Disclaimer: I’m no doctor, therapist, counselor, or genius. If this post about hope in the midst of depression and anxiety and related mental-health experiences is in any way true for you, know that it might be uncomfortable to read in the first place, but much more importantly, that reading it will not, cannot save you from your troubles. What you need is not a word of empathetic support from a fellow mortal with related experiences but genuine professional help, just as it’s what I needed first. Come back and visit me if and when you’re ready. If you don’t have any such problems, hurray for you! And read on anyway, because you might be able to help another person if you know better how she or he is living. Everyone’s truth matters, even when we don’t agree with or share it.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll shout it again and again from the rooftops: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ ASK FOR THE HELP YOU NEED! ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
When you’re feeling strong enough to do it, fellow struggler, I want you to ask for, and find, the help you need. A friend wrote me after reading the previous two parts of this post series, quite rightly asking: “As someone foreign to what you describe here, I’m wondering whether you’ve ever found it beneficial for two people who are both despondent to work together. Can the shared despondency do some good, like two negatives making a positive?” My short answer (strictly my opinion, of course) is, Yes and No. Feeling alone in sorrow is, ironically, almost universal, but the feeling ignores the reality. Being reminded we’re ‘all in it together’ can help. Mutuality of support and dependence can be useful, but only if genuinely committed on both sides to the wellness and well-being of self and other, and only in partnership with those qualified to help. Wallowing and giving up hope together is no better than doing so alone. Find the counseling, student resources center or person at your school, workplace, or community services center, and get in contact. Do a little research to find out what’s affordable or free, and accredited, in your area. Make an appointment, and be sure to tell the person with whom you make the appointment that your need is anxiety and depression related and therefore time sensitive.
Stand up for yourself enough to insist on getting the help you need. I was really, really lucky that the counseling center my doctor sent me to visit had trained ‘triage’ telephone operators who could determine how urgent it was that we patients get in and guaranteed an appointment within a week or even 24 hours, depending on the situation. We all know that for anyone who is suicidal, only genuine emergency care will do: a suicide prevention hotline, phoning 911 [the American universal emergency phone number], or heading to the hospital is essential. But knowing that the assessing operators at my local mental health center were trained to spot the differences gave me a little needed comfort and the strength to wait 24 hours more.
Meeting with this counselor won’t be an instant solution for you, though, honestly, getting through the first step of making the contact was for me by far the hardest, bravest thing I ever did, so everything after that seemed progressively easier! I cried and sniffled and howled through the phone call, through the days (weeks) leading up to the appointment, through the drive to the appointment—wondering if I could go through with it, though I’m delighted, if that’s the right word, that I was too afraid and embarrassed to cancel and inconvenience the stranger I was going to see—and I wept through the majority of the first appointment, too, even though I had little that I believed was so urgently, impressively scary or important-seeming to say or do. That’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it. I think it’s useful, when you decide you’re in need of help, regardless of feeling ready or courageous enough to seek it, to have a few little strategies for taking the starting steps. A checklist, if you will, can make the attempt at something so large ever so slightly less daunting. From my own perspective I can offer some possible options.
Think of others. The world shrinks incredibly when one is depressed and anxious. It’s all I can do, in the midst of it, to consider that I’m not the lone creature in the entire miserable universe. But realizing that my misery spreads invisibly to others, like any kind of infection, helped me, albeit incrementally, to decide I had to make a change somehow. I could at least drag myself to strive toward health for others’ sake when I couldn’t muster it for my own sake. The one ‘trick’ that still helps me the most often is one I suggest you try even before you manage to go out and get professional help: Focus your energy, however infinitesimal it may seem, on doing whatever itty-bitty-teensy-weensy thing you can do to help someone else through a struggle. I wrote about this technique that my mom taught me in a previous blog post, and it still regularly saves my shaky hold on sanity in stressful situations where I’m not actually alone, especially at social events, which are big stressors for me. Give it a shot a couple of times, and give yourself permission to ‘play the part’ of somebody cool and confident (at least cool enough to admit to a stranger that you totally lack confidence) and you’ll be amazed, almost invariably, how much it can help you. I’ve managed to get through events crowded with intimidatingly high-powered, celebrated politicians, artists, and social giants, in countries where I spoke little or none of the local language, by doing this. I’ve also learned along the way that many of the aforementioned intimidatingly powerful persons turn out to be just as needy and insecure as I am, merely better disguised!
Build a DIY support network. It’s a network only if you think of it going out as well as flowing in: you’re not only asking for help but offering it, and though you don’t believe you have enough resources for your own puny self, working to give some to others will show you better what you can do. It’ll be a hard slog, since so many depressives, like me, also fight social anxiety, and either (let alone both) can make it mighty hard to openly discuss deeply personal things like our mental health. Doesn’t even sound possible, does it? But it is. Dare to test the theory; you already know that you’ve got nothing to lose.
Commit to wellness. Sit down with at least one supportive person, preferably a loved and trusted one if you have any such thing. A fellow struggler, a professional, even a total stranger whom you deem trustworthy, might offer support, and that can be useful, too. Find one, or make one. Say to your supporters how much it means to have them on your side and that you will do whatever you’re capable of doing to help each other go through this process, knowing that you’ll all fall down on the job but you will not quit trying, because you owe it to each other as much as to yourself. You might not believe that fully yet, but I promise you it’s true. Even those who think themselves insignificant and invisible aren’t; what affects them for worse or better affects all of the lives around them similarly. If you can’t seek health and happiness for your own sake, try to do it with the idea that you can aim to improve the lives of those around you by being happier, healthier, and better able to assist them through their own difficulties. Imagine your improved health and well-being first as a fantastic, romantic ideal, then as a remote possibility, and then as a goal, and you’ll have a better shot at accomplishing this amazing thing than you might guess.
Take a first step. Make the first appointment you need, even if you don’t yet know how deeply you do, with the mental health counselor or resource person. GO. If this is someone who can see you and your supportive companion together, it might make it easier for you to approach at least the first meeting if you’re there to encourage each other. The first session or two will likely be little more than figuring out your current state of being and understanding your “baseline” in any case. Be bold, and assume that you will be helped by this process, even though it might not seem so at all times, and persist doggedly. Fight for your life. Ask your professional helpers straightaway: Please tell me about all of the FREE resources you can share with me [us], refer or recommend for my needs, so I won’t have the added anxiety and depression of finding something that helps, only to be denied it for financial reasons thereafter.
Commit to continuity. Follow up, whether it’s with this same person/center, or someone/where else that’s recommended. Do your homework. A counselor should be teaching you how to assess your own situation and what you can do to have a positive effect on it, whether it’s through making lists, keeping a simple journal (your blog or diary will certainly qualify, in many instances), doing some reading, learning to meditate, doing a small amount of exercise, adjusting your diet, listening to music, or something else entirely. Do the work. It might be laborious or even painful, but every bit you get through will be something you can cross off your list of struggles.
Reward yourself with your healthiest and most affordable pleasures every single time you feel you’ve made one atom’s-worth of progress. Don’t worry about falling down on the job again tomorrow, because you will. Know that when you’ve rewarded yourself with an honest “hey, I didn’t think I could manage that until now, but I DID IT!!!!” followed, perhaps, by doing the Snoopy Dance or wallowing in an hour of reading from that really trashy, sappy book that always makes you feel like hugging the universe a little, you will be more inclined to get back up and do the work again as soon as you’re able. Keep hunting for your Happy Place among your matrix of matrices. [Have I just coined a phrase?]
If all else fails, take the time to look at your reflection in a window or mirror on occasion and practice smiling ever more genuinely and convincingly, while saying to yourself in your silliest Stuart Smalley impression: “Kathryn Sparks thinks I’m cool. And she’s really amazing, so who am I to argue with her?” Because I really do know how tough it is to be one’s best self and I truly admire all who manage to do the hard work it can take to move in that direction in difficult times.
You do matter. Your well-being matters. Your relationships with fine people (me, for example) matter. Peace and joy to all of us.