It has the tendency to grab hold of you and can be very hard to shake off. For someone who suffers from depression, they can’t just be happy or let it go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. So be patient with them and encourage them to seek out help, because nothing is worse than suffering alone.
Anxiety is not just being nervous, it is when the worries and fears you have are so strong that you interfere with your life. There are so many different types of anxiety and they all affect people in different ways. I suffer from generalized anxiety. I can worry about anything and everything. From whether I locked my car to if the headaches I have are from a brain tumor. Sometimes it can be as simple of a feeling of panic arise anytime I do something new, different, or wrong. Being late to class can bring on a feeling of uncontrollable panic. Sometimes it starts as a little voice in the back of your head and then slowly or not so slowly begins to make you feel on edge. Often the voices just get louder and louder until something is done to fix it. And like depression, it often starts at the most inopportune times. Just last quarter my anxiety went from manageable to a near panic attack in my lab final. It can be difficult to learn to manage and I’ve often pulled away from doing anything new to avoid my symptoms of anxiety. I’ve canceled countless plans due to my anxiety and I’m sure that people probably thought I didn’t want to see them. But in reality, I was too afraid to reach out and tell them that I was feeling anxious. So again be patient and please encourage them to seek out help, because suffering alone is horrible. I would know, I did it for years and years.
Mental health is a touchy subject still, it still isn’t treated like real illnesses. If you broke your leg and had to cancel plans because of it, people would totally understand. But if you say you can’t because you are feeling depressed or anxious, it is likely you will be told you’re fine or just get over it, or it will be fun, don’t be such a downer… etc. When people say these things it just makes it harder for people with mental illnesses to reach out and get help. I’ve often heard a little voice pop up in my head telling me what I am going through is not real and when I get shut down, it just is like pouring gas on a little spark. Something so tiny is turned into a roaring fire. So I plead, for me and other people who suffer from mental illness to be patient and supportive.
If you have ever contemplated suicide, just know that you are not alone. You are not bad for having those thoughts, you are by no means damaged. You are a beautiful human and I beg to you seek out help and support. Call a friend or family, call your campus hotline, call the police, call the national suicide hotline (1-800-273-8255), just please call somebody. Your life is too precious to end it, the dark days, although they feel long, will pass and the sun will come out again.
Side note, don’t forget to use person first language when talking about people and the mental illnesses they suffer from. So instead of “she is autistic” or “she is depressed”, switch your language to “she suffers from autism” or “she suffers from depression”. It can be surprising the difference it can make it people’s lives, to know that they are more than the illnesses they suffer from.