So, apparently it’s Mental Health Awareness Week or something, which means that it’s time to the obligatory, well-intentioned-but-poorly-executed Facebook statuses. What follows is a literal copy-and-paste of one of these statuses.
“Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are NOT a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long. Would you post this on your wall, at least for one day? Most people won’t but it’s Mental Health Awareness week. Did you know that 1 in each 3 of us will go through this at some point in our lives… It is sad but true”
I’m not ashamed to admit that I struggle with both depression and anxiety, both of which can be, at times, absolutely debilitating. But as someone who desperately wants people to actually understand these conditions, I’m begging you, please please please, for the love of God, stop posting stuff like that. You are not helping.
Let me explain. I see all manner of things spreading misconceptions about depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. I’ve seen comedians stand in front of packed theaters and get belly laughs from the audience while talking about how antidepressants are a con because he’s been through all this horrible stuff and if anybody should need them, it’s him. But he obviously doesn’t, because, well, obviously. I’ve seen church signs that boldly proclaimed, “Too blessed to be depressed!” And though you, fellow Facebookers, mean well, it only perpetuates the lie that mental health issues can be blamed on something.
I won’t lie and tell you that a traumatic experience of some sort can’t send you into a depression, because it totally can. Just as some can cause anxiety, too. But, and I cannot stress this enough, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it just happens. Sometimes, you just wake up one day and realize that you can’t remember the last time you weren’t sad or angry or anxious or just plain empty most of the time. You can’t remember you had a good night’s sleep or actually enjoyed a meal or wanted to spend time with other people. For no good damn reason. And honestly, I think that kind of depression is worse, because you can’t link it back to a single source. You can’t point your finger at something and say, “Yeah, that’s the one, I should probably sort that out in my head.” There’s nothing. It’s big and amorphous and omnipresent, and you’d fight it if you could, but there’s nothing to fight against. This brilliant post over at Hyperbole and a Half sums it all up pretty well, but in case you don’t feel like reading another blog post, I’ll quote the most poignant line for you. “But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn’t going to work.”
It isn’t fair. There ought to be something or someone to blame. There ought to be something to fight against. There ought to be a reason. But there isn’t always a reason. You’re not always safe inside your own head. And that’s one of the worst feelings in the world.
My father is one of the kindest, most reasonable men I’ve ever had the good fortune to spend time with, and while he himself managed to dodge this particular bullet, he did have to watch as his siblings spiraled into alcoholism and self-destruction because of depression, and I’ll leave you all with something that he told me when I was still getting a handle on my situation.
Sweetheart, it isn’t your fault. I know it feels like this is your whole world right now. I know it feels like if you could just buck up, if you could just give yourself a stern enough talking-to, you could snap out of this and go back to the way things were. But you can’t, because some of the chemicals in your brain aren’t doing right. And it’s okay. It’s nothing and no one’s fault, and it’s okay. You can get help. With some determination and whatever medicine you need, you can get better. It will get better. And you will be okay.