I want to take a moment to talk about a topic that is taboo for many people and something I’ve never seen addressed on a homesteading blog, not that it hasn’t been: mental illness. Now, I can’t speak to illnesses like schizophrenia or specific psychoses, but I can talk about illnesses like depression and anxiety disorder. These are two illnesses that have been an issue in my life for decades.
Depression and anxiety can both be debilitating and can rob you of the joy that is always present in your life. It can ruin relationships of all kinds: friendships; love, familial, and work relationships; and, perhaps most importantly, your relationship with yourself.
With depression, things that once brought you pleasure cease to do so. Sometimes, feelings of happiness and contentment are replaced with emptiness, hopelessness, and extreme sadness. Other times, irritability, anger, and rage take their place. With anxiety, someone who was once outgoing may become withdrawn and fearful. They may no longer do things for fear of the worst case scenario.
I have been one of those people many, many times for many, many years. I have been to the depths and back again repeatedly. I battle anxiety on a daily basis. I avoid calling people on the phone because I worry I will say something stupid and they will get upset with me and I will lose a friend. At one point, things were so severe that I would find excuses not to have Auntie Day because I was afraid to leave the house. I avoided contact with people because I thought people would think I was stupid, for whatever reason, and not want to be around me. I avoided having friends or family over for dinner because they might not like what I made and would never want to come over again.
Possibly the worst part is knowing, deep down, that none of those things are true but feeling unable to act anyway. I know I am not stupid. I know that I am a good person and a good friend. I know that sometimes things come out wrong and friends will ask for clarification rather than getting angry and cutting you off. I know that I am a safe driver and the odds of something other than a fender bender are pretty low. I know that I am a likable person, at least people seem to convey that by calling, texting, and stopping by. I know that I’m a pretty darn good cook/baker and not everything is going to look as good as the picture nor is it going to taste as good as it sounds.
What has helped me are people like my friend north of the border. When I’m quiet, she will send me a message that goes something like this: “This is the welfare police! This is your daily welfare check. You have been awfully quiet.” I cannot thank her enough for being who she is. Also, my husband has been a saint. He knows my heart and how to bring me back to reality. “Let’s go check the garden.” or “Let’s go clear out some space for the chicken coop.” or “Let’s take a ride and look at some barns.” or “You are the best person I know. You have such a huge heart. I love you.”
It also helps that my mom is a therapist. There have been many 6am phone calls (like yesterday) where I bring my problems to her table and she does her best to help me sort them out. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her to separate the mom role from the therapist role, but she does a great job at it. She never lets me wallow. She doesn’t allow me to play the victim even for once second because I am NOT a victim.
Finally, I have a small circle of friends who manage to send a text or call just at the right time.
I think it is important to avoid saying “my depression”, “my anxiety”, or “I’m depressed/anxious/etc.” Instead, remember that these are feelings. They cannot do anything unless acted upon. When I feel these feelings, I go out to the garden. I look at inspirational videos. I read books that boost my mood. I get in the car and have Auntie Day anyway. I think about things that bring me happiness like fresh-baked bread, what I want to grow next year, how awesome it will be when we have our own chickens, etc. I try to avoid things like excessive sleep, watching unpleasant things on television or online, or reading unhappy news stories.
If you know someone who is dealing with depression or anxiety, take a minute to check on them. That person you think doesn’t take time with their appearance may actually be feeling depressed. That person you think doesn’t keep up their yard or care for their animals like they should may be fighting just to get out of bed in the morning. Stop by or give them a call. Don’t be afraid to talk about the elephant in the room. You just might help them more than you thought possible. If you aren’t already, get educated on mental health issues so that you have an idea what to look for. Most of all, don’t judge. You have no idea what they are going through. Even if you have felt this way before, your feelings are not their feelings.
Just some food for thought. Here is a good post on how to help: http://www.buzzfeed.com/timetochangecampaign/10-things-we-can-all-do-to-challenge-mental-health-1gemw