Anyone who knows me well, knows that I really started coming into my own since I started publicly sharing my story, my battles with PTSD, and my advocacy for better mental health rights and services.
The world threw lemons at me so I decided to make lemonade. (See what I did there?) *Insert shameless book promo here!*
I started advocating for mental health in 2015, and since then I have been given and have stumbled upon some of the greatest opportunities. These past three years have been the best in my life, not because my writing career has started to take off, but because I am also making a small difference for others like me. I started doing my part to help advocate for change, for the end of the stigma, for a better understanding. I fully believe I have found my calling and that has given me great joy.
But there is one thing that happens when you open yourself up to others. You also have to endure and entail all sorts of questions from other people.
Now, I’m not saying that every question I get is because people are trying to be nosy. Quite the contrary. Most people I talk to are sincerely wanting to learn more about what it is like living with mental health issues or trying to seek out help because they know someone who is suffering in silence. These interactions are the ones I love the most about being a mental health advocate. I love helping others. I love listening to other people’s journeys. It helps shape my own perspective and gives me better insight into illnesses that I don’t necessarily understand myself. There is a beautiful grace in getting to help and be helped. It’s all a learning experience that I am grateful for.
Yet, there are also moments where people sometimes tend to be a little less “sensitive” about my mental health issues. Sometimes people can be rather blunt. Sometimes people forget the pain that resurfaces momentarily when talking about living with a mental health issue. To a degree, that’s fine. I can handle rude questions or excessive prying. For the most part, I’m an open book and it takes a great deal to personally offend me. Unless you’re outright insulting my mental illness or belittling my sexuality (which is another topic for another day), I won’t get mad. Irritated? Possibly, but not offended.
But there is one question I absolutely detest. There is one question that I physically cringe when someone asks me, and one that causes an irrational sense of anger to course through my veins.
“Amanda, which is worse to live with? Your depression or your anxiety?”
Even just writing that out made me wince in pain.
Now for those of you who don’t know me, while I am living with PTSD, which causes depressive episodes and panic attacks, I am also living with GAD. I’m living with the double-whammy of mental health issues (because we can have more than just one mental health issue), but to put it simply, I have depression and anxiety.
Now maybe some people out there wouldn’t get offend by this question. Maybe there are those lucky few who can easily say, “Man, my anxiety is way worse than my depression!” or “Dude, I’d take having a panic attack over being depressed any day.”
To others, maybe that’s an easy question, but for me? I can’t answer it because it’s far from a simple question.
My depression and anxiety aren’t simply black and white. They are a complex mixture of charcoal and smoky grey that swirls together, constantly mixing and feathering apart. They are not two separate entities. They are two illness forever connected stemmed from past circumstances. It’s not even an matter of one being worse than the other. It is so much more complex than that.
When someone asks me that question, “Which would you rather?”, it feels like I’m being asked to pick one poison over the other. Is one easier to swallow? Is one more painful than the other? Do the side effects of one last longer? It is not that simple.
It feels like someone is asking me to compare my depression and anxiety to what I think is the worse way to die. Would you rather drown or burn in a fire?
Can you answer that question?
Living with depression and anxiety isn’t a give or take. It isn’t a pick one today and suffer the other tomorrow. To put it bluntly, I’m stuck with my mental health issues for the rest of my life and I get no say on how they will affect my life. I have ways I can keep the demons at bay, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my struggles either. Would I rather spend weeks on end in bed, hating myself and the terrible thoughts running through my head or would I rather endure the severe panic attacks that is accompained by swallowing an endless amount of pills and vomiting stomach bile?
Drown or burn?
Can you pick?
It’s not a matter of picking drowning over burning. Rather, living with my depression and anxiety feels like I’m drowning while being lit on fire all at the same time. My illnesses causes me equal pain. There is no scoreboard. There is no tally on which one left the most wounds and scars. Both are difficult. Both are relentless. Both have caused me insurmountable pain.
Depression or anxiety?
Can you pick?
But in an odd sense of irony too, I feel that by picking one I am diminishing the impact one illness has over the other. If I say my depression is easier, then I am discounting the endless trips to the ER where I thought I was having a heart attack, or the several hospital stays where I was hooked up to IVs and oxygen masks while puking my guts up. On the flip side of that, if I say I’d rather suffer with my anxiety, I am ignoring the endless months, and months, and months, I spent unmoving in my bed – not bothering to shower, eat, drink – merely an empty shell feeling like wasted space. And don’t even get me started on the days where my depression and anxiety decide to tag team and bring unholy hell down on me; on days where I’m too depressed to move from my bed but my anxiety is so ruthless that I scratch at my skin until I bleed or pull out my hair – hurting myself to remind me that I’m still alive but to also remind me that I wish I wasn’t either.
Depression or anxiety?
Do you think you can pick now?
So please, I am begging you, stop asking me which is worse – my depression or anxiety. Stop asking me to pick one illness over the other. Please stop asking me which is easier to live with because my answer is simply this: It is hard living with both.
I dread the days where not even the glimpse of sunshine can motivate me to move from my bed. I dread the days where my anxiety is so wound tight in my chest that I feel like my lungs are going to explode, and most certainly, I severely dread the days both my depression and anxiety team up and leave me wounded.
Which is worse? Neither, because they are both difficult, but do I wish I didn’t live with either of them?
I’ve spent too many years crying “Why me?” and “Before my illness…” I spent most of my young adulthood battling my mental illness because of the circumstances I went through as a kid, and while I could cry “Woe is me!” until I’m blue in the face, I have come to accept my mental health issues for what they are. I have found the silver lining in my darkness – the lemonade from my sour lemons. *Insert pointy thumb guns gesture.*
Even though I may hate when people ask me that dreaded question, I also don’t fall into the trap of saying I wish I had the power to make my illnesses disappear. I’ve come a long way. I’ve faced some pretty dark years, but I also had good years too.
So while I have toughened up and grew a thick skin, that doesn’t mean that people can’t unintentionally hurt my feelings either. Sometimes being a mental health advocate sets me up to be asked the hard questions, and that’s fine. All I ask is that you remember to be kind.
Just because we’re being brave in speaking out doesn’t mean we’re unstoppable. We still hurt. We still struggle on a daily basis too. We’re a select group of individuals who are glad to put on the armour and defend those hurting in silence. It’s a price we’re willing to pay, but please, just be kind. Everyone has something that they don’t like to talk about, so please don’t ask questions that force people to justify their hurt or feelings. Just remember to be kind.
And really that’s all any of us can ask. Be kind.
And as always,
Fight the good fight.