A few weeks ago, I fell to pieces. As cliché as that sounds, it is really the only clear-cut way to describe how it felt when my soul quickly began to plummet, bottoming out in a valley deeper than I knew existed, leaving my body behind as the only salvageable wreckage. I had become a shell of my former self. A weeping, emotional, blubbering mess.
I have dealt with varying intensities of both anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. In high school, I chalked up my bouts of depression to hormones, the everyday heartaches of young love or backstabbing friendship drama — all the makings of typical teenage angst which commonly grow into feelings of insurmountable sadness.
I was 17 the first and only time I sat down in a therapist’s office. I was actively grieving the death of a childhood friend, when the soft-spoken woman sitting across from me asked me who I confide in about the emotions I had been feeling. Staring at her blankly, I replied, “No one.” She explained the destructive nature of not having a solid support system when trekking the grounds of depression. She implored me to allow others in, in order to free myself. Knowing she was right, but not at the maturity level conducive to receiving helpful feedback, I walked out of her office and never returned. But over a decade later, her advice still stuck with me.
Which is why last month, after trying and failing to keep myself together while in the grips of depression, I opened up to my loved ones. For the first time in my life, I explained to my husband how every little daily task had begun to feel unbearable. I called my mom and confided how scared I was that this me was the new me, and I would never make it out of this fog. I reached out to my best friend and cried on the phone to her for hours. And you know what happened? My support system showed up. They were there to hold me up when I could no longer lift myself, and ultimately helped me begin to navigate out of the depression I had sunk into.
If you love someone who struggles with anxiety or depression, keep these things in mind when they come to you for support.
1. Know that it took a lot of courage for us to speak up.
If we come to you for help, keep in mind that we have most likely been suffering silently for a long time. We have kept our depression concealed because of our fear of social stigmas on mental health, our pride, unfounded embarrassment, or scared uncertainty. Accept us with open arms and be ready to listen.
2. Do not try to fix us.
Believe me, if it were that easy, we would have already fixed ourselves. A common misperception of depression is that a sufferer just needs to “make themselves happy.” While maintaining a routine, taking a shower, going on a long walk, journaling, or practicing yoga are all helpful tips to improving one’s mood, refrain from offering this kind of advice. In the depths of depression, simply getting out of bed in the morning can feel like a marathon. Suggesting these daunting tasks to someone when they are at their lowest can make them feel inadequate and have the reverse affects.
3. Offer to assist them with a daily task.
Offer to make them dinner, or do a few loads of laundry. When they decline — do it anyway. When in the midst of depression, everyday chores can feel unconquerable, but asking for help can be just as difficult. Don’t make them ask. If you don’t know how to help, simply show up on their doorstep with nothing but a hug and love to offer. Often times, your support is the biggest asset you have to give.
4. Our guilt can eat us alive.
Guilt is one of the most common emotions that pair up with depression and anxiety. We feel guilty that we feel the way we do, that it affects our loved ones, or that we are not our normal selves. We literally beat ourselves up daily for not being able to “snap out of it.” So be patient with us. Try not to rush us in our healing. Be compassionate and understanding. Remind us that we are doing nothing wrong, we are not to blame. Mental health requires the same attention as any other sickness or ailment — don’t let us forget it.
This is the most important piece of advice I have to offer. Be a sounding board. Allow us to talk out our emotions with no judgment and limited input. Let our feelings be heard and validated. Sometimes being able to verbalize our emotions is the first step to healing and puts our feelings into a more easily understood and maintainable perspective.
Anxiety and depression affect millions of people and they manifest in different ways for each sufferer. Check on your loved ones, send that “thinking of you” text, smile at a stranger, thank your support system. Simple acts of kindness can be a defining moment to someone silently suffering. And if you are one of the millions afflicted with depression or anxiety, reach out for help. There is no shame in accepting and taking accountability for your mental health.
Take a look around, there is plenty of joy in this wild, messed up, chaotic, beautiful world — sometimes you just need some help finding it.