I remember when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I felt like my world was caving in. I felt like I was suffocating and everyone I loved was watching me die. These feelings only arose because I was vocal about my illness yet, still, no one really took it seriously. No one ever considered if their actions or words were the adding to the suffering I was already dealing with. I’ve come to realize that those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are never really free from our diagnoses. Even I get triggered. YES, I STILL have moments here and there. It may appear to the outside world looking in that we’re free, but every day it is a constant battle to not be pulled back into the pits of darkness that once tried to swallow us whole. I remember growing up, I was very judgmental of father and his habits. How was I any different? We were both fighting a battle. It may not have been the same, but it was a battle.
I grew so much compassion and understanding when I myself had demons that I too was dealing with but could not control. It’s a slippery slope. At some point, you see that like the rest of the world, most of us are suffering and trying to find ways to cope. I’ve found that a lot of people are unaware of the different types of mental illnesses that exist. A lot of the world is even unaware of what seasonal affective disorder is and how it impacts someone who’s battled with mental illnesses in the past. Statistically, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects roughly 4%-6% of the U.S. population. 4 out of 5 people suffering from SAD are women. There are many people who are impacted by SAD and enter depressive states during the winter months. About 10% of people who suffer from SAD have reversal affects – summer months are often the trigger of depression symptoms. No one really has the answer as to why or how SAD plays a role in anyone’s life but those who are impacted find it very difficult to put into words what it is like to deal with. What is even harder is being surrounded by others who don’t take notice.
There are often things that we are dealing with underneath the surface, things we don’t speak about, things we are afraid to mention. As someone who suffered in silence for most of her life, I am often the first to question my friends about their mental health. I want to know how they’re taking care of themselves, what they’re processing or not processing. I want to know how they’re holding up in moments of confusion, extreme work circumstances or anything else. As an advocate for mental health and being someone who’s dealt with it for most of her life, I know to look for the signs in others because I’ve experienced it firsthand. There is an alarming number of people who don’t know what to look for in others. Many are suffering themselves, don’t know it or know it and refuse treatment. Very few understand that their behavioral patterns, words or actions have the power to trigger something within someone battling SAD. Very few people know that certain behaviors are a reminder of a space that was very traumatic at some point.
While I am one who is strong enough to realize when something within me is triggered and there is still work for me to do, there are people who do not realize this. There are people who spiral and possibly never bounce back. There are people who suffer for long periods and never make it out. The most common acts of someone who is unaware is they tend to assume that their loved ones who are suffering have changed or are acting differently. It’s so easy to lack awareness. It is so easy for someone to take a change in moods, behavior or no verbal/physical contact personal without considering something could be seriously wrong. I want us all to develop a sense of awareness when it comes to our loved ones. How do you know when they’re suffering? When is the right time to ask questions? I’ll be the first to tell you, you never really know. All you can do is be aware. Below are a few signs to be aware of in your friends, partners and loved ones who suffer from any sort of mental illness.
- Depression: misery, guilt, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, diminished interest in activities, despair, and apathy
- Anxiety: tension and inability to tolerate stress
- Mood changes: extremes of mood and, in some, periods of mania in spring and summer
- Sleep problems: desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake or, sometimes, disturbed sleep and early morning waking
- Lethargy: a feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
- Overeating: craving for starchy and sweet foods resulting in weight gain
- Social problems: irritability and desire to avoid social contact
- Sexual problems: loss of libido and decreased interest in physical contact
If you notice these signs in someone you love or you yourself are trying to cope with any of these symptoms, you are not alone. Please consult a licensed medical professional as soon as possible. Talk to someone you love, that you can trust to provide you with resources or assist you getting the help you need and deserve. Be aware. Be mindful. Be compassionate.