The Reality of Anxiety and Depression

There we were, four adult friends gathered together in a bar, looking perfectly put together on the outside, talking about the anxiety and depression that run deep through our families into each of our hearts. While we are all very functional in our demanding professional roles, we carry a dysfunction in our minds. We have chemistry, a pattern, a wiring of debilitating thoughts.

We are, of course, not alone. As Scott Stossel, editor of the well-regarded The Atlantic magazine points out in his book, My Age of Anxiety, “Many of history’s famous leaders lived with the demons of anxiety and depression.”

When you say it, it sounds clinical. When you experience it, it feels profoundly dark, heavy, empty and depleting.

It pretty much feels like this:
cow tangled

On a recent work trip to Boston, I asked the taxi driver from the airport to drop me off in Fort Point Channel where I used to work during a time when my anxiety was most severe. Pulling my luggage over cobblestone sidewalks, past the giant milk bottle across from the Children’s Museum, I arrived at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse. The sidewalk here bends around to the back of the courthouse from a chaotic, urban landscape into a calm oasis.

Here’s a view from the back of the courthouse:

boston courthouse

I wrapped up a phone call and then stood in silence, paying homage to this space where I used to go nearly every day during work.

Years ago, I could only function at work for about three hours before I was utterly drained of energy. If you haven’t experienced this, just imagine all of your physical, mental and emotional capacity leaking out of you—like trying to take a bath with an open drain. So it was to this place I would go to recharge in the middle of a busy workday, to walk slowly along the ledge, stare out into the water and lay down in the grass.

It makes me sad but also grateful to think about that time.

Anxiety and depression are strange in that I don’t think anyone I worked with at the time knew about this darkness in me. It was a well-hidden secret. A secret that made me feel ashamed, confused and weak.

You might face these same demons. You definitely know people who do. Roughly one out of five people faces this battle at any given time.

Here’s what I learned from my big battle years ago, and the smaller battles that I and others continue to fight every day:

  1. When someone else is struggling, just be caring, not fixing. When your colleague talks about her anxiety or her son’s depression, or your wife says she’s fighting this battle, simply show concern. Avoid saying things like, You should read this book, or Here’s what my friend did to snap out of it, or Have you tried medication? 

    Instead, try phrases like: 
    I’m really sad for you. 
    That’s really hard. 
    I’m sorry. 

    Follow up later with comments like:
    I’ve been praying for your endurance.
    Want to go for a walk?

  2. When you’re struggling, let people help. The hard parts about asking for help when you need it most are that 1) you don’t have the energy or clarity to seek help and 2) you tend to shame yourself into thinking you should be able to get yourself out of the mess. This is one reason why the first step of AA is to admit we are powerless over our condition. Doctors and counselors have very effective therapies. Friends and family have hearts and hands to help carry your load.
  3. Put one foot in front of the other. This was one of the encouragements from my wife, inspired by her mother, when I was at one of my lowest points. I’m pretty convinced after fighting these battles for nearly my entire life that paralysis is the enemy of progress and movement is the catalyst for improvement. 

    All of the inertia of anxiety and depression is toward hiding, resigning and stopping. Yet it’s only by walking that we get from the chaos around the building to the oasis.

What’s been your connection to anxiety and depression?



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