I have multiple friends and family members that have shared their mental health journeys with me. Some were successful and others were not. Thanks to conversations I’ve had I know that the unsuccessful ones are not taking medications for their mental health due to pride, fear of pharmaceuticals, or a strange belief that somehow their suffering is normal and warranted. I have suffered from anxiety and depression too. I know what it’s like when someone points out one of your flaws, encourages you to seek help, or any sort of concern for your mental well-being under those conditions. Trying to help someone that hasn’t made that decision to seek help on their own is a losing battle and it’s why I don’t try to tell them what to do. However, I would like to and that’s why I’m writing this. My hope is that someone out there reads this article and decides:
“Enough is enough, I want to feel better”.
There’s a quote I’ve always loved from Season 1 of The Legend of Korra. Korra is an animated show that aired on Nickelodeon and at the end of the first season, after a terrible loss, her mentor says to her:
This poignant quote hits the nail on the head when it comes to mental illnesses. I’ve had my low points in life. I once hugged my dog and felt nothing. That dog died years later which was rough. I once deluded myself into thinking I could have a romantic relationship with a girl who only saw me as a good friend. Finally, my father’s death was the lowest point in my life. At each of those low moments, I remembered that quote and sought help. I couldn’t have the amazing life I have today without the support of those who cared about me. The difference between myself and those who don’t get better is I was open to seeking help.
You will feel better when you admit you need help.
The American peanut gallery always has comments about people with mental health issues. Somehow these individuals should buck up, try harder, be happier, and it’s not that hard. They conflate antidepressants and ecstasy, depression and sadness, and anxiety and nervousness. Antidepressants don’t force someone to feel happy all the time, they give your brain the ability to feel happiness. They don’t change who you are, they let you be who you’re supposed to be. Depression isn’t sadness, it’s an inability to have healthy emotional reactions due to a lack of serotonin in the brain. Anxiety isn’t nervousness, it’s hypervigilance to any threat perceived or otherwise.
People who take antidepressants are able to function and have normal happy lives, but when you lack the ability to be happy or are hypervigilant about every potential threat it’s hard to admit when you need medication. Your mental illness is not who you’re supposed to be, it’s keeping you from your best self.
Your suffering isn’t brave, it’s cowardly and cruel to both yourself and the people who care about you.
There is an episode of Glee where the school therapist is speaking with a psychiatrist and how she doesn’t want meds for her obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s just her lot in life (this is a powerful scene, watch the clip in the link above). The psychiatrist then compares antidepressants to insulin for diabetics. There’s a stigma in this country against those with mental illness as if it’s somehow a character flaw if someone can’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be normal. Hyper-individualism is both a mental illness and a cause of such illnesses too.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what it’s like to suffer from anxiety and depression at the same time. When I was living with depression, it was like the color level on my TV settings was turned almost all the way down. I could still make out what was going on, but life wasn’t vibrant. When I started taking antidepressants, the color on the TV was turned back to normal. I started noticing little beautiful things like snowflakes and feeling genuine happiness when a loved one hugged me. My community expanded because people didn’t avoid me any longer and I didn’t avoid them due to anxiety.
The medication I was on also turned down the volume on my TV studio audience. When you’re a teenager and your brain is still developing, it’s like you have a TV studio audience watching you at all times. You feel a crowd of responses when something good or bad happens so you watch every step you make due to being self-conscious. Humans are tribal creatures so we have stronger emotions when we’re in a group. Imagine being at a concert, with everyone feeling the same thing around you, your emotions are intensified.
As most people age and their brains finish developing, the volume of the TV audience gets turned down. You realize that no one is watching you anymore, allowing for greater focus on what matters. When someone suffers from anxiety, their studio audience never goes away. If anything it gets bigger and louder. They remain hypervigilant at all times so as to not upset others, or expose themselves to danger, real or perceived. This stress is exhausting, but people with anxiety disorders choose it out of fear, pride, and shame when relief is available. I think a lot of it is the pride that gets in the way. As if it’s moral to suffer because the person doesn’t want to burden anyone. To be clear, it’s about as moral or good as lighting your shirt on fire.
When someone with good mental health develops a relationship with someone who has depression and anxiety issues and they care, they would like to fix it. There are lifestyle choices that can help. Limiting alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and marijuana does a lot of good. Exercise is almost always good as it helps burn off excess energy. Sleep and sunshine do more good than the average person realizes. Eating foods without a lot of preservatives can improve mental well-being.
However, sometimes medication is necessary.
Trying to talk to someone about taking mental health medication may set up a moderate to severe fight or flight response. The problem with trying to convince someone with anxiety that they need help is they’re going to take that as criticism that “everyone must be talking about this behind my back”.
I understand that it’s hard for those people to hear that they have anxiety, but maybe they need to be called out on it. However, maybe forcing someone to think about it is good. I say this because I was definitely one of those people who took offense to the suggested use of antidepressants and therapy. I had a mentor that criticized the use of pharmaceuticals because it would zap the energy out of me to make real changes. I was scared of the side effects and didn’t think that therapy or counseling would do any good. I wish I had listened to those who cared about me earlier.
While there are side effects to any medication, I would argue that suffering from mental health problems is worse. Imagine having a lot of yard work to do. It’s hard, so you ignore it. While regularly doing yardwork is hard, it’s even harder to walk around 5ft high grass. While the side effects of mental health medication can be troublesome, the benefits outweigh the costs. You can live a good life, feel your emotions in a healthy manner, and stop wasting what little time you have on Earth. If the medications don’t work or you don’t like how you feel, there are plenty of other ones or combinations of meds that you can try.
Time is precious. We think it’s free and abundant, but it’s the most precious resource we have.
I don’t want to put down people with mental health disorders but walking on eggshells and trying to be polite about it doesn’t work to help them either. Persuasion is hard to impossible. People with anxiety and depression think that it’s their lot in life as a way of justifying their choice to suffer rather than take medication. Everyone has problems, this is just theirs. They feel as though through hard work and lifestyle choices they can live “normal”, happy, and healthy lives.
They forget to understand that their suffering hurts those around them as well. As I said before, to a certain extent lifestyle changes can help, but it’s such a waste of a life for those who it isn’t enough for. Generalized anxiety disorder causes way too many people to make bad decisions out of fear.
I’m not writing this to you, the reader, to go out and piss off the next person suffering from mental health issues. I want those who care about those who are suffering to try and push them a little harder despite the consequences. It’s incredibly uncomfortable to have that conversation with anyone.
But if you love someone then you have to try.