Awhile back, a brave woman in the online support group that I moderate, but haven’t done a good job of moderating in awhile, penned this letter to people who do NOT suffer from anxiety and depression. I think it’s a wonderful articulation of the compassion we all hope for.
Having depression and anxiety means many things change, and a lot of them are invisible. Getting help means many things as well, again most of them not quite visible to you. Unlike having cancer or being hurt in an accident, most people do not understand even a little about depression and anxiety and its effects, and of those that think they know, many are actually mis-informed.
In the spirit of informing those who wish to understand … These are the things that I would like you to understand about me before you judge me…
Please understand that being sick doesn’t mean I’m not still a human being. I have to spend most of my day in considerable emotional turmoil and exhaustion, fighting thoughts that make me feel insane and fighting the voice in my head that says you cant do this anymore just go. And if you visit I probably don’t seem like much fun to be with, but I’m still me stuck inside this body. I may worry about life and work and my family and friends much more than the regular person, but I still want to know how your doing.
Please understand the difference between “happy” and “healthy”. When you’ve got the flu you probably feel miserable with it, but I’ve been sick for years. I can’t be miserable all the time, in fact I work hard at not being miserable. So if you’re talking to me and I sound happy, it means I’m having a moment of remission. That’s all. It doesn’t mean that I’m not suffering, or that I’m cured, or any of those things. Please, don’t say, “Oh, you’re sounding better!”. I am not sounding better, I am sounding happy and maybe even hopeful for the moment.
Please understand that being able to go out to my son’s soccer game one night doesn’t necessarily mean that I can do it the next time. I am greatful for the days that I can do those things but dont get mad the next time I say I really cant go out for dinner. With this illness it gets more confusing.
That’s what Depression and Anxiety does to you. Please understand that Depression and Anxiety is variable. It’s quite possible (for me, it’s common) that one day I am able to walk to the park and back, while the next day I just want to stay close to home and sleep.
Please don’t attack me when I’m ill by saying, “But you did it before!”, if you want me to do something then ask if I can. In a similar vein, I may need to cancel an invitation at the last minute, if this happens please do not take it personally. Please understand that “getting out and doing things” does not make me feel better..
Please understand that if I say I have to sit down/lie down/take these pills now, that I do have to do it right now – it can’t be put off or forgotten just because I’m out for the day (or whatever). Depression/Anxiety does not forgive.
In many ways I depend on you – people who are not sick – I need you to visit me when I am too sick to go out… Sometimes I need you help me with the shopping, or staying out of my head. I may need you to take me to the doctor, or my counsellor or therapist.
I need you on a different level too … you’re my link to the outside world… if you don’t stay in contact with me because you think Im “too depressing” or want to be alone your wrong…,… and, as much as it’s possible, I need you to understand me and not judge me. I judge myself enough.
This isnt something I can just “snap out of”..if it was that easy do you not think I would have by now. If I could control this illness I would. I dont like to feel stuck in the bottomless pit of despair, I would rather be out and enjoying life, feeling free fromt he chains of my mind. I would like to be like you but I’m not.
I have had to accept this illness and I hope one day you can to because when I have your support and understanding Im stronger and have more hope and days of remission can be cherished with you.