He said I was the happiest sad person he’d ever met. He said, “I see you and I understand. I am here.”
I like to compare my life with anxiety to living with a huge grizzly bear. She’s a beast, really. Powerful, particular, irrational. Sensitive, territorial, destructive. When provoked, she fills the whole room with fear. She’s a bully. She’s all-encompassing. She is my oldest friend and my biggest foe.
Every night I sleep with this grizzly bear. Sometimes she keeps me up until the wee hours of the morning, discussing past conversations and confrontations, throwing what-ifs into the air like they’ll somehow fix what we’d irrevocably broken. We dissect nonverbal cues sent from across the room that day or decipher the puzzling tone of an email. That smile from a superior. A fading friendship.
Sometimes our nighttime follies bleed into daylight, and before we know it, the outline of our fears begins to take shape. They disguise themselves as truths, so overwhelming and real you can all but touch and taste and smell them. Soon, Melancholy shows up, announcing that if we don’t settle down, she’ll have to stay for the foreseeable future. She takes the form of emptiness. She is everywhere and nowhere at all. She is a dull pain, a sleepy sedative, a growing black void where the happy and sad once wrestled. If she hangs around long enough, everything wonderful becomes terrible. Everything terrible becomes nothing at all.
My anxiety arrived first in the form of an eating disorder. I was 19 and relentlessly ambitious. I had big dreams and higher expectations. I expected will and grit to propel me forward in life, listing self-care at the very bottom of my priority list. I kept hustling after graduation and worked hard at my job. I started to travel more. I was becoming good at my craft and had work published in national journals. I started a blog, and a readership developed. With small successes, the anxiety began to dull. I was smiling again, but continued to self-medicate with alcohol and exercise and friends and shopping and parties. I met my ex-husband. Stable, brilliant, charming, he was. I latched on to him for dear life, quietly hoping he could shelter me from my internal shit storm. It was irresponsible and selfish. At the time, it was all I knew of love.
At our first session, the couple’s counselor said, “You really dislike yourself, don’t you, Kate.” And I cried. I cried because it was true, and I couldn’t imagine life any other way.
These things have a certain way of revealing themselves, slowly and deliberately. Even if you’ve successfully outrun them, denied them, buried them, they never go away. You will come to terms with who you are. The evidence had been mounting against me for years, all symptoms of a greater problem I’d have to confront. No matter how strong your relationship or resilient your family, the fight for self-love is a battle fought from within. In the end, you’re going to have to save yourself.
Living with a mental disorder is to live with stigma and secrets. It means you are expected to withhold a significant part of who you are from almost everyone. You wonder, “Do I tell him after six months of dating? Six years? Will he still look at me the same way? When do I become honest with the important people in my life and say, ‘Hey- this is me. I’m a little sensitive, a little spacey and a little anxious sometimes, but that’s what makes me awesome.'” Talking about mental disorders is still widely considered a faux pas. They are blemishes on an otherwise sparkling resume. To accept this is to accept the stereotypes as your own, to confirm a truth in someone else’s ignorance, to divert society’s lack of understanding toward yourself. People say I’m brave for sharing my journey. I see it as my responsibility.
The World Health Organization estimates that 350 million people have some form of clinical depression– that’s half of one percent of everyone on Earth. 350 MILLION of us. And still, “the blues” only happen to people who lack mental grit. There are millions of people quietly losing their own battles because of a physical ailment. There are millions who are greatly misunderstood because of their genetic disposition. Can you imagine the impact we’d have by banishing the stigma of mental illness by replacing it with acknowledgment and acceptance? If we made it easier for people to get help at school and work? Acceptance is how we create a dialogue with those who are suffering. It’s how we empower people to get the help they need. It’s how we help prevent mass shootings. It’s how we save more lives.
The brain is still very much a mystery to scientists, and while we’ve made huge strides in understanding mental disorders, the only thing we can do right now is to educate ourselves and our peers. We can be curious about the complexities of these uniquely special brains. We can understand that creative genius and mental illness are intrinsically linked, and remember that gifts often come in deceiving packages. We move mountains in one person’s life through acceptance and love. We can do so much by checking judgment at the door.
Some days, everything is wonderful. Some days, everything is terrible. It’s par for the course, even for those free of mental afflictions. Being human means riding these waves. If you have one or two bad days a week, you’re doing great. If you have one meltdown every few years, you’re doing spectacular. If you are having the worst year of your life, hold on to hope, because it does get better.
Humans are complicated, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I’ve been lucky enough to manage my anxiety, depression, and ADHD with sleep, exercise, healthy habits, and a little help from a light dose of Adderall. For others, the stigma and physical journey is much more challenging. We all could use a little more practice accepting our own (and others) limitations and afflictions. Because once we make peace with our inner grizzly bear, we are free to open our hearts to those brave enough to stand by our side. It may not be the cure, but it’s a great place to start.
How Not To Be A Dick To Someone With Depression, by Mai Steinberg (xoJane)
“When you tell someone with depression that they should maybe try harder to be happy, it’s essentially like telling a diabetic that they could totally make an adequate amount of insulin if they just concentrated a little harder.”
Secrets of the Creative Brain, Nancy Andreasen (The Atlantic)
“A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness.”
A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success, by Alain de Botton (TED)
“Alain de Botton examines our ideas of success and failure — and questions the assumptions underlying these two judgments. Is success always earned? Is failure? He makes an eloquent, witty case to move beyond snobbery to find true pleasure in our work.”
Are You Lonely? Humans of New York (Facebook)
“One benefit to being big is that people don’t bother you. I’m shocked that you came up to me. Nobody’s ever done that. When I started to go to therapy, it took me several sessions before I even spoke a word.”
Hungover Bear and Friends: Not All There, by Ali Fitzgerald (McSweeny’s)
“Ali Fitzgerald lives in an urban bungalow on top of the former Berlin wall. She often draws Hungover Bear in bed while watching poorly dubbed episodes of the Golden Girls.”
Depression, The Secret We Share, Andrew Solomon (TED) – (Thank you, Molly!!)
“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.”
Kate is currently learning to play the Ukulele, much to the despair of her husband, kids, and dogs. Follow her on Instagram at @witanddelight_.
BY Kate Arends - July 22, 2014
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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
I check your blog every so often, not having nearly as much time to cruise the internet these days. Somehow, I seem to read your blog at these pivotal posts, revelatory, exposing, and far and away, the most beautiful (despite all the eye candy of the “lifestyle” posts and your tumblr) for your courage to go there; to be vulnerable and broach a subject that affects more of us than we collectively realize (in the last year, I was stunned to find out 4 of my friends, or their spouses, suffer from acute depression and anxiety- I’d had no idea).… Read more »
Kate-You are brave and inspiring. And I love you. Xo, JBROUSSEAU
This is beautiful, Kate. Thank you for continuing to write and share. Excited to see the shapes Wit & Delight takes going into the future!
Thank you so much for sharing your story so openly. At various points in my life I’ve dealt with depression, and it’s shockingly easy to never tell anyone — especially when you think of how many people we usually complain to when we come down with something as simple as a cold. Sharing your story about mental illness is such a great move towards a space where people can speak freely and without stigma about these issues. I’m not sure I’ve ever commented on your blog before, although I’ve followed it for a awhile, but I also wanted to say… Read more »
So happy to hear from you, Diana! I’m glad you are looking forward to the direction we’re going. Thanks for reading 🙂
Kate, thank you so much for this post. I too have suffered from depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, and was recently diagnosed with ADHD, so this really hit home for me. My boyfriend had a heart transplant five years ago, and when people see his 10-inch scar, they are amazed, and praise him for his survival, his strength, but I notice daily that the same admiration is not applicable to mental disorders, which are still seen as vain, selfish, self-indulgent, and weak. Your message of acceptance, both for ourselves and other, is one I’m still trying to work on.
Lena: Thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re a strong woman!! Acceptance is so much easier said than done, and it is nice to hear from thos who have made strides to understand the people they love, especially when it can be so hard to do so. <3
Love love love that you wrote about this. And today was the perfect day for me to read this.
This post will help more than you know.
Big hugs from one anxious person to another.
thank you so much for sharing Kate…it was a beautiful piece with such heart. THANK YOU! xx
You are so brave for sharing your story with your readers. I’m a silent follower, but felt compelled to comment today. You are so inspiring in all that you do. Sometimes it’s easy to hide behind beautiful instagram snaps, product posts and the wonderful life of blogging, but it’s so nice to see a blogger dive deeper so that their fans can see what’s really there. Sometimes people need a reminder that bloggers are real people too, with real problems, and real accomplishments and real stories! I love this!
Thank you. This is so so important to talk about. I’ve struggled on and off with anxiety my whole life (oldest child/perfectionist complex…) and spent last fall and winter in a deep depression. But for me this topic is paramount because my husband is manic depressive, and was diagnosed at 13. His story through doctors, medication, special ed programs, and self-realization and determination is intense but redemptive. But it is a daily battle that we fight together. Email me if you’d like to hear more.
Thank you so much for sharing! It’s so inspiring to see someone successfully doing something that I admire openly discuss these issues. Sometimes it is easy to feel alone in dealing with mental illness and I am so appreciative of you for sharing your story.
I hope one day we can all live in an open society where we can communicate our fears and emotions without judgement or shame!
Kate, thank you for sharing this. I always love reading what you have to say. <3
You are an inspiration! Thanks for your honesty.
I wish I had something inspiring to say… but I don’t. Only that you are not alone in your depression and you rise above with your bravery.
I hurt for you. I can’t imagine the strength it takes to stand up to something that battles you and will not go away. This took courage to share and you made my life better for it, realizing that we don’t always know what is going on in someone else’s life/head. Thank you! You have grace.
Beautifully written. And this honestly made me feel a bit empowered to be more open and honest with my own past struggles with anxiety. Those I have shared with, they revealed they also dealt with similar issues or knew others who did. Reading the numbers in your post actually didn’t surprise me. I hope this post helps others who have or haven’t dealt with mental illness be more open and accepting of it. Thank you so much for your courage and honesty.
you are so awesome! all the time! thank you for sharing.
this was a really comforting read, though i’m sorry you’ve struggled! i’ve had generalized anxiety disorder/OCD since i was eight (almost 20 years now) and i understand how you feel, how it becomes SUCH a part of you. therapy is a slow process, but i’ve been feeling better recently (at least in regards to being honest with people) when i think of my disorders as the most interesting part about me, and as something that is a really strange gift–i think the anxiety i face makes me a more sensitive and understanding person, as a friend and as a member… Read more »
Molly: Thank you for sharing your story! Wishing you the best in your journey. <3
I needed this today. I suffer from almost crippling social anxiety. You are so brave and totally inspiring and I’m continuously amazed by your honesty and openness!
Thank you for sharing this. You are a brave soul for sharing your story. Thank you for being so inspiring to so many!
Thank you for sharing. Every person who shines a light on a problem makes it a bit brighter for those who struggle in the dark.
Very well written, Kate. My husband has ADD and my brother is bipolar – I’ve struggled with coming to terms with these (particularly my brother’s condition) in the last couple of years. It’s nice to hear the dark, honest thoughts of someone experiencing something similar. Thank you for sharing.
You’re a really strong person, Zoe. Your brother and husband are lucky to have you in their lives!
Your honesty and vulnerability are so refreshing. Thank you for being brave and sharing with us!
Thank you so much for this. Every time someone opens up and shares their personal experience with mental disorders it does SO much good and I am so grateful for your courage to write this, I’m sure it wasn’t easy. There are quite a lot of people in my life who have mental disorders and I have seen the how damaging it can be when people lack the knowledge and compassion to love and accept them. I hope the stigma disappears soon. I can’t imagine how much easier that would make it.
About six months ago, I was sitting on the couch and my heart randomly started racing. I had butterflies in my stomach. It was a familiar feeling, but intensified. It took me so long to realise I suffered anxiety. I get anxiety everyday, and avoid a lot of things in life because of it. In the last few years I have felt like I’ve haven’t been able to fit in, and that I seem to disagree with a lot of people. Whether I have depression as well I’m not sure (it runs in the family) but after doing research it’s… Read more »
Tash: I think you’re on to something. My anxiety has gotten worse this year, and I think it has something to do with how connected I am at all times. I had to rethink how I was using my phone and it really helped to keep my phone out of the bedroom for a couple weeks. Assumptions (and assuming) have caused so many issues in my life! Sometimes they’re small, other times they can cause problems in my relationships. I’ve learned to recognize when I’m doing it, and that helps diffuse the anxiety. Thanks so much for sharing your story… Read more »
So beautiful, honest and wildly relatable, Kate. Hugs.
This was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing….am excited for the new direction of this blog.
I never comment anywhere, but I really appreciate what you are doing with your blog and wanted to let you know. Its so refreshing to read a post like this, a rarity but its really what I crave out of blogs anymore. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life as well, and I can relate to so much of the above. Plus, Alain de Botton is one of my favorite authors, I was excited to see the link:)
Christen: Alain is one of my favorites, too! I especially love his tweets. Thanks for the words of encouragement. I was certainly the hardest post I’ve ever written. <3
Kate, this is beautiful. As someone who struggles with similar internal ‘issues,’ I can relate so well to this post. I want to thank you for being so honest and open. As much as I have loved wit+delight for the ‘lifestyle’ blog it was, I am so excited for an honest-to-goodness ‘LIFESTYLE’ blog– exploring issues like this is incredible! Kudos, Kate!
I loved this. I too struggle with anxiety, depression, and suspect I have a touch of ADHD as well (though maybe it is a byproduct of the other illnesses).
One of my favorites is this TED talk on depression by Andrew Solomon. Maybe you have seen it but I highly suggest watching it of not (and he has a more recent talk that is also great but less about mental illness directly).
Whoops- forgot to post the link- http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share
Molly! Thank you so much for sharing. I loved this talk so much, I included it in the links above. Sounds like we could be soul sisters 😉
Your writing is wonderful and inspiring – makes me less afraid to dig deep and continue to learn and explore and accept myself, perhaps in ways I never knew I could. Thank you for sharing such personal depth and detail. I adore your heart.
I really needed to hear this today, I am in the trenches of accepting who I am & how to manage my anxieties/fears/over-analyzing/depression realistically. It’s a love/hate because you realize having a creative mind comes with a “price” sometimes, which makes it unique to you to figure out your own journey with it all; which is kind of a beautiful thing. Cheers to your journey & I hope this post gets into the minds of others who need to feel accepted, as well. This world needs more acceptance & less pressure to be picture-perfect. Thank you, Kate.
Ah friend. This is so beautifully written, I’m in awe of you. I’m only beginning to realize that, once you’ve suffered from depression and anxiety, they never totally go away. They’re the roommate that we learn to live with and, with conversations like these, maybe learn to embrace as gifts and opportunities, not flaws and weaknesses. Something we can continue to tackle over bourbon—in moderation 🙂 xoxo
This is my now, seriously (except I’m single) but yeah. Thank you for sharing and being so open.
I could not have expressed this better myself. It is always comforting to learn that I am not alone in this daily battle, and for that Kate, I thank you for expressing it so eloquently.
Hi Kate, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and I was excited when I read your post the other day about the new content you wanted to incorporate here. I have been struggling with an issue of my own for a couple yesrs now and I have finally started taking steps in getting help. I have felt so alone in my situation and even talking about it with my closest friends and family I still experience feelings of shame and embarrasment. What I’m going through is different from your situation but your words have given me such comfort.… Read more »
so beautifully written. thank you for sharing. i’m going to link to this from my blog – i’d like to share it with as many people as possible.
there is SO much unnecessary shame around mental illness.
good luck on your journey! know that we are rooting for you, and we are grateful you’ve chosen to share with us!
[…] https://witanddelight.com/2014/07/everything-wonderful-everything-terrible/ […]
[…] A beautiful essay on what it is to suffer from anxiety & depression. […]
I wish I could give you a big high five and a hug. Thank you so much for writing.
By far one of my favorite articles I’ve read here. Keep ’em coming!
[…] who knows someone dealing with anxiety (which is actually pretty much EVERYONE) should read this post. Descriptive, honest, and a heartfelt account of some of the very same things that so many of […]
I subscribe to a lot of blogs and this is one of the first posts I have ever read that is real, raw, and a true reflection of what it means to be human. Thank you for sharing this and for letting others see what it really means to know oneself. I have just recently been learning what it means to intimately know myself, not just the beautiful parts, but the ugly ones as well, and it has been liberating. Your writing is a light in the darkness. Thank you for sharing!
I don’t know that I have ever loved or connected with a blog post more than this – on any site. I feel you so, so much. My (sometimes crushing) anxiety disorder has always mostly looked like ambition on the outside and took years to fully acknowledge myself… I’m still learning to deal on a million levels. This was really lovely and hit home for me in a pretty significant way. Thank you for opening up about something so many of us also experience.
Thank you so much for sharing this. You are so brave. XO
thank you! xo
I feel a little less alone when I read your post. Living with anxiety is the pits isn’t it. I think of it as a big black bird that lives with me and I have to be health or it will peck me to death. Ouch. I have been admitting to people more and more that I have anxiety, well I had to realize it myself first I guess, but I think it helps create understanding. And patience with each other. Thanks for sharing 🙂
[…] • I love this post: Everything is wonderful. Everything is terrible. […]
Looking at it as a grizzly bear… a friend sometimes… I like that. I looked at mine as a dragon, but I never thought of her as a friend, or someone I live with. Thank you for sharing this. It is definitely helping me feel less alone.
I also suffer from anxiety and have dealt with it in many forms, some self destructive, like yours. I think the more we talk about these issues, the more ‘accepted’ they will become. We need to realize that we aren’t alone, and to learn to help one another and appreciate our struggles rather than looking at them as faults. Thanks for sharing!