Anxiety And Depression: Wanting To Hide And Not Knowing Exactly Why
A Pendulum Rather Than Two Distinct Disorders?
I was told once that anxiety is like the opposite end of the pendulum from depression, and that's helped me understand my own grappling with both anxiety and depression. As I am definitely not a psychologist, psychotherapist or psychiatrist, I can only talk about my own experiences, and what has helped me; it helps me to think of anxiety and depression as opposite ends of a spectrum, where sometimes I might be on one end and sometimes I might be on the other.
It all depends on what life throws your way, right?
Anyways, I started having panic attacks in 2010, and while I've been very fortunate to really having had a small handful of attacks since then, I continue to struggle with both anxiety and depression without really being 100 percent certain why I do.
Certainly, genetics may play a role. I found out shortly after my father's 2013 death from alcohol-related issues that depression runs in my family going back to at least my great-great grandfather. High five to family genetics, right? Back in the 1980s, you just didn't talk about mental health issues, and sometimes, you just didn't talk about stuff that was bothering you. From my perspective, at least, you'd take a deep breath, push through whatever was happening at the time, and continue on about the business of living.
Now, there's been quite a cosmic shift when it comes to dealing with mental health. As a teacher, I'm noticing that many more students - including my own daughter - are coping with mental health challenges. Many kids are dealing with everything from generalized anxiety, to outright depression, to anything in between those two extremes. There are kids who are now being taken to social workers and psychologists to talk about their anxieties or their depression in order to learn coping strategies.
Help Is Needed, But Can We Ask?
Dealing Is A Choice; Having It Flare Up Is Not
Unfortunately, though, there are still those who still don't get it. While there are strategies you can use to deal with both anxiety and depression, and you do have a choice in that regard in how you deal with it, you don't really have that much of a choice as to when these feelings will hit you. It could be anything that triggers it: the way someone says something; the smell of a certain sort of flower; a particular song - all of these things, plus countless others, could be a trigger for either anxiety or depression, and it's not just a matter of pulling ourselves together to get past it.
When the feelings do hit - and they invariably do, and not in a convenient time - it's not fun. When someone's dealing with a flare of anxiety or depression, it's not simply a matter of making the choice to feel better. That's like asking someone with the flu to stop vomiting on command, or someone with insomnia to take a nap. If we could just turn this stuff off, we would.
Thankfully for kids, there's a lot more awareness about both anxiety and depression, and as a result, far more understanding. Professionals - particularly those in the military - continue to struggle, however, for a variety of reasons. Certainly, in the cases of military personnel, the biggest issue is quite probably perception. It's hard to envision a soldier dealing with panic attacks or depressive episodes, yet it happens, and many times, their feelings are buried under bravado and a sense that they need to "suck it up."
When said professionals work closely with the public, they can't just excuse themselves midway through an appointment, go to the bathroom, have a panic attack (meltdown/breakdown/fall apart time), and then return to the patient. We have jobs to do, and even though it might feel like our hearts are about ready to burst out of our chests and we've got a flood of tears that is threatening to drown us, we have to make our jobs happen. Especially when we're working with kids, we find ourselves having to push through even when we don't want to; sometimes, we are the one safe person that the kid dealing with anxiety and depression has, and us falling apart is not what is needed at that time.
Kids And Adults - It Affects Everyone
Sometimes the hardest part about being someone who is anxious or who deals with depression is self-acceptance. It's not as though we have a broken toe and we can look at it and say, "OK - this will heal in a week or so."
Mental health is something that we all talk about, yet there's sometimes not enough attention being paid to it. We're a lot better about trying to understand it, and we've gotten better about trying to encourage people to talk while we take on the role of active listener, but in so many ways, we still like to close the door and pretend it's not there.
Mental health is as critical a component to someone's overall health as dental health. You may not have depression or anxiety, for instance, but that doesn't mean you can't listen to someone who does. If you're worried about not understanding that person, don't worry - sometimes all that person needs is knowing that you're a safe presence. You don't have to have anxiety or depression in order to understand.
Sometimes, you've just got to be there. That's it.