I have to admit that I haven’t always treated people with anxiety and depression in my life very fairly. I am more empathetic than ever now, and my heart is in a place of compassion and understanding, because I have been working through my own anxiety for the past year. I have people in my life that I love for very much and care for greatly, that in the past I have thought that very thing: “just suck it up, get over yourself, and do it.” In my defense, I had no idea that these people had severe anxiety until they opened up to me and shared their struggle. That’s another important lesson—never to be quick to judge and treat someone a certain way, as you have no idea what they’re going through.
We really need to start treating mental illness the same way we treat the symptoms of physical illness. Would you ever in your wildest dreams be mad at and say to your friend or loved one stuck on the toilet with an exacerbation of irritable bowel syndrome, colitis or Crohn’s disease: “have you ever tried not having diarrhea?“. Would you ever say to someone with a broken leg “it’s like you’re not even trying to walk!“. People cannot magically fix their physical symptoms of a physical disease anymore than someone having symptoms of a mental illness can.
Just because our mental health diseases may not always display physical symptoms, it doesn’t make the struggles any less real to us. It is far more complex than an “attitude problem” and being able to just suck it up and act normal.
Mental Illness Online
In the past, I have felt very pushed away from the online agriculture world, especially on Twitter. I all but completely stopped using the platform because I was being bullied, for lack of a better word, by a group of women from the other side of the country. Parody accounts were made by some male farmers in the Midwest about me and some other female farm wife bloggers, and I couldn’t mentally take it anymore—it was a huge trigger for the beginning of my battle with anxiety. I am smart enough to know that it is often hurt people [people who are hurt], who hurt people, and that the issue is within themselves. Often they take out their hurt and anger on other people as a way to cope, but I still didn’t want to expose myself to that hate and hurt.
Last summer, one of the women who had been quite mean to me in the past reached out to me via email to share that a meme I posted on Facebook really resonated with her. (Note: I do understand and recognize that it’s really hard for people to be strong sometimes, myself included…but we don’t need to tear others down if we’re not feeling strong.)
She wrote that she owed me an apology and asked for my forgiveness for “being, for lack of a better word, an absolute bitch to you, for no reason“; her words, not mine. She continued to share that “insecurity is a funny beast, and I allowed myself to get wrapped up ‘friendships’ that I thought were real, which were really only a smoke-screen for mean girls and cruelty.” She shared that she had removed herself from those friendships and that she had gained a lot more clarity in the last year.
She was so brave and strong in sharing with me, a virtual stranger, that life for her (like so many of us), wasn’t always what she shared on Instagram and Twitter. I admired and respected her for being a bigger person and taking that step towards making amends. She shared with me a small slice of the personal struggles and stresses she had experienced, but felt that it wasn’t an excuse and was apologetic for her words in the past. She shared that she kept up with my goings on in my family, especially after Jonathan was born and all the problems we had and was happy for us that it all turned out well for us, and wished us a happy harvest for 2017.
This made me so happy and I wrote back immediately to thank her for her openness and honesty. I was humbled and apologized to her for anything I may have said that hurt her in our previous exchanges, as though I try to carry myself to treat others respectfully always, I know I’m not perfect and likely said things I shouldn’t have that may have hurt her too. We followed each other on Twitter again, and had many pleasant exchanges.
I’m sharing this now, because Amy is no longer with us, and recently died by suicide. I know it has shocked me and many in the online agriculture community, so I cannot imagine how her family and friends are feeling. I have prayed, continue to pray, and give my sincere condolences to all who knew her and are missing her deeply. I certainly don’t write this for any other intention, but to bring awareness to mental health, mental illness and suicide. It’s all around us. We simply cannot judge anyone by their actions, or lack thereof, without truly trying to understand what they’re going through. Sometimes we do our very best to try to understand, and it’s so complex and beyond what we can comprehend, but at least we’re there for these people who need us and they know it, and feel it too.
There is no magic solution to “cure” yours or other peoples’ anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts. All I can hope for the future is that we can be kind and love and have compassion for those who act differently than we perhaps want them to. Be there for them, let them know that you love them and that you want to help in any way they need you. Spread that kindness and love everywhere you go, including to yourself.