“It’s OK to Not Be OK”. This is a slogan I’ve been seeing a lot recently, and, don’t get me wrong here, I love it! I am so happy that people are becoming more vocal about supporting mental health awareness and those of us dealing with out daily battles! I also hate seeing it splattered on memes and inspirational pictures all over social media. Why is this still “a thing”? While I love the support that it shows, why do I need permission to be me? Do I make inspirational quotes saying, “It’s OK to Have a Cold!”, or “It’s OK to Not Tolerate Dairy Products!”? No, I do not. Why? Because people don’t choose to get colds or be lactose intolerant. I also, do not choose to have anxiety and depression. While the support is appreciated, I don’t need permission or validation to be the person that I am and feel the way that I feel.
There is still a massive amount of misunderstanding when it comes to the roles anxiety and depression play, especially with someone who has both. These conditions are opposing forces, and the mental, physical and emotional toll is almost unbearable. Imagine waking up late for work: you know that feeling you get in your stomach, like going down that first drop on a roller coaster? That moment of panic causes most people to immediately jump out of bed and start the mad rush of getting out the door. But, then, depression tells you not to even bother. You’re already late, you’ll probably get fired, you’ll lose your house because you won’t be able to pay the bills and you’ll end up living in a refrigerator box under the bridge. Anxiety tries to get you up and moving, being your cheerleader, your motivation. If you don’t get up, think of all of the work you’ll have to do when you go back. Every second you spend lying in bed is another email cluttering your inbox. And you just know that the one day that you’re late will be the day that something important will happen, and, come on and get up, you’re already getting behind! Should you even bother though? Everyone will stare at you walking down the hall, knowing that you’re not there when you’re supposed to be. You know they’re already whispering about you, wondering what your excuse is this time. They all probably hate you anyways because you forgot to show up for that baby shower last month. You’re better off just staying at home and trying again tomorrow. This cycle continues, incessantly, every waking moment.
When people say, ‘You don’t look depressed.’, I honestly don’t know how to respond.
A simple web search will provide you with common symptoms accompanying anxiety and depression. When people say, “You don’t look depressed.”, I honestly don’t know how to respond. I know we all picture depression as someone curled up in bed with a constant stream of tears running down their face, but no two people experience depression the same way. Anxiety falls under the same category, as you won’t always see me uncontrollably shaking and hyperventilating in a corner somewhere. My anxiety manifests itself as anger more often than not. It’s uncontrollable mood swings: begrudgingly putting away the laundry from two weeks ago or having to re-hang the clothes in my closet that weren’t put in the right place. It’s getting upset with my child for talking too loudly simply because he’s so excited to show me something cool on his tablet. Admittedly, it’s awful, unfair, embarrassing and shameful.
Answering, ‘I don’t know’ isn’t an excuse to avoid a conversation; I honestly don’t know what I’m upset or what you can do to help.
The one redeeming quality of my “angry anxiety” is that it can help me express how my depression is manifesting itself at that time. Depression makes me shut down. Answering, “I don’t know” isn’t an excuse to avoid a conversation; I honestly don’t know what I’m upset or what you can do to help. There isn’t anything that happened, you didn’t do anything to make me upset and I don’t know why I started feeling like this all of a sudden. I say I don’t know because I don’t know. I’ve found that my anxiety almost takes over like a big brother protecting his younger brother from a bully. I may not know why I’m down right now, but I know that stack of dishes in the sink isn’t helping. No, I don’t want to talk about it, so why don’t you go make dinner like you were supposed to an hour ago. It may not be a positive form of communication, but I am slowly learning that it does help me communicate. Finding a way to curb the conversation is a starting point in learning how I can effectively communicate feelings that I don’t understand.
What I hope this admittedly embarrassing story from my own journey shows is that healing occurs in many phases. It is beyond frustrating when you feel like you’re doing better, getting a handle on things, only to suffer a setback, no matter how small it may be. Any step other than forward feels like starting from scratch. Be encouraged by the lesson you learn. Use it to do better next time. There is not timeline or expiration date on how long this process will take, and all of us move at our own pace.