The other day, my mother sent me a picture via Facebook message. The black and white photo depicts a heavily tattooed girl gazing to the side, her long black hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. The caption, somewhat disconnected from the photo, reads in big black letters, “Depression is when you don’t really care about anything. Anxiety is when you care too much about everything. And having both is just like hell”. When I read this, I felt a strange mixture of validated, since the picture recognized that anxiety and depression are disorders with a high comorbidity rate and having both is awful, and irritated, because of the vast oversimplification of the disorders.
Having anxiety and depression together sucks because they feed off of each other. I get anxious when I catch myself having thoughts that are typically depressed and I feel depressed because I lose hope in my ability to see a future free of anxiety. While it’s technically true that when you have depression you don’t care, and vice versa, it’s so much more complex than that.
I am on the verge of tears as I write this. I have to keep reminding myself to take long, deep breaths, because otherwise my hands will get shakier and my heart will beat faster, and I will stop being able to feel my feet. You know that split-second feeling you have when you narrowly avoid disaster? For example, say you step out of the path of an oncoming car? That’s how I feel, for an extended period of time, over and over again. My anxiety causes me to have that reaction to seemingly innocuous things. Earlier today, I had a reaction when I thought about my long-distance relationship. Everything is fine, but for some reason, I felt like the world was about to end, and nothing felt real. I wanted to run away, talk to someone about these feelings, cuddle with someone, but also be silent and cower under a blanket by myself. Wait, forget the blanket, I’ve started to sweat. I feel unnaturally warm. Now I’m cold again. What is wrong with you, body? Can you please decide to feel the way a normal human feels? Actually, fuck it, I don’t care. Do whatever you want. It’s not like anything matters anyway. The world is hopeless and I suck and I guess I’ll just try to make it through the night.
The thing is, though, that you don’t know any of this. How could you? I don’t talk about it. I seem perfectly fine all the time. I am generally capable of talking, acting, and seeming like my normal self. I still have moments where I bounce up and down and dance to music that isn’t playing. I make jokes, I stay busy. I complete errand after errand, and I don’t cancel plans I’ve made with you. When we talk, the subject rarely turns to my mental health, and when it does, the conversation is a quick, 2 liner: “How have you been feeling?” “I’ve been alright”. This even happens when I talk to people that also suffer from these issues, so it’s not that I don’t think you’ll understand. It’s just that I don’t want to keep having the same conversation over and over again with you, because I know that despite your best intentions, you’ll tire of it. When it boils down to it, it’s pretty simple after all. I struggle through my days, but pretending that I’m fine helps me to feel that I’m fine.
So don’t worry, everybody, I’m fine. I promise. But if you ever get the feeling that something isn’t quite right, and you’re wondering how you can help, the best thing to do is not to ask, “how are you feeling?”. Instead, say something along the lines of, “I read your blog post and I hope you are actually okay instead of just pretending to be, but if you’re pretending and you need help, please just tell me how I can best help you in this moment.” This isn’t for everyone, just for me. Everyone is insanely varied in how they cope. But if you’re like me, take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone, and send me a note, letting me know how I can help you in this very moment.