I run a support group called Undercover Warriors which offers support to people affected by invisible illnesses. Part of that obviously involves mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. A while ago someone messaged me asking for help. They wanted to help someone they loved understand them and their anxiety better. For someone without anxiety or depression, or indeed any mental illness or condition, explaining what it’s like is almost like trying to explain colours to someone blind from birth. It seems impossible. So I’ve been going over this idea in my mind and I will attempt to try and explain what we go through as best I can. What follows is an open letter. If you feel it explains how you feel and think it will help then I would love it if you would comment and share. I truly hope this helps someone.
Loving us can be frustrating. It can be very hard and sometimes it can even feel impossible. People with anxiety and depression (the two often go hand in hand), have a tendency to be very self involved. This can even come across as selfishness, which is never a desirable trait. We know this. The guilt we feel for this far surpasses any frustration you may feel, but this does not mean your feelings are not valid. Sometimes, when we are swept up in that whirlwind of suffocating darkness, it is impossible to see or hear anything else. It is like white noise. There is no focus, no point, no desire. We feel everything and yet nothing. Numbness and indifference reign. From the outside we appear cold, unloving and not very much fun to be around. We know this. But we cannot escape it. It becomes all consuming. We are watching ourselves from the outside, disassociated, and are often aware of how our actions and behaviour are affecting those around us but we can can do nothing to change it. All we want to be able to do is shout, scream, whisper, cry that one word that eludes us. “Help…”
It is hard to watch someone you love go through this. It is hard for us too, but we have no choice BUT to deal with it.
Anxiety is a slightly different beast with its own fun and exciting battles. Where you see nothing, we see unattainable mountains. The tiniest thing can be fixated on. Something you may not even think about. Something like making a phone call, or leaving the house. To you they are everyday tasks that don’t even register as needing thought. To the anxiety sufferer you might as well ask us to climb Mount Everest without shoes. There is no rhyme or reason to it. Our brain tells us that we CANNOT do the thing….no matter what. The thing is too scary. Doing the thing will result in the end of the universe. Logic has no bearing here. We are flaky. We cancel plans. We may seem like we don’t care or don’t want to spend time with you but, the truth is, we are afraid. It can strike at any time and without warning.
Telling us it will all be ok, or other well meaning things, usually falls on deaf ears. The nagging voice inside just tells us “they’re only telling you what you want to hear. They’re only saying that to SHUT YOU UP. No one wants to deal with your stupid problems. Stop talking. Hide inside your head again. It’s safe in here. Safer than out there. That’s it, withdraw, hide, berate, hate. That’s all you’re worth…”
So we hide and we clam up. You think you’ve done something wrong. You think we don’t love you. You think we are distant so we must be invested elsewhere. We know this. Again with the guilt and the pain of what we are doing to our loved ones. We don’t want you to feel sorry for us. Pity is a cheap emotion. We just want you to be there…and be patient.
After reading all this I’m sure you’re amazed that we have any redeeming qualities at all. It’s hard to love us. But it’s worth it.
While there may be times when you feel endlessly frustrated and like you will never get through to us….just know that we see you. We love you for being around. We love you just for holding our hand and waiting. Mental illness is a constant battle but there are silver linings to all those clouds. Our capacity for love and empathy is endless when we thrive. It’s a rollercoaster for sure but there is no stronger love than that which someone who suffers has for those who support them and try to understand. You may never fully understand. We just ask that you try. We are often creative, intelligent, generous and caring people. The dark side of the human psyche is often balanced by blinding light. When we are cared for and allowed to flourish magical things can happen. Nothing worth loving is ever easy. It may seem to some that we are making excuses for destructive, or even borderline abusive behaviour. So for this reason I will not blame someone for not being able to cope with it. We often can’t cope with it and if we could walk away from it…we would. But if you truly love someone and know that they are trying to get better, then there is hope.
So just know, if you are there, if you wait, if you hold us and let us know we are loved…Thankyou.