I know I’m not the only one who lies in bed in the morning wishing the cloud of depression that makes getting up seem so fruitless and meaningless would just disappear. It gets so old when it’s there more often than not. There’s this void, this chasm between me and the energy I have for life and no technique I’ve been taught in therapy helps me cross it. The joys and relationships that keep me going during the day just don’t seem worth getting up for as I conspire about who I can reschedule with to hang out later and how many tasks can be pushed off to another day.
My secret to getting out of bed and going on with my day wasn’t as a glamorous as I’d hoped. It never occurred to me in a great epiphany. It just became what the answer had to be—get up and keep going because you have to. I wanted an answer that had more sensitivity toward my crushed and depleted feelings, one that removed the problem and reinvigorated me to deal with everything. This is one of those hard truths that I think I grew stronger for gradually accepting because it taught me how to press on even when I don’t have all the answers to my problems.
I don’t know what the future holds for me and I’m actually glad for that. It would be pretty bleak if it went exactly how I imagine it might when anxiety and depression are at their worst. I’m grateful to be loved by a Lord who promises that His plans for me are for my good because that means there’s a light and a hope for me beyond what I see for myself. There are unpredictable, wonderful moments ahead; He knows I need them to carry on. I wouldn’t be able to endure through depression’s draining toll without the reassuring knowledge that He will give me what I need to make it through each day even if it’s just barely enough.
Pushing through each day may not seem like much. However, after a while you start to realize that if you hadn’t gotten up and soldiered on that the happy moment you cherished yesterday or the meaningful moment that made you feel a bit more fulfilled today wouldn’t have happened if you let depression keep you in bed. So when you’re struggling to get up, it could be beneficial to ask yourself how many good things in your life would you not have been able to witness if you didn’t push? What might happen today that you would miss? Let your desire to feel good motivate your feet as you take the first step of your day into the exploration of joyful mysteries yet to unfold.
We often speak about the importance of spreading awareness about various mental health issues to decrease misinformation and stigmatization. I am a staunch advocate for that cause; however, I’ve been spending more time lately how these problems arose in the first place. It makes a lot of sense to me that misinformation could be the result of ignorance on the subject or a simple lack of experience being around people with a particular diagnosis. I also see how some of that could feed stigmatization but there seems like there’s something more going on there than a mere lack of knowledge. What is the basis by which people discriminate against and ostracize others? It can’t solely be fear of the unknown or of that which is different from them because then providing them with the correct information should remedy the majority of the problem.
I wonder if the reason for the counterproductive attitude toward those suffering from psychological problems has more to do with the person casting judgment than the struggling individual. Perhaps it’s an inability to have empathy/sympathy or a fundamental unwillingness to love those whose who wear their suffering on their sleeve instead of hiding it. If the latter is the case, then I highly doubt educating them about mental health is going to get very far. What do we do when our message falls on ears that do not care or wish to be our allies? This is a sticky predicament because I’m not sure that we can teach them to love when they have already chosen not to. Fortunately, I do believe there is something valuable to be said about the human heart’s capacity to be inspired to grander heights. The question then is centered on how might we go about inspiring them?
The wise saying “lead by example” has a lot to offer here. We can always model the selfless understanding attitude we wish them to adopt. We can take care to not to define people by always using their conditions to refer to them, especially around them (ex. Referring to a person as “someone who struggles with schizophrenia” instead of “a schizophrenic”). Our words can highlight the sacred value of human life by paying immense respect to it in every conversation that provides us an opportunity. Extending patience in public to those we can clearly see are wrestling with mental health issues as well as their family members is perhaps the most beautiful, influential way we can shine a light on this important matter. Our cause will always be a work in progress but the grace we show one another could add together and create an greater impact that we could’ve accomplished alone.
Wrestling with depression is an uphill battle, particularly when anxiety, self-injury and other burdensome factors are at play. If you’re at all like me, you’ve probably asked yourself on numerous occasions why you bother to keep pushing day after day through a pain you’re not sure will ever go away. Discouragement seeps in and you just want to give up. I’ve woken up and stared at the ceiling with such musings swimming around in my head more times than I care to admit. I kept lying there determined to figure out the magic solution that could make everything all right. What I found instead of a cure for pain was a priceless realization that made my battle worth fighting.
Many people choose not to commit suicide because they don’t want to deeply wound their loved ones. This has always been one of my strongest reasons keeping me anchored to this world. However, reflecting on my values has doubly enhanced my motivation to stay alive during extreme difficulty. There are things I want to stand for, causes I believe in that are greater than myself. For instance, I would like my life to have reinforced in my own mind and to all who knew me the idea that good triumphs over evil. But if I one day stare in the face all the evil in my life—everything that causes me to suffer and screams that I am worthless—and decide those voices are somehow more credible than the ones that taught me to hope, love and persevere, then I am announcing that evil wins…especially if I forfeit my life because of it. I earnestly wish to leave behind a legacy that inspires others to believe in the beauty of life. I never want my actions to violate that message.
More than anything, I believe I was designed for a purpose by my Creator. I want to live long enough to find out what it is. If I said this life was too difficult and left, I would leave my purpose unknown, unfulfilled. I’d never discover what my true potential was. I would never know the answer to the question I’m haunted by each morning—Will it ever get better? I am certain of one thing; it will never have the chance to if I don’t continue working at it. I’d rather go down fighting than give up even when it is very very very challenging. I also remind myself that my life is not my own to take. My Father will call me home when He’s ready to. I have no plans to leave a moment before then.
Those of you who are losing hope in your own battles, I urge you to reflect on your motivations for fighting. Are they holding up? Are they serving you well? If not, perhaps it’s time to dig down deeply into your values and ask yourself what you would like to stand for and ultimately what message you would like to be sending to those who know you. Have you spent a significant amount of time wondering about the purpose for your life or who you might turn out to be in 5-10 years? Are you curious to find out? Please know you are not alone in your battles, whatever they may be. Multitudes of people fight the same ones every day and God is also actively living your hopes and pains with you at the very moments you experience them. Find someone you can talk to in your darkest moments and whenever no one’s around, He is always available 🙂
I want to give a shout out to everyone who’s ever had a panic attack before. People who have never experienced one personally just don’t understand it. They can read about it and think they’ve gotten the gist of it but there will always be that intense, drowning aspect of it that inevitably escapes those who haven’t had to suffer through it. That being said, I applaud the multitude of counseling professionals who have still managed to impart effective coping skills to us like controlled breathing and thought out plans about what to do when we feeling it coming on. Those of us who have fought to hold on to reality in the midst of terror are in a unique position to offer support and encouragement to one another. I’d like to do my part by offering up the helpful bits of knowledge I wish someone had passed on to me a long time ago.
First of all, panic attacks aren’t signs that you’re crazy. Someone may have told you otherwise but they were likely swept up in the misconceptions society has about mental health and frankly…someone who speaks to you like that is uninterested in treating you with the respect and dignity you deserve. You are also not somehow less of a human being for experiencing panic attacks. They’re an indication that you’re exceptionally overwhelmed by worry/anxiety. I was told by a psychiatrist a few years back that my brain was so used to having them that it would just misfire every now and then and cause one for no discernable reason.
I struggled for years with believing that I had made some sort of mistake when I was overtaken by a panic attack and therefore was responsible for them plaguing me. Even though I definitely needed to learn how to handle anxiety better, it was an oversimplification to say I was directly responsible for each panic attack. Yes, I had more growing up to do but I was also stuck in an impossible position by my parents that led to my overbearing stress and that was not my fault. If only I’d been able to acknowledge that truth sooner and saved myself so many late nights of kicking myself over how stupid I believed myself to be for not knowing what to do or understanding what panic attacks were. Please don’t berate yourself for the fact that they happen to you while still realizing there may be more tools for minimizing them than you’ve encountered.
Arguably, nothing helps more in the midst of a panic attack than being as merciful to yourself as you can be possibly be. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t focus on everything in life that’s upsetting you. Don’t even try to go solving your biggest life problems right then. This is the time to be lenient and understanding toward yourself because you’re overloading. Piling more stressful thoughts on your brain is not going to help. Just recognize that it’s happening and let the realization pass without condemning yourself.
I find it incredibly hard to direct my thoughts to a more positive place than that, so I keep certain items available in my room that remind me in one sensory capacity or another of times where I felt safe—a soft blanket my cousin used to wrap around me when I was shaking uncontrollably, a scent I found soothing and recordings of people’s voices saying encouraging things to me. I even have a small, portable electronic metronome that I set to 40 BPM to help me pace the inhale/exhale routine one of my former therapists taught me when everything in me is racing too quickly to keep track of anything without help.
I know it’s extremely difficult to believe this when you’re actually having one but please remind yourself, even if you have to write it down next to your bed, that you’re not going to die. It WILL pass. Eventually. The best way you can speed up the process is not dwell on something that will add to your upset. Focus every fiber of your concentration on a memory of what it felt like to be safe and imagine yourself in the safest place you can. You will come to that place again; you just have to wait it out and then you’ll be there again.
The two best things you can do when you discover your child is self-harming is to actually listen to them and educate yourself on the matter instead of responding with fear-driven paranoia about what they might be doing. I know it’s difficult to accept; it’s quite shocking to realize someone you love dearly is struggling with this issue, especially when it raises questions in your mind about their safety. However, it’s important to recognize that overreacting to their behavior can be just as damaging as underreacting to it.
Self-harm does not occur in vacuum; there’s always something else going on but what exactly differs from person to person. It’s a mistake to assume that just because your teen is cutting, burning, etc. that they are definitely suicidal. In fact, there’s a whole host of them, myself included, who very much wanted to live and learned to cut as a way to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. That being said, if you have serious concerns about your teen taking their own life, by all means follow up with a mental health professional or call the police in the event of an emergency.
I cannot emphasize enough how beneficial a two-way conversation with your teen could be for both you and them. If you demonstrate that you’re willing to listen to why they’re hurting on the inside and not merely lecture them on why you think they should stop, they’re a lot more likely to trust you and want to come to you for help. Don’t assume. Ask. Some parents overreact by policing their teen to the extent that it builds resentment and increases the shame/embarrassment they feel. On the other hand, turning a blind eye to it communicates that you don’t care or don’t take their problems seriously. If possible, try to actively engage them about what’s going on in a supportive I-want-do-whatever-will-actually-help-you way and listen. They might even hand you the best strategies for helping them. Mostly, it’s an ideal way to build trust and use that for their benefit.
The internet itself is an invaluable resource for education on self-injury. If you have a questions, simply post them on a forum and get firsthand information from supportive people all over the world who have struggled with the same issue. My Dad did that by identifying himself on forums as a concerned parent investigating on behalf of his daughter. He didn’t tell me until years later how many helpful responses he received from people who said they wished their parents had done their research instead of freaking out and assuming the worst.
The point is: Care about your kids in an informed, effective way. Gather information. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. But don’t keep doing the same thing that doesn’t work over and over. Work with them if you can. Above all, get them the help they need even if it means giving them access to a counselor or psychiatrist.