There are many misconceptions about anxiety, PTSD or any other mental disorder. To me this is surprising since mental disorders are now more common than ‘the big three’ combined – diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
I must admit that before I experienced mental health problems I also had no idea what PTSD or depression is. I just knew it’s not something you want to have. I like to think that I would have had enough compassion back then that if someone approached me with this issue I would have known to shut up and listen. Knew not to talk about something I knew nothing about.
Since dealing with anxiety and PTSD I have met all sorts of people and experienced all sorts of reactions. Negative ones were and are unfortunately more common than positive ones. It never ceases to amaze me how little people know about something so widely spread.
‘Just stop thinking about it’.
‘You are talking about it too much’.
‘Just get over it.’
‘If you dwell on the past you will never be happy.’
‘Snap out of it.’
There is probably no need for me to say what this kind of a response does to someone struggling with a mental disorder. Well, maybe there is since I get this response often. And it usually comes with the mandatory eye roll and a patronizing smile. So let me be absolutely clear: a mental disorder is not something you snap out of. It is not something that just goes away if you stop thinking about it. Making light of it does more damage than silence ever could.. It makes us look like we are creating unnecessary drama which is not the case. There are wounds, terrible and deep wounds that never show on the body but are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.
So what is the appropriate reaction when someone tells you they have a mental disorder? Listen. LISTEN. You might not understand, but keep in mind that depression is something people die from. Something kids die from. Be kind even if you don’t understand it. I have never been depressed, but I know well what PTSD does. How deep it runs. How much courage it takes sometimes to get out of bed and put on clothes, put on a brave face and go out into the world.
I have received kindness too and I am thankful to everyone who offered it. They made me feel that yes, I might be damaged, broken or lost but that’s okay. I am still a person, a good person and that one day I will surely be found.
And to those who talk about it at parties and use mine (or whoever’s) mental disorder as a source of amusement, know this if you never know the rest: the night is darkest just before dawn. And while my dawn is breaking, your night hasn’t even started yet.
My Anxious Heart