As a person with anxiety and depression, I gravitate toward articles on those topics. They are always an interesting read, a reminder I’m not alone in my struggle, and sometimes a realization that it could be a lot worse. They are a safe and cozy place for a person with anxiety and depression to feel understood. Anxiety and depression are lonely diseases, and compounded by the very nature of having anxiety and/or depression, it’s a slippery downward slope trying to make heads or tails of the matter.
So I read articles and personal stories and the “Lists of Things to Never, Ever, Ever Say To Someone Who is Depressed,” and feel strengthened. There are people out there who understand. I’m not alone, I don’t have to be alone, I can make it through this day! And in a feverish search through an article’s comment section to find more and more people who understand me, there, in seemingly bold, all-Caps Times New Roman, are the nay-sayers: the nasty trolls and the well-meaning folks, both with the same message. Just be happy. Just go with the flow. You have a choice. You will be fine.
The message I have for the non-depressed and non-anxious among us is this. Depression is not a choice. Anxiety is not a choice. One can be highly educated and logical and still be debilitated by anxiety or depression. One can be friendly and happy and still be debilitated by depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety take many forms and no two instances are exactly the same, no two days the same. They are complicated diseases – they do not follow logic, they change and evolve with each new situation and often come and go as they please. And are frustrating beyond measure.
When we write articles about depression and anxiety, we write them for everyone, those with the disease and those without. We want those who don’t understand to stop by, read and take away a better understanding of anxiety and depression, to be a better friend to someone who struggles, to learn empathy, compassion and obtain new eyes toward the world around us. And we want those who suffer alongside us to find hope and strength in another’s story.
We don’t want pity, we don’t usually want advice. We want a hope for a better tomorrow. We want dignity and respect, same as anyone. We might need a hug, a kind word, a distraction, or to be left alone to sort it out ourselves. Just ask us what we need. We’ll tell you. Learn what makes us anxious or depressed. In a very simplistic example, you wouldn’t ask someone with a broken leg to run a marathon with you. In the same way, if you have a friend who struggles with large crowds, don’t invite them to a concert or don’t be offended when they give you an excuse not to go. Just open up the dialogue and see what happens. But don’t use an inability to understand anxiety or depression as an excuse to tell use we’ll be fine. Don’t tell us we have a choice.
We already know we aren’t easy to love. But every single effort made by another person to understand and accommodate our anxiety and depression without frustration is a weight lifted from our shoulders, a push that keeps us moving forward. Anxiety and depression should never be experienced alone, no matter how untidy.
This article is cross-posted at my other blog, Bright Above Fargo, here.