This was inspired by an interaction with a friend last year. Unfortunately, the person is no longer present in my life so I can't really say these things to him, but I figured sharing them with anyone else in a similar circumstance was the best I could do.
See this article on The Mighty or read my other articles published there.
To my friend who said he doesn’t need medication
It was a Sunday.
You asked me if I was taking medication for mental health issues. I thought it was a bit out of the blue, but I said yes and you asked what I took meds for. I rattled off the list: anxiety, depression, social anxiety, panic disorder. You stopped me at the last one. You told me you had panic attacks last night and that’s why you couldn’t sleep. I nodded; I’ve experienced just the same thing. I know how awful it is to feel the mix of being bone tired and wide awake with inexplicable anxious adrenaline.
I was excited that you were willing to talk to me about a subject usually left untouched, hoping the conversation might lead to you getting help, but the moment was short-lived. You downplayed your struggle and insisted that you can take care of things, rattling off a list of what you need to do to get better: exercise, eat right, get more sleep. Another guy jumped into our conversation and changed the subject. I listened politely but wished the moment hadn’t been ruined.
I wish I could have told you this:
I know it’s scary to get help. I resisted for months, years even, before stepping into counseling and going on medication. You want to believe you can do it on your own. You tell yourself you’ve been coping just fine all these years. You’ve pushed through the anxiety and the overwhelming sadness all these years, so you can make it through another dark time.
I told myself the same things. Until it all became too much. Deep down I knew all along that I was barely making it, that there was a better way to live if I sought help. It took going to my darkest place to realize that barely getting by coping with anxiety and depression on my own wasn’t enough. Why go through life just barely making it, feeling miserable all the while when you have the chance to live fully and feel happy? I realized that I deserved better; I owed it to myself to get help.
I know that I’m not the best person to tell you these things since things got worse for me before they got better, but I am so much happier now than I have ever been when I was just getting by. The things you listed – eating right, exercising, going to sleep earlier – they help, but sometimes they’re not enough. Sometimes there’s something not quite right in your brain’s wiring, an imbalance of chemicals in your body, and that makes it hard to function properly and be happy. There’s nothing to be ashamed of; some people’s bodies stop producing insulin, others’ hearts don’t work quite right. We don’t think any less of them; it’s just how their bodies are.
Getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means you understand a fundamental truth: We are all faulty and confused, and we need to lean on other people and medical advances to live better lives. Getting help means that you are willing to do the hard work that recovery takes in order to improve your life, yes, but also to help you be a better son, boyfriend, student, brother, friend, etc. Unresolved mental health issues can make it hard to have good relationships, live our lives to the fullest, and do the work we are called to.
I wish I hadn’t waited until things got as bad as they did to get help. I wish I had had the courage to start working on myself because now that I have, I see the enormous impact it has had on my well-being. I am happier, I am wiser, I know myself better, and I am able to be a better friend and student. I am living up to my full capability and pushing myself to accomplish things that I couldn’t before when my mind was consumed by anxious and hopeless thoughts. So now it pains me to see so many of my friends telling themselves the same lie I clung onto: “I can make it on my own. I’ve coped just fine. I don’t need help.”
I can tell you’re in pain. I can tell you aren’t coping with it as well as you claim. I can tell the hurt is taking its toll, closing you off from friends, keeping you from achieving all you could, poisoning your mind with lies that you’re not enough, keeping you from much-needed sleep. I wish we could finish our conversation and I could point you in the right direction and let you know that there’s no shame, but time and circumstances have since led our paths in different directions. So I’m writing this for anyone else out there who is still settling for barely getting by:
It’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it’s brave. It’s strong. It’s wise. It’s hard. It will be a long process, even a painful one at times, but trust me – it’s the best choice you’ll ever make.