A Storm is Easier to Weather When You Aren’t Alone

When I talk to someone about my depression, OCD, PTSD, grief or anxiety (yes, I am a hot mess of epic proportions) and how I am struggling and they say to me “What IS depression? I’ve never been depressed and I don’t understand it? Are you just sad? Why don’t you do some things that make you happy?”, I don’t get mad. First, I am stunned to discover someone who has never felt depression and lived with it ruling their lives. Then I am faced with how to explain what it is to that someone. How to explain how depression, and a myriad of other mental health illnesses are just like any physical injury or illness.

How do you explain that depression or anxiety is not like an attitude that you can chose to have over another option? That it isn’t like a “pair of pants, you decide which you want to put on every morning.” How do I help them to understand how it is, when I have been so ingrained in thought by society that even I have a hard time not feeling like I’m the reason that I can’t just be “better” and be not depressed? When my own head still whispers to me the much repeated truth out there that if I just try harder, have a better outlook, choose to be happier, that I will BE better.

How do you explain to someone who doesn’t have PTSD that you can’t just ignore something that trips a reaction when it isn’t a conscious thing? That you don’t see or hear or feel a trigger and say to yourself “oh, that is going to trip me off, better just ignore it.”. It just is there. Or rather, the reaction is there. You rarely ever see what tripped it coming to be honest. It’s like telling someone who had a plane drop off them out of the blue that they should have just ducked. 

How do you explain to someone who has never had someone significantly close to them die, that grief is not something that you can shake off and just get on with life? How can you explain how it initially consumes every single part of every day that you somehow manage to live through? How can you explain the expansive weight of loss and the pain that seeps into every corner that you exist in? How can you explain that even years later, something will remind you of that person or the loss of them and you will be just as devastated as the day it happened? You don’t, that’s the simple answer. With that truth comes the acceptance that you will lose some people from your life because they can’t understand.

How do you explain to someone who doesn’t have OCD that you are not able to control what your mind does and says - and what it makes your body do? How do you explain that if there was some way to excise the OCD, you would have done it decades again? How do you explain to someone who has never lived with OCD that you don’t want the thoughts, the compulsions, the sheer noise of it all? It’s not that easy. Yes, you can learn to manage it and live with it - and most often for those who have it , you learn to hide it. Until you can’t. Then you have to explain it. Telling someone with OCD to just stop or block it out is like telling someone to stop their heart. Not possible just by the force of their will.

You know what all of these questions have in common? They expose the reality that, in our culture, the responsibility - the cause - the continuation - of the mental health illness is placed almost solely on the person experiencing the mental health issues. It tells everyone who lives with these and so much more that their illness - and their much-wanted wellness - is one hundred percent THEIR choice. That their mental illness is their fault essentially; and that their struggle to heal or manage it is one hundred percent within their ability to make happen. Spoiler alert - it's not.

Would you tell someone who has been diagnosed with cancer or MS or organ failure or, or, or (insert your own version of PHYSICAL illness here) that they just need to get better? That it’s just in their head? That they’re just making it a problem by CHOOSING to have the problem. That they just need to wake up tomorrow and decide that they don’t have it and “be fine”. Would you tell them that they need to stop talking about it because “that’s not going to help if you keep giving it power.”? Would you tell them that their problems and their issues are just too much to be around because, after all, they aren’t even TRYING to get better?

I don’t think you would. 
I hope that you wouldn’t. 
I also know that, even now, there are many in our society that would, and do, all of these things.  

Think about that for a moment. 

I also know that by putting this out there, I will have people (even some of my own friends) who will read this and say to themselves “there she goes again, why doesn’t she just pull out of it and decide that she’s not going to let this all run her life.” “why is she continuing to be unwell? why can’t she just stop talking about it and feeding it? she’s not going to get better if she keeps CHOOSING to be like this”. Why do I know this will be said? Because it’s been said to my face - for my own good, of course, with love, and to help me. 

Guess what? Fuck you. 

And if you ever experience any mental health issues, I hope that you never hear any of these dismissive, hurtful things said to you. 
I hope that you find a shoulder to cry on, an ear that listens and a support to lean on when you need it. I hope you find people who are not like you were to those in need when you said “why don’t you just…?” Because no one deserves to be hurt when they’re already hurting. 

Be kind to each other, a storm is easier to weather when you aren’t alone. 


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