Alternating anxiety and depression, crippling at times, have been my companions for as long as I can remember myself, in various forms. Last night however was the very first time that I acknowledged, out loud, that I cannot make a meeting, with a group I am related to professionally (or any group for that matter), due to anxiety keeping me from interacting the way I would have liked to. Before I wrote the message to them, I did what I usually do: brainstormed ideas that sounded general and plausible enough that they would be believed and not many questions would be asked. And most of all, that sounded like an endeavour I could not get out of. The problem I had last night was that … it didn’t sound like truth. And all of a sudden, I could not understand why I have to lie about it … it just stopped making sense to me.
If I had a broken leg, pink eye, COVID, the flu, a migraine … you name it … I would have said just that and not spend one second trying to concoct a plausible disguise. But somehow, there has been so much shame around me just saying I am am having a bout of anxiety and/or depression and need a mental health break, I cannot meet right now. Even as I write this, my jaw is clenched and my arms feel electricity going through them, just remembering. I have decided that I will push myself out of that box – me actually normalising these conditions I have lived with for so long starts with a small (tough) step: telling the truth.
Now, I know many people are taken aback when they hear this (cudos to my group who had amazingly kind and loving reactions) and many don’t know how to react. From this side of the pond, here are some suggestions:
- If your instinct is to say oh, come on, you’ll be fine, the meeting will get your mind off of it, you’ll see, take a breath, swallow these words and, instead, say: I am sorry to hear that. How can I help?
- If you feel compelled to uplift the anxious/depressed person by telling your own story for the next ten to twenty minutes, you guessed, it, take a breath, let the story stay dormant for another time when it will be a response to a pointed question and say: That is hard, I am sorry you have to deal with that. What would help right now?
- If you know THE cure, something that has worked for you and thousands of people you don’t know on Facebook or Insta, you got it: breathe – swallow – speak: I am sorry to hear you don’t feel well. Is there anything you need right now that I can help with?
You can expect answers such as I don’t know what I need, let’s do ….. together, just sit here with me, make sure you do just that, don’t come up with a better idea. If is just dying to get out of you, go back to points 1 to 3.
Most importantly, expect that in many cases the answer may be No, thank you. Because in many cases, people suffering from anxiety and depression need to use their energy in these moments solely for themselves so they go inside entirely or need space to do what they know is good for them and that does not include other people, sometimes regardless of how close they are. If the answer to the first question is No, thank you, close the discussion with something like: I am here, thinking of you or I love you. And leave.
I know it sounds really scary. At any given moment, though anxiety and depression are scary and quite creative in what they throw at me every time, I would always pick being on this side than being a caretaker. It sucks!
Look, the reason anxiety and depression scare me so is because they seem to interrupt my connection to others, to reality, to my feelings – be them joyous or sad. And yet, being seen and loved, exactly the way that I am in that moment, without being corrected, labeled or mended, has always been the best bet in paving the way of my return to me.