Author’s note: This is not an article about how to practice self-care and take a bubble bath until your anxiety goes away. This is not going to be a quick and easy how-to guide for feeling better. But this post will be real, and that’s what we all need.
One of my favorite lectures to present at work is about “emotional wellness.” While vague and all encompassing, the topics that continuously come up are relationships, self worth, and dealing with depression and/or anxiety.
Towards the end of my lecture a few weeks ago, one of the audience members asked, “but how do you overcome depression?”
I was taken off guard by his question, which seemed almost impossible to answer in the moment. But then I realized how significant the wording that he used was. The semantics of the word choice “overcome,” especially when used in a sentence about something as severe as depression or anxiety, was incredibly significant here.
The etymology of the word “overcome” goes back to Old English times. It is synonymous with “prevail over” and “defeat.”
But we don’t defeat depression. We don’t defeat anxiety. We don’t prevail over addiction or any other co-occurring disorder. We don’t power our way through it whereas to not have to deal with it anymore.
Before we do anything, we need to accept that we have it.
For most of us, this is incredibly difficult. We live in a culture of independence, autonomy, and “overcoming” adversity. We are taught from an early age to pull ourselves up from our bootstraps, a term that actually represents something that is impossible, but that’s neither here not there.
We are conditioned to suppress our emotions, “man up,” and move forward. We are told over and over to “let it go” and “just don’t let it affect you.”
THIS IS UNHELPFUL.
So first, we come to a place of acceptance. There are numerous resources online, if you are uncomfortable seeing a psychiatrist or doctor, to assess whether or not you are struggling with clinical depression or anxiety. Take an online assessment. Schedule an appointment. See a medical or psychiatric practitioner. Find out what you’re dealing with.
It’s important to note that many of us experience situational depression and anxiety. This is very different from clinical depression and anxiety. The symptoms are less severe, persistent, and relentless. Our response is a human one, one that most people would have to a difficult or painful situation. However, I find that many of us minimize our symptoms and say “this will pass,” but wait for days and weeks and months and it never does.
Be honest with yourself about how long you have been struggling with this.
So we find out if we need help. If you’re in a 12-step fellowship, like many of my readers are, let me be very clear: practicing the 12 steps and praying about mental illness does not dissipate that problem. If I had a broken arm, I wouldn’t go to AA to fix it. If I have an emotional broken arm, like a mental health disorder, I cannot pray it away. I need to seek outside help.
I’ll say it again for the people in the back.
SEEK OUTSIDE HELP.
Okay, moving on. So you have depression and anxiety. The good news is this: treatment for these conditions exist. But we can’t accept treatment if we can’t accept that we actually have a problem. Again, it’s very similar to the process of accepting addiction and alcoholism in the 12 Steps.
So what do we do?
We find a good therapist in our area. We utilize word of mouth, which is the best way to find a good therapist. And we get to work. Therapy may be enough. We may illuminate some of our core issues and find that most our symptoms are behavioral, not chemical imbalances in our brain. If that’s the case, stick with therapy. Don’t quit once you “feel better.” Often, when our crises are minimized, that’s when the real work in therapy begins.
Maybe therapy isn’t enough. Maybe the clinical depression is so severe that you lack the energy and drive to even get out of bed. Maybe the anxiety is so crippling that you can’t reach out for help and even acknowledge the severity of the panic attacks you are having.
It’s of the utmost importance to start to talk about.
Shame blocks us from acknowledging our pain and dealing with it effectively. So again, we need to first admit that we are struggling. If you don’t feel comfortable confiding in a close friend or family member, reach out to someone on social media who you know is familiar with these issues and has sought their own help. If that’s still too personal, go on PsychologyToday.com and find someone in your area who can help you professionally.
Chances are likely, depending on the severity, that you may benefit from being on medication. If you’re thinking “nope, absolutely not, I don’t want to rely on anything,” then I’ll challenge you with this: is your quality of life getting better each day, or you struggling to make it through the day? Is your own contempt prior to investigation with medication really worth it? Have you done your research on anti-anxiety and depression medications, such as SSRIs, to the point where you know enough about them, or are you making a blanket statement that you refuse to take medications?
Ask yourself these difficult questions. For me, it was incredibly helpful to be working with a therapist who I trusted and with whom I developed a strong rapport with before making these decisions with her help and guidance.
We don’t overcome depression, we don’t prevail over anxiety. We accept that we have them, and we treat them effectively. We can’t think our way out of a clinical or chemical issue. We can’t “self will” our way into happiness, groundedness, and wholeness.
There is so much freedom in surrendering to the stark truth that we can’t do this on our own.
For me, the freedom of surrendering, broaching the topic, and seeking help has been life changing. I told myself for years, especially as a therapist, that I didn't need help. But how wrong I was!
In fact, by accepting help and relying on effective treatment for my anxiety, I've become so much more independent and autonomous. It's been an upward spiral of groundedness and wholeness. But the initial pain and shame of acknowledging that I even needed help was a battle in and of itself. Thank God for the people in my life who created a safe space for me to explore and navigate these issues.
This post became way more clinical than I had intended it to be, but I found that after posting a poll on Instagram about what topics people want to read about, “overcoming depression and anxiety” beat out the other topics by a landslide.
Depression and anxiety are not reflections of weakness.
There are people trained to help and assist you through this scary and dark part of your life.
And if you're still reading this, there's something in you that knows you could benefit from some help. I'm so glad you've stuck with this post for long enough to identify that in yourself.
This is a real issue. You are not alone.