A few weeks ago, I went to the doctor to discuss an extension on medical leave that I had. I had a conversation with him about what I was experiencing in relation to my depression and anxiety. During the conversation, he made a statement to me that sort of bothered me. He said “you don’t look like the typical person to have anxiety. You look pretty put together to me.”
My response, which was a bit laced with sarcasm and irritation, was, “well, I’ve learned to live with it; and that’s not been the best solution to the problem.”
Now, I understand that this was 1. Not a psychiatrist or psychologist, and he probably didn’t mean it in a way that would have been condescending to me, and 2. He hasn’t been the one seeing me for the past five months, so he’s gauging his interaction of me off one visit; however, it did bother just a bit, because this is a statement heard all the time in a community of people suffering with mental illness, or an illness that doesn’t mean you “look sick” all the time.
I rarely did speak about the anxiety and depression I have gone through for this very reason. Because it was something that was not apparent, or something that was physical in nature, I continued to minimize it; even saying to myself, “well you’re not really sick, you’re just having a bad day.” I allowed myself to do that, all while putting myself through mental and emotional hell for not addressing it properly. Today, that is something I’m not very proud of, and wished I would have addressed these things sooner. I would possibly be in a better place on how to address it. For a long time, I refused to talk about what bothered me; most of the time I could not even develop a “valid” reason for my emotional mood swings or anxiety. Before I could allow anyone else in the help support me, I first had to choose myself and begin to find the healing in myself to accept that what I was going through was real, it was valid and it does require support, encouragement and daily motivation to get past.
I don’t really hold any ill will towards my doctor, but I honestly do wish that people would understand that anxiety and depression are very silent mental illnesses. A lot of people internalize their pain and symptoms. If they are like me, then they continue to move through life daily, doing what they have to do, sacrificing everything they have for others before helping themselves. I’ve always been like this, and only recently did I gain enough courage to admit to myself that I’m not ok sometimes, and that is something I shouldn’t be ashamed of. I’m proud to say that I have spoken up more about my anxiety, I’ve let friends and family know when I’m not having a good day emotionally, and I’ve received respect and understanding of that.
I know there are many people in this world who may suffer; some reading this post, and others who may know someone who suffers in silence. All I ask is that for those who know someone, please support them. Don’t push them too hard, but just be there for them. They need support more than anything because these illnesses are not easy to accept, nor are they easy to talk about.
Also, please, don’t tell someone who may be suffering that they don’t look like what your traditional ill person would appear to be. Just because an illness isn’t blatantly present, doesn’t make it any less real and serious.