Have you ever broken a leg? An arm? Two arms at the same time? Even if you haven’t, we all know that physical injuries, especially those requiring some sort of cast, crutch, wheelchair, can take a long time to heal. For example, a minor fracture takes about six to eight weeks to heal depending on the person. More than likely you’ll need some assistance while healing until you can put weight on that bone again. Now imagine someone coming up to you and saying “Why can’t you just snap out of it?” Or “Maybe you should just try harder?” Can you seriously imagine that? Someone asking you “why aren’t you better yet?” I think we can all agree that would seem ridiculous. But yet, we do it every day with people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, bipolar disorder and anything regarding mental health.
Why has society taught us to sympathize with physical injuries but not mental injuries?
First of all, I would like to state that I am not an expert by any means. I’m just a human that has battled with depression and anxiety throughout my life, and I want to share a snippet of my heart to try and help encourage and educate others.
I remember the first time I started to notice that I was inching my way down the wormhole of depression. I was sitting on my bed, six weeks postpartum, holding my brand new baby boy balling my eyes out. I, personally at the time, couldn’t understand why I was sad when I was holding this beautiful gift I loved so much. I remember thinking to myself, “what’s wrong with me? I have nothing to be sad about?” I felt like it was my fault that I was feeling so sad.
Mental illness is not based on personal failure but can be a result of a chemical imbalance and/or a result of an life trauma.
In my case, it was chemically out of my control. What I thought was my fault turned out to be my body’s reaction to the birth of my child. I didn’t find this out until I finally got the courage to talk to my gynecologist about how I’d been feeling. She then explained everything to me about postpartum depression in a very genuine and loving way. However, even though she said it in the nicest way possible, I still cringed when she diagnosed me. She gave me options of what she thought would be best for me. I choose one. I got lucky, and my first choice would be the one that helped me the most.
The thing about mental illness, any kind really, is that everyone is different in how the illness affects them and what treatment will work best. What works for one doesn’t work for everybody in this case. If you’ve met one person with depression, then you’ve met one person with depression. It doesn’t mean you understand what every person that deals with mental illness is going through. It doesn’t mean you have the solutions to “fix them.” The best and only real thing we can try to do when it comes to mental health is to do our best to be open and understanding. It is a great and helpful thing to offer suggestions and encouragement to a person struggling, but be careful not to think you have all the answers just because you’ve gone through your own experience with it or walked with someone you know through it. We are all different, and no one solution is the “right” way.
I’ve seen a lot of people, myself included, being put down for not getting better “quick enough.” Then there’s what I think is the worst of them all, the subliminal messages they give you to show just how much of an inconvenience it is that you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, etc., and how much they wish you could just get better. Telling someone with a mental illness that it’s “just all in your head, honey” is like telling a person that’s drowning “it’s okay honey, it’s just all in your chest.” Do you feel me? Being depressed actually can feel like you are drowning or like there’s no way out. In my experience, depression and anxiety to me felt like being scared and really tired at the same time. It was the fear of failure with no urge to be productive. You care about everything, yet you care about nothing at all.
To put it simply mental illness is exhausting, just like any other illness is.
If you have someone in your life that is dealing with something internally my advice to you would be to try to view it as you would a physical injury. There’s no difference between little Johnny sitting on the couch with his broken leg in a cast and your brother sitting on the couch who is battling chronic depression. Who decided which carried more weight in the first place? In all seriousness, can we all try to give empathy instead of impatience with those that are struggling?
Join the conversation: In the comments BELOW, tell us if you’ve dealt with any of these or if you know of someone who has and what it looked like to you from the outside looking in. Thank you all, especially if you made it this far! Please like and comment if there’s a certain topic you ladies would like to see in the future on Her Collective.