If you look up "depression" on Google what comes up is "Feelings of severe despondency and dejection." Now, look up another illness, for example - Crohn's disease. It says, "A chronic inflammatory DISEASE." Depression is more than just a feeling, it's an illness, and it is also a disease. It is not just a person's reaction to an environmental situation. Environmental factors can instigate an episode but do not cause a person to have anxiety or depression, just like stress and certain foods may cause the symptoms of Crohn's disease to get worse, but they do not make a person get Crohn's disease. I am not saying anxiety and depression are like Crohn's disease, but I am saying that when we have a disease or illness it is out of our control. When someone tells you they have Crohn's disease or any widely understood disease you feel sympathy and empathy for what they might be going through. This is not the common reaction when someone says they have a mental illness.
My mom has had Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's disease for 30+ years. When she was first diagnosed, she was told to relax. She felt crazy because she was trying to control it but obviously couldn't. She had a disease for which there is no cure, but there are ways to manage it. For 10 years, I have had Panic Disorder. I was diagnosed 5 years after symptoms started. We did not know why I was feeling the way I was. Five years with no relief, 5 really hard years leading me to depression, leading me to think about what the point of all this was, 5 years where I could have been treated if only there had been more information available.
If only I knew there was a reason behind all of it, and I was not crazy. I had extended periods of time when it was so bad, I was not myself. I did not know the person pacing the room and neither did my close friends and family. I literally felt possessed and could not control my thoughts and the physical response my body had. I was not the only person going through this then, and I am certainly not the only person now. I had no idea that there was, in fact, a way to make this better. Unfortunately, there are many people for which we still don't know a way to make it better. No magic cure for anxiety and depression like no magic cure for Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's disease.
Luckily for my mom, there have been great strides in the treatment of her disease. She works very hard at trying to control the things in her life that might cause a flare up, just like I do. She reads medical research and professional journals, just like I do. She has good days and bad days, just like I do. She cannot magically turn off the disease, just like I can't and just like everyone else with depression or anxiety can't. I am lucky to have parents and friends that take my disorder seriously, but unfortunately, others have told me to "Get over it," or "It's just in your head," and so many people are told this. I have made great progress this year with an increase in medication and the introduction of a new one that gives me enough relief so I can sleep. As I've written about before, I see a counselor weekly working on exposure therapy and strategies for what to do on the bad days. I'm not embarrassed and talk about it openly. More importantly, my family and friends talk about it. I have a mental illness. I put myself out there in hopes I will help others. There is so much judgment and misinformation about anxiety and depression, which is why people are afraid to talk about it, afraid to admit that they are NOT okay, and in fact, it's OKAY to not be okay.
We live in a world where we want everything to be perfect.
You don't see people posting on Instagram and Facebook saying, "Today was quite a hard day. I had some trouble getting out of bed this morning, but I did it and I'm working every day to find things that make me happy." God forbid, I posted a Selfie saying something like, "Anxiety got the best of me today. Tomorrow's a new day." BUT WHY, why can't we be real, why can't we let others know that we are going through shit? Because I guarantee you looking at everyone's photos of them smiling and laughing, there are bad days too behind all those photos. We all go through things and it's time we start being there for each other instead of judging each other.
It's unnerving hearing that a friend or family member is having a hard time getting through the day. Don't respond with "It will get better." Don't brush it off. Take the time and let them talk. Ask questions that show you are truly interested in how they are feeling. Tell them they can call you anytime or that you will come keep them company if they want. It can take a long time to diagnose anxiety and depression and then months for medication or interventions to help. We all need to start being more present for each other and ourselves. Be ok with your own bad days and those of others. Make yourself vulnerable and share your feelings and hopefully, others will follow, you never know who you might help.