Enough With the Guilt Trips: Accepting and Working With Anxiety, Depression, and Mental Illness
As we come down off the insanity that was the Presidential (and other) election(s), it’s time to start thinking about what’s next.
What’s next for us individually, as a country that is divided, as a world that is inextricably linked like never before? There are so many questions on the horizon that it feels virtually impossible to see an outcome.
There are a lot of doom and gloom predictions. Trust me, I read about them every single day (isn’t that what news is, anyway?). It’s certainly hard to stay positive when you keep up with what is going on. But most of us want to know what is going on, so we choose to keep reading or watching.
Thing is, this reading and watching and commenting and time in front of the computer and diminished human connection and forcibly different ideas is doing a number on, I would venture to say, most of us. We’ve already seen rates of depression rise in a devastating manner for our kids over the last half a century. According to Psychology Today:
?Five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or an anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago. This increased psychopathology is not the result of changed diagnostic criteria; it holds even when the measures and criteria are constant.” (I added the bold font.)
In adults, anxiety disorders and depression are expected to continue to rise.
Life may often feel like an uphill battle, even for those of us who are ‘doing all the right things’. Sometimes, trying to ‘do all the right things’ makes it even harder, because an extra layer of guilt shows up when we think we are not doing quite enough.
Recently over at Confronting Love, my friend Carlo posted a piece about witnessing a good friend deal with clinical depression. This is a friend who, on the outside, “appeared to have it all together and in fact was great at spreading happiness. She has coping tools: meditation, yoga, techniques learned through counseling. She has a deep spiritual practice and is a lover of nature and all beings. Despite all of this though, when she spirals into a depression she becomes hopeless and would rather just disappear off the face of the earth.”
In a culture where we aren’t ever supposed to give up and believe there is always a way if we work hard enough (these ideas may even be partly biological), it’s hard to allow that no matter what positive steps we take, for some of us, there are certain things that may always be the way they are. And they aren’t positive. And they don’t go away with affirmations. Or the right diet. The best combination of supplements. Or medication.
Some of us may contend with mental illness our entire lives. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t allow for the truth that there’s not always an answer.
Navigating the Abyss
As a holistic health coach, I often see clearly what other people need to shift in their life in order to feel better. I understand that refined foods and sugar and GMOs affects gut permeability, and that our gut is filled with neurotransmitters, and that 90 percent of the fibers in the vagus nerve carry information from the gut to the brain, all of which means our moods are impacted by food in much bigger ways than most of us realize. I know that movement is often the missing ‘prescription’ when it comes to depression. I can tell plenty of tales of how meditation is the only real way to disconnect from the constant flow of stress and anxiety in our lives.
Yes, there is work that people have to do to feel better. There’s no way around the fact that a great deal of our diseases, including mental illness, are inextricably linked to these everyday parts of life.
But…still. There is that section of people who are doing it all right. Who go above and beyond to craft their lives in a way that feeds balance and not over-doing everything. Who try as hard as they possibly can, and still are stuck.
I love the piece In Praise of Zoloft, which was written by a friend and colleague who was in my Holistic Health Masters program with me. Sometimes, you do all you can, and it doesn’t take away that underlying anxiety, or pain, or sadness. It’s good to remember that even the best of the spiritual heavyweights like Carolyn Myss or Louise Hay or nutritionists like Donna Gates can lay the guilt on people too much, implying they aren’t doing enough if they ‘succumb’ to antidepressants. If we are doing our work, why aren’t we allowed to try anything that can help? Enough with the guilt trips.
Sometimes, there are tracks that run so deep, that to even find them is virtually impossible, much less throw a roadblock in their way. I have experienced a constant low-level anxiety for as far back as I can remember that manifests as social anxiety, or a frustration that spills over when I spend too much time with others, or that feeling of overwhelm and despair when I’m trying to handle too many things.
I’ve worked hard over the years at overcoming this anxiety, and have made strides I never knew were possible. I can explain my trappings to anyone who asks, how my personality plays out, what I need to avoid and what I need to do. Yet a sliver of the track is still embedded, and I find myself dealing once again with those slowly built-up explosions, though they may happen less often and feel less extreme. But what would it be like to live without some level of anxiousness creeping in every day?
I think that being human means we have to be open to changing the things we need to, allowing for things to change us, and accepting the things we cannot change. We all find ourselves somewhere on these lines of happiness and sadness, stress and anxiety, extremeness and balance. Being truly honest with yourself, and your influences – whether that’s being a world where drowning your issues in alcohol is accepted, or adhering to an overly strict diet because others say it’s the only healthy way – to see the truth of what the coping mechanisms mean, is the only way to heal. Otherwise you’ll always be looking out there for the answer, and disregarding what your real truth might be.