Mental health and our own personal journeys with it is a scary thing to share, but also something that I believe to be one of the most important stories we can share. It’s a scary topic to approach because of the stigma surrounding it, but also because people simply don’t know how to go about talking about it.
In my own personal journey with anxiety and depression, there have been several points where I was at my absolute lowest. One of them being my freshman year of college and the other being the year before I got married. My freshman year of college, my anxiety and depression were so bad, there was a point when I was having at least 3 severe panic attacks a day, I was rapidly losing weight because my depression was causing my appetite to disappear, I moved home for a quarter and my parents and I discussed me taking a year off of school to heal mentally. The year before I got married, I was consumed by anxiety, there was not a moment I did not feel anxious, and my depression was causing me to lack the energy or drive to literally do anything. Going to work everyday was such a struggle because focusing on a task was nearly impossible. I wasn’t on a wedding diet, but I was again, rapidly losing weight unintentionally because I was so ill. I don’t tell you this to make you feel bad for me or for sympathy, I simply tell you this to tell you, I have been there. I know what it feels like to think you are broken, that something is severely wrong with you and that things will never get better. I know what it feels like to want to hide in your dark room and sleep, hoping the day will pass you by. I know what it feels like to not be able to breathe because your anxiety is gripping at you so tightly that you can’t comprehend finding the energy to make it another day.
I have been there and you are not alone. I have been there and there is nothing wrong with you. I have been there and things will get better. I have been there, and this will become part of your story. I have been there, so I want to be there for you.
In the midst of my first extreme bout with anxiety and depression, my friends and family were absolutely terrified. And rightfully so. They didn’t know what to do, so they would encourage me to go hang out with friends or tell me to “be happy” or remind me of all the wonderful things going on in my life to “get me out of it”. And while all of these things come from the absolute best of places, they can be pretty ineffective and sometimes hurtful to someone struggling with mental illness. The next time around, they did their research and became educated on a better way to love me in the midst of my indescribable pain, and it made a world of a difference.
It’s so hard to know how to love someone in the midst of anxiety and depression. It is nothing short of a miracle that I married a man that is unfortunately but also fortunately familiar with extreme anxiety. He is able to understand me and understand my irrational thinking when anxiety takes over. So Brian and I have created a list of 5 ways to love someone well when someone you love is dealing with this.
5 Ways to Love Someone Well in the Midst of their Pain.
- Be there. There were days when my parents would simply sit with me and just their presence alone was comforting. When a panic attack would come, they would sit there with me, not telling me to snap out of it, but simply being there, making it known I was loved and seen.
- Talk about it but also listen. When you know someone is struggling, asking them how they are doing, even when you may know the answer, shows them you care. There is nothing you can say that will “fix” how they are feeling. A listening ear without an agenda is more comforting than telling them to be happy, as good as your intentions in saying that are.
- Educate yourself and have empathy. Educate yourself on the ins and outs of mental illness to get a better understanding of what they are going through. While you may not be able to comprehend their exact feelings, recognizing that they are in pain and being empathetic in the midst of the pain.
- Give them grace. Mental illness temporarily changes a person’s personality. They won’t act like themselves, they will likely not be thoughtful and unable to take on much of anything for anyone else. But give them grace in that. They are on a healing journey and they need your grace, not your judgement.
- Walk with them through their journey. Allow them to feel their pain, but also gently encourage them to seek help. For me, that meant seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and for Brian that meant seeing a counselor, to determine the best treatment for us. It is scary to go to those appointments alone, so offering to go with them to those appointments if you feel comfortable doing that can be extremely helpful.
We live in a broken world, and everyone has something, it just happens that anxiety and depression are part of my “something”. They will not define me, but it will also not be kept in the dark, for it is when we bring the darkness into the light that we find healing.
I have been there and you are not alone. I have been there and there is nothing wrong with you. I have been there and things will get better. I have been there, and this will become part of your story. I have been there, so I want to be there for you. You are so much more than your mental illness, you are a rockstar.