As soon as he walked through the door, he knew that something was not right. The house was quiet, too quiet. He called out her name as he looked around and moved through the house. No answer. Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, he listened for a moment, before continuing up the steps and down the hall to the bedroom. Opening the door slowly, he heard the sound of quick short breaths mixed with whimpers. It was the sound of someone hyperventilating. As he walked through the door, he saw on the bed, in a fetal position, his beautiful bride. Her hands clenched over her face, crying uncontrollably. His heart dropped, and he thought, “This is a serious one.” He felt so unequipped to handle this. He went to her asking, “What’s wrong?” She leaned into him, rocking her body back and forth, shaking her head. She sucked in a big breath. Through a quivering exhale, she whispered, “I, I, I, don’t know.” He asked, “Are you okay?” She shook her head no. He could tell she was trying to get herself under control, but something was paralyzing her, locking her in what seemed to be a state of fear. As he wrapped his arm around her, he lovingly whispered to her, “You’re safe, you’re okay. Slow down your breathing. Breath with me.” He loudly drew slow, long breaths, trying to get her to match his breathing. He silently prayed, “God, please help her. Give her peace, give her your mercy. Cover her with your love.” After what seemed like hours, she slowly calmed down and fell asleep from exhaustion, in his arms. He watched as her body slowly relaxed and released whatever it was that had captured her.
This was not the first time this happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. Each time seemed to get worse. Each time it seemed like it started with a small thought that just got stuck. Most times it was a “what if” or an “I wonder” thought that was a little negative. Like, “I wonder if they like me? I seem invisible to everyone, no one really cares about me.” Most times, they were lies whispered to herself that grew into screams. All he knew was that they needed some help. Who could he trust though?
This is what it’s like for someone who has a loved one who suffers from anxiety and depression. This is a mild example of a panic attack. The unfortunate part is that, even in a mild attack, the stakes are life and death. For some with no intervention, they can’t take the overwhelming darkness that covers them, and it seems the only way out is death.
Unfortunately, those who battle this are often tormented when they try to make a heroic comeback because they are only met with opposition. I know that seems ridiculous, but it’s true. Because of the darkness that has been shadowing them, the light is so very hard to see. So, they start with questions like, “Who really likes me, or let alone the big question, is there anyone out there who loves me?” Each step on the road to recovery is difficult; it’s often like having a noose around your neck, constantly pulling you back. They fearfully think, “If I stop even for a moment, I will be pulled backwards and drug back down into the pit.” The thoughts race in their head.
It’s almost like they are stuck in a puddle of quicksand. One false move, and they will be sucked down, but if they don’t reach out for a saving branch, they certainly will die. So, isolation comes into play, keeping everyone at a distance is of utmost importance. This insures that no one can get close enough to hurt them– or love them. The loneliness is better in their eyes than sharing that they need something or someone. Besides, there is the fear that others will think bad of them or think they are crazy. When anxiety covers you like this, you need to seek out professional help, a physiatrist and a counselor is a good start.
I am not a counselor or any authority on this in the sense of an educational degree. All I have is life experience, and this is what I have come to know and understand through loving someone who faces these issues each day of her life. I’m writing this to give you a glimpse of what it’s like for someone who faces these challenges, as well as how and why we need to help.
Part of the reason for the isolation is that when others find out that you have anxiety or depression some think oh, just get some drugs and move on, or get some counseling.
I have heard people say that it’s not like they have a broken bone or a chronic disease or something, that could actually kill them. The thing is, that’s not true. Anxiety and depression can kill, and they have. It is just like a physical disease or an internal injury. You really can’t see the disease itself, but you can see the symptoms of it.
Most times when this disease first comes out or when we first notice it, we can easily mistake it as the person being moody or aloof, or even stuck-up. They may even seem shy. All of these things are attributes that could be part of a normal person’s life. So, how do you know?
You need to take time establish a relationship, if you really want to care and try to make a difference for them.
My bet is that you may know someone who is very close to the person, like a partner, spouse, or best friend. Ask them if the person in question is okay or do they need anything? Do this authentically with genuine concern, and they may let you know the truth…if they feel they can trust you, and you won’t hurt them.
Those closest to these people tend to guard them and try to protect them as much as possible. They know that it doesn’t take much to drive them deep into the darkness, even when they are in recovery.
Taking some meds and talking to a counselor may be a great start but unfortunately, it’s not so easy to fix this.
If the anxiety has been severe enough for long enough, they may need to have their self-esteem re-built; they will need to be loved both closely and from a distance at times. They will need help finding out that they are of worth and have purpose. They will need to be shown that their life counts, and that they can make a difference in this world. This takes people who care deeply about the individual.
Yes, some of the drugs and genetic tests we have today can assist, but nothing replaces human relationships. Boy, can they be hard.
As I have stated, being a friend or a partner of someone who suffers with this can be challenging, but let me also say this, it can be very fun and rewarding. In my experience, these people love deeply, they are both passionate and compassionate. They also can be a blast to be around when they are in a safe place or having a good day. Please understand they are not special projects, don’t try to treat them like that because they will see right through you. These people need people in their lives who are not going to try to fix them and then walk on to the next project. They need friends who are in this walk for life, and that is often rare and hard to find.
So, beware, they may try to reject you before you even scratch the surface. This is their litmus paper test to see if you are really serious. Yes, it may seem harsh at first, but you just have to remember they are in a survival mode most of the time.
These hurting people are no different than anyone else; they have dreams and goals. They have amazing talents and gifts waiting to be uncovered. If given the opportunities and outlets to use those gifts and talents, they will rise to the challenge, and even blow away your expectations.
For this to happen though, it requires that they trust the provider of these opportunities. You don’t have to have a deep relationship, though a close relationship may inadvertently develop because you prove you can be trusted. But, you always have to remember that there is the risk that they may have a bad day or a relapse. And there is always the possibility that because you are associated with this person, well, you yourself may look bad.
All I can say to that is, who cares?
This is when the real question needs to be asked, what is at stake here? To be blunt, it is life or death. That’s not fair, some may say. But t’s true that the one opportunity that you offer may just be a lifeline. It may be the one thing that keeps them from totally giving into the darkness.
Honestly, people who face life with this illness believe they don’t even have a chance because others think they are crazy, or they are just too unworthy of having a chance to share themselves with the world. I believe that those who don’t open a door for these people are the crazy ones. What is a life worth?
So, what can you do? That is the question that should be asked.
First you should know that having anxiety is difficult, and there are times that they can’t communicate effectively to others exactly what they are feeling or going through. So, sometimes, they just need someone to be there for them without judgement. No words– just your presence and the knowledge that you accept them, just the way they are, where they are. Then sometimes it maybe the opposite– just a few words of encouragement and lots of space with open, accepting arms. The key is always to meet them where they’re at and love them the way they need loved in that moment.
Yes, this can be hard, and sometimes you can be hurt (which can be very hard), but it’s never in my experience intentional. Lashing out is sometimes the only way they can get the feelings out that have been trapped and captivating their thoughts. Sometimes you need to just put your feeling on the back burner to help someone out of a difficult situation. If you’re a Christian, we have a great example of how to sacrifice for someone you care about or even for people you don’t know.
I can’t help but think about all the times Jesus loved people where they were, and because of His love, compassion, and sacrifice their lives and our lives have been changed. The adulteress, the woman at the well, Zacchaeus the Tax Collector, and the list goes on.
Jesus met people where they were, and he loved them up to where they needed to be. He never worried about what others thought, only what His Father in Heaven was thinking. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy.
I’ve heard it said, “We’re reaching out, but they need to reach out too.” When you’re paralyzed with fear, you can’t push yourself up to grasp an outstretched hand.
There was the time that four friends carried their friend to Jesus. When they were faced with opposition of not being able to get directly to the Lord, they tore the roof off a house and lowered their friend down to place their friend at the feet of Jesus for healing. They didn’t meet him half-way– he was paralyzed! They carried him to Jesus. Sometimes we need to carry our friend to the feet of Jesus.
There are also the times when we need to get dirty and do more than reach out.
We need to get some spit and dirt on us. I recall Jesus spitting into the dirt and rubbing it onto the blind man’s eyes, so he could see again. Jesus did more than reach out; He got dirty. He didn’t dismissively say to those who came to Him, “Oh, I‘ll pray for you.” He took time and ministered to them.
This is part of being more like Jesus. Honestly, I have watched people who suffer actually minister to others hurting in amazing ways that no one else could. It’s because they know what it’s like to hurt or be an outcast, and they can empathize with them.
This can apply to so many things in life I know, but who has God placed in your path to help carry to Jesus or get dirty with in the process of healing? Who are you crying with? Who are you loving and encouraging, near or far?
Has God placed someone in your path that you just stepped over or worse kicked them to the side, because you have been too busy going where you want to go rather than looking where God is leading you? The Bible says that God directs the steps of man. So, look where you’re going. We ask for God to use us, but we miss the opportunities that are right in front of us all the time.
I have also heard that this is a person’s spiritual issue, and you are accurate. But it’s not just their spiritual issue, it’s yours too.
We are to love one another and encourage one another; sometimes people go to these dark places because we didn’t love like we should have. I know that statement will not be popular, but it’s true. If we took the time to genuinely care, some people may not feel so invisible.
People with mental health issues sometimes need more of the people who claim to have the Light surrounding them. Darkness is the absence of light. How do we make the darkness go away? By bringing in the light. The Bible says we are the light of the world. The light we have comes from the Holy Spirit. If we obey Him, we will be sharing his light with others. He will be working through us. So yes, it is a spiritual issue– ours and theirs. It’s not just their issue, it’s ours too. We need to do something about it.
How can we help? Love them unconditionally the way God loves you. Take a moment to smile and see them, don’t let them be invisible. Be genuine and compassionate.
Provide opportunities for them to come into your light. This takes time, you have to be in this for the long haul. This is not about you; it’s about loving someone else the way we should love one another.
I hope this is an encouraging post that helps some to have hope and to others, perhaps this will challenge them to see who God has placed in their path.
If you suffer from anxiety or depression or any other non-visible illness, please know you are loved and cared about. I know this is not easy, but with the right environment and people surrounding you, things can get better. We shouldn’t have to walk this road alone.