I wanted to write this post right after the news of Robin Williams' suicide came out, but there was such a whirlwind of everyone wanting to have their opinion heard that I decided to wait.
Various members of my family often say that they wish they had my brain. I know why they do it, and what they mean. This IQ does come in handy. But with that, comes the side of my brain that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
It's the part where I stay awake all night in utter panic about things that I can't control or are far in the future. It's the part where I break down crying and can't even talk about why because I don't know how to put into words the tornado of bad thoughts running through my head like a news reel going at warp speed. My brain goes so fast that I can't even keep up with it; all I know is that I'm scared and I don't know how to make it stop.
There's a big stigma about people with mental illnesses. A lot of people I've met think mental illness is one of two things: act like a complete psychopath in a violent rage or be mentally handicapped, and if it's not one of those two, you're lying or exaggerating. Those people don't understand what it's like to have to physically will yourself out of bed in the morning, not because you don't want to go to school or work, but because your mind is telling you to stay where it's safe. Those people don't understand that when you get so stressed out you start sobbing, it doesn't mean that you're dramatic or, for girls, hormonal; it means that you're so overwhelmed and totally terrified that crying is the only thing your body knows how to do besides shut down.
A lot of people say that suicide is a choice. Yes, in the literal sense, you do have to make the choice to do the action that will end your life, but just saying that it's a choice completely discounts the fact that people who have hit the point where they "make that choice" can't even see themselves or the situation they're in because the fog of their depression (and possibly also anxiety) is so thick. People in that dark place need help. They need someone to walk alongside them and get them the help they need. My mom getting me on my medication and Matt being the friend that he was SAVED MY LIFE. I am 100% certain of that. My medication helps me not have issues with my depression and keeps my anxiety attacks mostly under control, but they still come up every now and then.
After Robin Williams' suicide, there was an avalanche of Christians, a few of whom I greatly respected, who came out and talked about how joy is the only thing that will beat depression, and if you just pray for joy and look for God, everything will get better. As someone who heard that countless times when I was at my lowest point, I can tell you that hearing that does nothing. You can't tell someone surrounded by darkness that they just need to look for the good in life, or pray for God to take their pain away. Telling them things like that does nothing but add to the emotional wounds they carry. They can't even see themselves for who they are, let alone the situation in front of them. And telling a suicidal person that if they go through with it, they'll do nothing but hurt the people who love them? That's manipulation at its finest. That needs to stop. Like, yesterday. These people are desperate for their pain to end, they don't need another person telling them how screwed up they are.
Jesus didn't just walk around telling people how wrong they were, He showed them the light and helped them. One is judgment, the other is love.
Anxiety and depression are two very real, very dangerous, life-crippling problems. I've experienced both much more strongly than I ever would have liked, and so yes, I get angry and more than a bit defensive when people make assumptions about what they are or how they should be dealt with and try to simplify the answers so they fit in this neat little box. No one deserves to have their story glossed over with a "oh just pray about it" brush, and no one's life story can be simplified down to fit into some box modeled on others' expectations. I have too many people that I know and love who have their own stories with anxiety or depression that I stand up for them just as much as (if not more than) I do for myself. I'm lucky to have a few friends who also suffer with these issues so we are there to support each other through it.
At the times when I've felt most alone in my life, one of those two diseases was at the root. Every single time. And so please, I beg you, if someone you have any kind of relationship with at all is suffering from an anxiety disorder or depression, don't kick them when they're down. Love them, in whatever way you know how. Just love them. That has a heck of a lot better chance of showing them the light and a way out than telling them what they should be doing. Sit with them in the darkness so they know they're not alone, and then reach out your hand and help them walk forward.
Because even one small step can save a life. You'd be surprised.