Approximately 7 minutes reading time
For a very, very, very long time, I have been suffering primarily from anxiety and on separate occasions with depression. It may appear as is if comes and goes though I would describe it as dormant, lingering under the surface. About 6 months ago it slowly creeped up on me. This time it hit the hardest. It was crippling, unbearable and nasty.
Since about 6 weeks ago it feels like I am on a path of recovery. If you have been suffering from anxiety and depression I want to tell you that I feel you. It is not your fault. Take your time; hang in there; don't be hard on yourself. You are not alone.
For everyone else who is close to someone with anxiety and depression as a friend, family, a co-worker, a boss, a member of society; this one is for you.
I know it is hard for you too. It is tough dealing with someone who looks into the void, seemingly unable to make even minimum effort, show any signs of care for the world. Who wishes to die. Who can be abrupt, angry and bitter. They don't choose to be that way. They don't want to live this way. They are drowning, screaming for help.
I want to share this with you. It comes from a personal experience while dealing with anxiety and depression. How I reacted and perceived behaviours and attitudes. What worked and didn't work for me. It is not for the faint of heart.
During that time, I was at my most vulnerable. Feeling exposed, hyper sensitive and on alert. The slightest form of confrontation felt like a warrant for a fight or flight response. An innocent joke, being judgemental, a comment on what I did, did not, had to or should not do, had a negative, disproportional impact on my mood and emotional state. Often I would shy away from discussions, events, situations in order to avoid it all.
I did not enjoy it when people picked on my behaviour, forced me to engage, asked me repeatedly how I was feeling, how long is "this" going to last, confronting me, coercing me to deal with "it", man-up.
As long as people accepted that I wasn't feeling good, were calm in their demeanour when I was upset and angry, game me space to breathe and didn't force their expectations on me, they didn't make things worse.
Everything was meaningless, worthless, a downward spiral into a well where there is absolutely zero joy and nothing worth doing.
Pushing me to get moving, asking me to do things, even more so on your time isn't helping. Having an opinion as to what is meaningful or what I should be doing, isn't good either.
Instead, it helped me cope when I was told to take as much time as I needed, was re-assured and was just let be.
There were times where a daunting feeling would weigh upon me in just a split second. A feeling of imminent doom. A darkness consuming me for no reason. I would start feeling terrified, especially in a crowd.
There are absolutely zero ways to reason about this.
A hug, a holding hand, telling me everything will be ok, taking me somewhere where I felt safe was the best way to handle it.
I was in no mood to cook, clean the house, make the bed or anything really. For reference, I have had a relatively high degree of independence since I was little (less than 10 years old) and have learned to live far and away from home, on my own, being self-sufficient since I turned 18.
Cooking a nice meal, cleaning and tidying up not only removed the worry but also created a nice environment to be living in. It may seem like it didn't make a difference but it helped.
I would wake up in the middle of the night with panic attacks, gasping for air, feeling like I was dying.
Even though I rarely asked, I am much too proud and considerate, it made me feel better when someone woke up alongside to provide comfort, help me with breathing and calm me down.
I wanted to die.
Even though I never made any attempts, I did have suicidal thoughts. It is a tough thing to hear. Even writing about it gives me the chills and makes me emotional.
Telling me to snap out of it only put more pressure on me. Telling me to take control made me think people weren't listening. Downplaying it made me feel insignificant. Asking me how is this going to solve anything made me feel even more trapped and didn't really present me with a way out.
Whoever was on the receiving end had to be fearless and calm. I needed empathy. I needed to hear how important I was to them.
There were days where I was willing to have a conversation about it and be more open. Still, talking about it would make me feel really uncomfortable, shaking, filled with adrenaline.
Pulling the rug from under my feet was not good. Presenting me with what-ifs' or making me face reality wasn't cool. "What if you get fired?", "What if your partner leaves you?", "You won't have money to pay rent", "You can't keep doing this for long".
All these only served to amplify my anxiety and fear. At times it would also make me angry and upset.
In this case, I am the one being moody with irrational fears. You need to be thinking clearly. Don't take it personally. Don't feel like you are being attacked. Do not take away whatever emotional support I am hanging on to. As hard as this situation may be, remember, this is not about you.
Ask people before you do anything that could upset them. e.g. like turning up on their doorstep unexpected or worse sending a public servant.
I felt alone and at times I even felt abandoned. People were busy with work, their kids and family, their significant other or just needed time for themselves.
Not having people there for me to the extend that I needed them was the hardest to cope with. It wasn't enough to just go to the movies once every month, to meet again after 2 weeks, to give me a 5 minute call to check on me or to talk via social media.
Being there regularly and often would have helped tremendously. Having somebody present was really important. Even when they did absolutely nothing but sit there on the same room as me. It gave me comfort.
People coming and going didn't help either. It made me feel unworthy and made me think people didn't care enough. Sending me a message of "Hey, is everything ok?" after weeks/months was not enough.
Having said all that, keep in mind that no matter of your good intentions chances are you alone can't treat someone that suffers from anxiety and depression. It is not your job anyway so don't feel the pressure to do so.
Each of you plays a different role, whether a childhood friend, a sibling, a partner, a parent. Being gracious, patient, loving, caring, fearless, level-headed and present will go a long way.
This experience has given me the impression that overall we have no idea how to deal with people that suffer from depression and anxiety. Even worse, our behaviour at times can be detrimental to those suffering.
It also appears to me there is a real lack of knowledge on what depression or anxiety really is. People thought I was just having a bad day or I was just being bombastic.
It does not help that we don't talk about it more. There seems to be a stigma and a taboo associated with mental illnesses that makes people want to shut down. Living in a fast paced, demanding, increasingly isolating world does not help either.
Dealing with anxiety and depression requires us to be accommodating, supportive and empathetic towards each other or else we risk stretching the social fabric that connects us too thin.
While writing this post, I kept thinking of people suffering with anxiety and depression. Some that I know of, had the courage to come forward, write, share and be open about their struggle. At the time, it made me realise I am not alone, gave me hope. I also can't help but think of the people that didn't make it. How this post might have given them a voice. A lifeline.
In the US, 18.1% of the population every year suffers from anxiety disorder. Facts & Statistics, Anxiety and Depression Association of America
In Europe, 25% of the population suffer from depression or anxiety each year. Depression in Europe: facts and figures, World Health Organisation