I tend to be a positive-minded person who loves to support others and find the good in any situation. I love to listen and encourage others, and it makes me feel like I make a difference. I believe that mental health is so incredibly important, and while I have never experienced anxiety or true depression myself, I am an advocate for those who suffer from them.
This winter I experienced first-hand the helplessness and darkness brought on by my own mind. This Thanksgiving was an overwhelming experience with family, and after it was over I felt depressed for a couple of weeks. Nothing bad happened on the trip, but I think it triggered pent-up frustrations and feelings of inadequacy. I felt like the walls were crushing my chest and I couldn’t do anything but curl into a ball and cry. I would find myself thinking that everything and nothing was wrong all at once and impossible to put into words. I compared myself to better riders, better singers, better people and belittled who I am. I cursed myself in the mirror and my inability to be better than what I saw staring back at me. One day I had to leave work early because I just couldn’t stop crying. I had no idea what was wrong with me or why it came on. I gathered myself up and went straight to the barn. Being in the presence of horses restores my soul and feels like setting a piece of my heart free. It helped so much that day, and with the support of my husband and friends the days got brighter.
I believe that I had seasonal affect disorder, as I have not felt the return of that low feeling since. Well, not the same one. I hesitated to write this as I felt many would read this and go: “you don’t have real depression, don’t be a baby, there are people out there who have it worse off than you”. And they are right. I don’t have Depression. I don’t suffer from gut-wrenching Anxiety. I don’t have it as bad as many people. But just because someone has more extreme circumstances or pain than you, does not diminish what you are feeling. One pain does not end another.
So how do we validate how we feel if we are constantly comparing our pain scale to the tolerance of someone else? How do we acknowledge our own struggles while not belittling others, or our own? How do we show we care and want to be cared about?
For me, I think the root of caring for a friend’s mental health lies in listening. Listen. Just wait. Don’t give advice if not asked. Actively listen to the words, tone, and body language of the person you care about. Be empathetic. Don’t shift away from their perspective and turn the conversation around to be about you, not until there is a natural break and they are ready to move on from focusing on their pain. And when you are both ready, ask them to listen.
If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, please know that you are not alone. Reach out to your friends, your family, your mentors. If you have no one to turn to, please reach out to me. No one is alone.
Love from a tissue box, Connie