It’s safe to say that we’ve all heard some iteration of Socrates’ quote “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” throughout our lifetimes. Cliche as it may be, good old Socrates had a point. We don’t have a clue what those around us have gone through, are going through, and will go through apart from what we are told and what we can see. Words consistently fall short in capturing the complex, intricate, individualized human condition, so the assumption that one can explain how they are feeling or what they are going through is tricky. Sometimes it’s near impossible for us to comprehend even what we ourselves are experiencing, let alone to explain it to someone else.
The question is: how can we seek to understand one another when words just don’t suffice? Through relating.
I Love I
We are all the protagonists of our own stories and we can only know ourselves and our experiences on a first hand-bases; oneself is the only person one can truly know before the complexity of feelings and emotions get simplified down to the point of expression. We’re all a little self-centred being that we are central to each of our experiences; past, present, and future. The best way to understand others is through our own self-understanding and relating through this. The classic “how would that make you feel?” question from the kindergarten classroom comes to mind, but hey, those teachers weren’t wrong. When we just can’t grasp something outside of ourselves, it can be a good exercise to try and paint ourselves into the portraits of other’s lives by bringing their experiences to the personal level.
Rather than looking at it in a broad-sense, select a tangible detail to reflect upon. Take a small implication of another individual’s present situation and imagine how it would look for you and your life, how would it make you feel? How would it affect you? How would it change your life, for better or worse?
You Don’t Need to See it to Believe it
There are countless things that any one person may be dealing with at any given time, life just has a way of throwing challenges at us from time to time. But, rather than grappling with the great many exterior forces that may add strain to one’s life (in this particular exploration), we’d like to look within.
- 1 in 5 American adults suffer from a mental health condition – Mental Health America
- Approximately 350 Million people worldwide suffer from Depression – Healthline
- And are more than 260 Million people live with Anxiety Disorders worldwide – WHO
In this article, we are going to focus on mental health, depression and Anxiety in particular. Though we are eternally grateful and overwhelmingly impressed with the massive progressions we have made sociatally in terms of starting conversations, opening up various channels for support, and striving towards the de-stigmatization of mental health concerns, there is always room for improvement and we should never stop pushing for more and for better.
Depression and anxiety are very real, the numbers speak for themselves, but we find that there is still a great deal of negativity, skepticism, and misunderstanding surrounding the topics. It is one thing to advocate for mental health awareness, but it is an entirely different thing to put these values into practice when interacting with those who are struggling. We can never know how we will act or react until we are confronted with these instances, but why not seek to gain as much insight and understanding as possible so we are best prepared to support those in need?
The story of struggle with depression and/or anxiety is no one person’s to own, it is different for all who come across it, and it is tremendously difficult to put into words. So, rather than telling you about our personal experiences with mental health or spitting more statistics at you, we’ve put together the voices of a number of individuals who have experienced depression and/or anxiety and selected one specific facet of the human experience for relatability sake: Sleep.
I Only Love My Bed and My Mom, I’m Sorry
In fact, can we just talk for a second about how weird humans are when it comes to sleep? Think about the animal kingdom, every other animal sleeps where they fall, weather that be in a tree, in the literal dirt, in a cave, you name it. But not us, we purchase remarkably expensive, extremely large sleeping pads (also known as beds), but them in a special room (the bedroom), adorn them with various blankets and pillows, put on special sleeping clothes (AKA PJs), and rest our precious little heads for the night. For humans, sleep is a serious thing. We’ve opted to look into various individuals’ experiences with sleep and Depression or Anxiety because, for some, sleep is something which is taken wildly for granted.
We need sleep for survival, plain and simple, and when sleep is elusive everything begins to fall apart. On the other side of the token, imagine being constantly and all-encompassingly tired or unable to get out of bed in the morning. When our mental health suffers, so do many aspects of our everyday life, and sleep is something that can either be entirely second nature, almost accidental, or a significant detriment to one’s life. To bring Depression and Anxiety to the personal level, we’ve taken to the public to depict just a sliver of what Depression and Anxiety may do to the “normal” aspects of one’s life. Here’s what we found out:
A Vicious Cycle: Experiences With Anxiety and/or Depression in Relation to Sleep
“For years I’ve been trying to be able to get up in the morning, not sleep in past noon and not sleep for 10 + hours a night. It got to the point where I just accepted that I was a person who needed 10 hours sleep and that I wasn’t a morning person. For so long I’d been calling myself lazy for not being able to do such a simple thing that everyone else could do but in reality it was this illness that had taken over my life to the point that I had accepted it as my identity.” -MN
“I would lay in bed and just feel like it was impossible to get up. But then I’d feel guilty about staying in bed, and spend the rest of the day hating myself and beating myself up. There was no winning.” -BC
“I have always struggled with falling asleep as I have a difficult time shutting off my brain. It’s probably the worst when I am at my lowest, taking upwards of 3 hrs to fall asleep. I find the hardest part is getting up in the morning. If there are no obligations forcing me to get up I will sleep/lay in bed for half the day because everyday tasks are too draining.” -Chelsea Burgess
“In the past when I’m really low with my depression I tend to sleep a lot a minimum of 13 hours a night and would usually have a nap in the day as well and even after that still be exhausted so it would lead me to stay inside nearly all the time” – Nikki Hobbs
“I was constantly having nightmares that were so terrifying I feared going to sleep. My depression worsened when my close friend died in a drinking and driving accident and after the point I was having vivid nightmares that I remember perfectly after – windshields shattering and holding Kendra as she died. It was traumatizing. At that point I began doing drugs to prevent me from sleeping as I feared my own mind.” – Lisa Schaetzle
“At my lowest I would sleep a lot, and in those cases I saw it more as a way to kill time where I wouldn’t be trapped with my destructive thoughts. Basically I would sleep until it was time to sleep again.” – Betsy Pelletier
“As far as sleep goes. I slept all the time. I would sleep to escape the anxiety. I would come home from work and sleep from 4-9 then fall asleep at 10 till I had to get up in the morning. I would nap twice a day on weekends and it never felt like enough. I was always exhausted and could sleep anywhere (even at my work desk). Then once in a while I would not be able to sleep because I would over think and have so much going on in my head I would lay awake until 4am.” – Jaymee Buehler
“At my worst, I could not sleep through the night. My mind would “turn on” during the middle of the night. I would start creating worse case scenarios about issues I was dealing with at the time and it would be an endless loop, replaying over and over. Of course, during the day I would be physically and emotionally exhausted. The anxiety/worry would be harder to cope with. The endless ”what if-ing” would continue. At night I would replay my day analyzing anything I may have done “wrong,” staying awake half of the night….a perpetual cycle.” -Heather
“I think it’s interesting that you ask about sleep. That was one of my first indications when I was younger that I struggled with anxiety. I would stay up forever! I would constantly worry about school the next day, what people thought, comparing my thoughts and worries constantly to others. As I got older I struggled more and I still do. The other side of that coin is when my body is so depleted of positive emotions and serotonin, I could sleep for days.” – Katelyn Spink
“Sleep is definitely one of the first things I started struggling with once my anxiety got bad. I would be exhausted all day and then mind would never be quiet at night. Often found having a few glasses of wine would help with the racing thoughts… but then that is a depressant so it kind of becomes a vicious cycle. Sleep has become a huge priority, however, since I have accepted that I struggle with anxiety/depression.” -Sarah Bullock
“Recently my sleep has been pretty bad because of my anxiety. Right now it’s not that I can’t get to sleep, since I’m almost always tired, it’s that I can’t sleep through the night or get a quality sleep. Because of this I have less energy and rarely make plans because I know that I will likely be too tired to go or enjoy myself if I do go. Unfortunately this makes my anxiety worse because I get wrapped up in my thoughts and worry that I am disappointing people in my life or that they are secretly starting to resent me. When it affects sleep everything gets worse.” -Jenna Lavery
It’s safe to say that sleep is an entirely different entity for those struggling with anxiety and/or depression. It’s not easy, its lack or extreme excess can affect all aspects of one’s life, and it can become entirely cyclical, generating more strain, alienation, and physical, mental, and emotional unwellness. Though sleep is something which is an important and central part of our being, it is only one of the key human engagements which anxiety and depression may affect. It is alarmingly easy to take sleep for granted when it is something that requires no thought, and it doesn’t stop there. We asked individuals who have or are currently experiencing anxiety and/or depression what they feel they took for granted on their good days, or what they feel others might take for granted, too.
The Little Things
“Since I’ve experienced mental health problems, I am so much more appreciative/thankful for any days (or period of times) that I am filled with energy & happiness. It’s a blessing to be able to take on a day and realize that no matter what I will be ok (even if it is difficult).” -Chelsea Burgess
“I think what people take for granted is the ability to do small tasks when they need to be done, like run errands/put things away. With anxiety there’s so much more to it, it feels huge, exhausting, and overwhelming. Without anxiety there’s nothing to it, it’s easy and quick. You don’t even notice you’re doing it.” -MN
“One of the biggest things I took for granted before I was aware of my struggles with depression and anxiety is human connection/relationships. We all just want to be seen and heard and loved, but isolation and feeling alone play significant roles in the way we see ourselves when going through these challenges.” – Isabella Harned
“People take a good night’s sleep, being adaptable and able to change plans, to just get your ass in the shower for granted. On a bad day.. one small change can lead to a massive chain of self-doubt and analyzing all the poor areas of your life . People only see the change and your reaction to it.” – Katelyn Spink
“I think I took for granted the ease of living in the moment and enjoying life, not worrying that things wouldn’t turn out for the best eventually.” -Sarah Bullock
“Just being able to go through life easily. I always had struggles with my physical health but I was always a mind over matter kind of person and would push myself through the pain and fatigue. But it’s so much more difficult to just push through when it’s your mind that’s limiting you.” -Jenna Lavery
Of course, it’s challenging for everyone not to take the little things for granted, but it is statements like these that might make you take your time and enjoy the experience next time you shop for groceries, stop and feel grateful for the ease and comfort you feel at any given moment, and feel out those experiences that can so easily get brushed off as ordinary; to some, they may just be extraordinary. We truly do take the human experience for granted; so let’s change that!
In closing, we asked these wonderful people what they wish others would understand about what they’ve been through/are going through. Take a moment, read carefully, and remember that we’re all just people trying to live our lives among countless others trying to do the same, if we can have any insight into someone else’s experience, we should sure as hell take it and learn from it (if you ask us)!
What I Wish They Knew
“People see mental health issues as a sign of weakness. Trust me, it’s far from that” -TG
“I wish people would understand that it’s not a question of snapping out of it depression and anxiety have complete control of you and it’s next to impossible to just snap out of it as people say and when they say that to me it makes me feel worse and, on top of that, like a failure.” -Nikki Hobbs
“I wish people knew that anxiety steals everything from you. It steals your humour/ confidence/ ability to have fun. I’m seeing sides of myself come back that I haven’t seen since I was ~12. Also I wish that people looked at laziness as more of a signal for help than as a personality flaw because I think most of the time it means there’s something else going on, I don’t think humans naturally want to be lazy.” -MN
“One thing I wish people would understand about anxiety but mainly depression is that people who struggle with it are not “negative” people. I, and many others, have worked very hard to retrain our brains into more constructive patterns. When the world keeps showing us negativity, we strive to find the positive. Maybe we just have a few more obstacles to overcome.” -Betsy Pelletier
“I would like others to know that telling people to “think positively” or “change the way you look at things” is not possible for people dealing with anxiety. It is a chemical issue, not a choice!” -Heather
“I think the biggest misconception and dangerous phrase that I’ve heard countless times is “she just wants attention”. The last thing someone wants that struggles with this is attention. We want help and we don’t always know where to ask for it.” – Katelyn Spink
“I wish people, including myself, would understand it’s not a choice. I did not choose to have a mind that overthinks everything to the point of destruction. But in saying that, I struggle – I think due to all the stigma surrounding mental health, to accept this as well. So I don’t blame people who don’t understand.” -Sarah Bullock
“Depression usually doesn’t announce itself when it comes into your life. It’s not like “hello, it’s me depression 👋 Im going to be in your life now”. No. It’s something the creeps slowly. So slowly you may not even notice what’s happening. You may just assume you’ve become lazy or that you’re fighting a cold so you have to sleep more. It may take a person a while to recognize their depression. Sometimes individuals may not seek help for their depression, simply because they do not know they are suffering.” -Jess
“There’s a big difference between being stressed about things going on in your life and thinking it’s anxiety and actually suffering from anxiety while living in a constant state of hyper-attentiveness and panic, whichever level it may be at any given time.” -Jenna Lavery
Depression and anxiety are being talked about, but are they really being understood to those on the outside looking in? With the progressions in mental health, we are hearing these words more and more freequently, so much so that they have become buzz-words, thrown around flippantly and trivilized in some cases. The problem is, when we begin to hear words and concepts, we create a personal understanding of what they mean and what they mean to us particularaly, in these instances, these understandings can be tough to un-learn. So, our hope is that we can seek to understand depression and/or anxiety outside of ourselves, allow the definitions to be fluid from individual to individual and that no one case is the same. Listen when people are asking for help, and allow them the space they need when the need it. Remeber that “snapping out of it” or “seizing the day” aren’t as easy as they may sound and that sometimes, getting out of bed is a cause for celebration because on other days that may not have been an option. We’re all living this life together, whether we like it or not, so we deserve (for ourselves and for those around us) to understand each other as much as we possibly can.
I try to look at it as something that I need to work WITH and NOT AGAINST. It will always be a part of my life, it’s not who I am but it is one of the cards I’ve been dealt. -Katelyn Spink
For anyone struggling with mental health and for the individuals who contributed to this piece: we’re proud of you & we love you more than you know. We will strive to understand to the best of our abilities and we hope this exploration inspires others to do the same.