Dear All of You,
I’ve been seeing a lot of activity in my social media feeds and on the inter-webs about the recent high profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
The flavorings of most of the posts I read are sadness mixed with a reinvigorated call to awareness of mental health issues.
The articles I’ve read talk about severe depression, its insidious ability to hide in even the most bubbly and successful packages, and that it is not to be ignored.
While I appreciate the fact the sentiment flowing from people is what they believe to be authentic, part of me (OK, a big part of me) wants to scream “hypocrite!” at all the so-called earnest concern and sadness. You know why? Because mental health awareness isn’t only a thing to latch onto when a celebrity that none of you knew personally or ever spoke to decides to leave this Earth. Mental health awareness starts with your friends, acquaintances, your coworkers and your community, and many of you — many of us — are failing on that level.
Here are some of the things I’ve seen in Telluride:
• A guy I was dating telling me “everyone has anxiety” when I confided in him I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder (if you don’t know, now you know) and that I was having a harder than usual time coping with some major life events that all seemed to fall into my lap at the same and wrongest time. My insomnia, an unfortunate byproduct of having anxiety, also was so annoying to him he felt the need to tell me every day about how my inability to sleep affected him.
• Listening to a longtime local at a brewery spewing misinformed and ignorant words about how suicidal people should just off themselves because they have the power to just cheer up and be positive, and if they want to die we are all better off without their self-imposed and chosen (lazy) state of negativity.
• Working with a man who suffers from profound depression and watching the way the people in his life, aside from a very few (including our boss), treated him like crap and excluded him from everything because of his awkward and often difficult way of communicating. What I saw was the loneliest person I’d ever met and a guy who, if given a chance, wasn’t a bad person, just someone who needed to feel like he wasn’t alone in the world and who actually thrived when dragged out of his shell and invited to participate in group activities.
Small towns seem particularly conducive to both alleviating the symptoms of mood disorders and mental illness, but also to exacerbating and worsening symptoms, not the least of which is because of the isolation that often goes along with living in small towns.
Chronic positivity also can be just as poisonous as chronic negativity. The depressed person not only feels the symptoms of their illness, but also feels a particular kind of guilt for not being ebullient and happy all the time because how can one not be, surrounded by sunshine and mountains and free yoga and skiing and happy quirky people.
Life can be miserable, unbearable, painful, confusing and sad. Denying that reality and punishing people for feeling those things too intensely (because of whacked-out brain chemistry they have zero control over), diminishes the reality of their mental health problem.
People with depression, by nature of the disorder, cannot just snap out of it and be happy. People with anxiety, by nature of the disorder, constantly worry and overthink and have a somewhat tainted view of the future and the world. Just because you don’t personally believe in pills and think Big Pharma is the devil doesn’t mean people with severe mood disorders don’t need medication that can very well save their lives.
If you want to be a champion of the mentally ill, start with the people in your life and practice listening, being patient and withholding judgment. Don’t abdicate the friendship just because you don’t want to deal with someone’s anger or sadness. Ask them where it’s coming from first. Recognize that someone struggling with a mental health issue isn’t going to make it obvious and might simply come off as a negative person. Just because you didn’t find them bleeding out in a bathtub or conversing loudly with the voices in their head doesn’t meant they’re “fine” and “just a negative person.” Reaching out to the person you least want to spend time with at that exact time might make all the difference in the world and might even spur them out of their episode.
Depressed and anxious people can be funny! Look at literally every single stand-up comedian ever!
Allison will be accepting questions about anything and everything from anyone in the region who has a moral dilemma, gripe or wants to know the meaning of life. She will no longer be drawing from Facebook (except in emergencies) so please write in and ask. Best question wins! Yay! Contact her at email@example.com.