As I poured the second tall glass of whiskey into my tumbler last night, I knew I was in for a long one. I’d been here loads of times before: mind rushing in fifteen different directions with no end in sight. Anxiety, man… It’s a bitch.
I don’t come across as the anxious type most of the time. I’m a laid back mom when it comes to my kids’ choices, electing to let them make their own mistakes as long as they don’t break their necks in the process. But I have a monster inside of me, nonetheless. Or perhaps monster is too big of a word. Wraith might be better.
It’s so quiet, the way the thoughts take over. One minute you’re having the best time with someone you love and the next, this insidious voice in your head has convinced you that you’re a stupid buffoon who no one wants to be around. It’s the same voice that keeps me smiling and laughing at a party long after I’ve exceeded my delicate introvert tolerance for people and noise. And the same one that keeps me from calling up old friends because “why in hell would they want to talk to me?”
The combo of anxiety and depression is a double whammy that so many people live with. I’m not here as an apologist for my quirky behavior, or even to make you understand other people’s behavior. They truth is, everyone’s experience with these illnesses is unique. I am here to write about my experiences with this disease and try to understand my own recovery process. And if my journey toward recovery helps someone else, all the better. If, perchance, my experiences help you to understand me or someone you love better, I will be thrilled.
What we want
I know I can’t speak for everyone here. Hell, I barely know what I want on a day to day basis. But I think I have a generally sound idea what depression suffers most want from people they love. And it isn’t a cure, surprisingly. It seems that everyone assumes that, because as soon as you tell someone you’re depressed, they give you a laundry list of things you need to change in order to “get better.”
It probably seems to those on the outside that we don’t want to get better. After all, you hand us these nuggets of wisdom about positive thinking and the power of choice and we just stare at you as though you are speaking a foreign language. The reason I look at my “positive thinking” friends so deridingly when they say things like this is because I fucking am being positive. You see me standing here, right? I’m out of bed! I’m dressed! There’s something that resembles a smile on my face! Do you have any idea the amount of positive thinking I had to do to accomplish that? I want a damn medal.
What we want, what I want, is validation. When you feel like everything inside of you is being held together with pins, needles, and a little bit of week old duct tape, you can’t see that on the outside everything looks normal. You feel on the brink of falling apart. You feel like you are two steps from the hospital because everything hurts, nothing feels good, and you just want to curl up in the dark and let it all fester. So when we reach out and say, “I am hurting,” all we want is for someone to tell us that they can see the pain, it is valid and true, and that their friendship won’t go away.
I know what you are probably thinking right now. If I tell my depressed friend that their pain is valid, that it is ok, they will just continue feeling that way. I need to fix it.
Newsflash: we’re gonna keep feeling that way whether you validate it or not. Chronic depression is not something you turn a light switch on and magically make disappear. It is not something you can tickle out of someone. And despite what you may think, it doesn’t go away just because the sufferer is smiling and happy. It’s a cancer that eats at us, as real as any disease that eats away at a human, just silent and deadly invisible.
The greatest gift a friend ever gave to me was acceptance. I struggle terribly with feeling weak. Most people do, but I pathologically fear appearing weak in front of people that I value. So the decision to let someone inside these walls, to show them just how bad it can be, takes weeks of indecision and anxiety. I have about two people on my inner circle. And it was the last person I told who gave me my greatest gift.
I expected pity. I expected to be met with understanding and perhaps sympathy. I never expected the words that I received. “Jen, I know you’re fucked up. I’m fucked up too. And I love you because of that, not in spite of it.”
Do you see what they did there? “I love you because of it.” Holy shit, they love me because of my depression and anxiety! What a jerk!
No, not exactly. They love all of the parts that make up me: the quirky, inappropriate humor, the indecision, the fear of being forgotten, and yes, even the depression. They love me because those things make me into the person that I am. And they saw that and accepted that. It was a first, and it started me on this long journey toward finally accepting it in myself.