I’ve just laced up my shoes to go for a run (literally – like, my sneakers are on my feet as I type this). I need to get this run in now because it is early enough that the weight of all that needs to be done today is still suspended; once it begins to lower, I will feel its pressure and be unable to fit in anything beyond What Needs To Be Done.
But I need to run. I need to get outside. I need to be moving – not just because, when I’m stressed and busy, I eat like a teenager without a metabolism, but because my body and mind absolutely need exercise to be functional. And now is not the time to ignore my physical and emotional health.
For a variety of reasons – some of them within my control and others not – this is the busiest I have ever been in my life. That’s not hyperbole, and it’s saying something, considering my ADHD-tendency to Never Be Able To Sit Still. Simply put, I bit off more than I could chew, and I didn’t realize that until it was too late.
In future years, I will be more discerning, but for this year, I simply need to get things done. And, as the weight of it begins to bear down on me, as I look at my To Do book and realize, “Crap, how the *%$! will I fit that in?” and then realize all I’ve left off of the To Do book, I’m starting to crack a little. Last night, I felt the familiar warnings of a panic attack begin to close in. I was able to stop it before it fully realized itself, but it scared me.
So, I need this run today.
And yet here I am, writing. ‘Cause I need to say this.
I’m sure by now everyone has seen the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom died by suicide. To be honest, I wasn’t all that familiar with either of these influential and bright souls (I certainly knew who they were, but didn’t follow them closely), and yet their deaths, especially coming so close to one another, have affected me deeply. They just hit so close to home.
As I’ve discussed publicly many times, I – like so, so many – suffer from anxiety and depression. And, like so, so many, I am someone who, generally, appears to be the very kind of person who could not possibly be anxious or depressed. I mean, I’m bubbly. I’m involved (see above: so many things to do). I’m outgoing. I’m friendly. I’m funny. I post cheery photos of my children and sunrises and puppies and chocolate. I look on the bright side and reach out to those in my community and try to life people up.
Lovely evening light…
And yet, every day – every single damned day – there’s something that sets off my anxiety, that makes my stomach hurt a little, that brings heat to my chest. Most days, thankfully, that’s all that happens; I feel those gross, anxious flutters, am able to tell them to shove off, and go about my day. But they’re there, every. single. day – even when I’m laughing or joking or posting photos of Broadway playbills.
There are also days when my anxiety takes over and I cry about deciding what to have for dinner, or it’s easier to stay in than go meet friends for dinner. And yes, there was a time when I was so clinically depressed, I could barely function. From the outside, though, almost nobody knew.
You see, it is entirely possible to be anxious or depressed AND STILL have other wonderful things going on in your life. This is not an either-or proposition, and focusing on the good stuff isn’t lying – it’s what gets me through.
Reading tribute after tribute last night to Tony Bourdain (his friend all called him Tony, it seems) was what began my near-panic attack; it was just all too familiar, too sad, too much. I pulled myself away, for my own wellbeing, but I know I will return to it because this is just too important.
Depression is real. Anxiety is real. They are as real as cancer or a broken arm. They are not things that can be wished away by positive thinking. When someone has a panic attack or cannot drag themselves out of bed, they don’t need to “man up” or “put on their big girl pants.” When someone who is depressed dies by suicide, they did not make a selfish choice or lose their faith in God or give up or didn’t love their family. Their brain was sick and not functioning properly and lied to them, causing them to genuinely believe they had no other choice – or that they were, in fact, making a good choice, for themselves and all around them.
If you are depressed or anxious, help is available. I know that actually getting that help can be nearly impossible, both because it’s like asking someone with a broken leg to walk to the hospital, and because even if you get to the hospital there might not be surgeons available… but it’s available. It’s out there. Please, please seek help. This is not a sign of weakness; in fact, it’s the very bravest, strongest, kick-assest thing you can do.
If you are depressed or anxious, you are not alone. There are so many of us who understand, who get how freakin’ hard and maddening and exhausting it is. And there are even more of us who know you are awesome and worthy of being here, simply because you are you. We believe in you, and we want you to hold on. Hold on for today.
And then, tomorrow, know that we believe in you and love you and want you here. Hold on tomorrow. And the next day? Let’s do it all again.
This cannot fall entirely on those who are suffering from mental illness, however. Like all problems, expecting those who are in the thick of it to do the heavy lifting is self-defeating and stupid. We, as humans, need to look out for our fellow humans, and we need to be proactive in our looking-out. Telling someone who lost a spouse, “Let me know how I can help!” – while well meaning – is dumb, because a person in the throes of grief can barely tie their shoes, let alone inform you that the fridge is bare. Just show up with the casserole.
The same is true with mental illness. If you know someone is struggling, don’t wait for them to tell you more; reach out. Ask how they’re doing. If they say they’re fine, genuinely ask how they really are. If they still insist all is well – and it might be – tell them how awesome they are, that you’re there any time, and that you’ll check in again. And then do it.
If you don’t know someone is struggling, ask anyway. Be real. Be interested. Be kind. You never know – and, again, this is not hyperbole – when your simple, “I really like your shirt!” is the thing that entirely turned around another person’s day.
Okay. Time for that run.
And then I’ll attempt to do all that needs To Be Done today. I will try to remember to breathe. I will cry if I need to. I will still post pictures of food, because food is delicious. And I will never forget that I am not alone.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255