Depression has no face

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I am not a K-Pop fan and previously didn’t know who Jonghyun was, but the passing of the SHINEE singer hit me hard, as a depression survivor.

It seems when a celebrity passes away from mental illness, people are shocked or in disbelief, because their private persona turned out to be so different from their public one.

Because they are celebrities, it makes their battle with mental illness even more hard-hitting for fans, who look up to them as idols and role models. Who would’ve known that behind a shining star was such a heavy burden that no one saw?

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Does a celebrity’s status somehow legitimate the battle with mental illness more?

I once had a friend who was really close to me at one point. Our relationship strayed because for some reason she was really uncomfortable dealing with mental health issues, and unfortunately, defined my whole identity with my condition.

A person with mental illness is not their illness, just like a person with cancer is not their cancer.

Although it’s easier to draw this connection for mental illness as compared to physical ones, because mental illness somehow seems intuitively connected to our personalities.

After all, who we are is observed by others through how we think, feel and act.

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Dear people who are uncomfortable with mental illness, how many celebrity passings will it take to legitimise the pain of the people around you?

For you to realise that they are not weak, or not trying hard enough, or bringing it upon themselves?

Depression has no face, no scar, no open wounds. But when someone confides in you, they are entrusting their pain in you, and trust that you will accept its existence despite not being able to see.

If anything, the struggle with depression has only taught me to see better, and look harder at what I cannot see.

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Get comfortable with anxiety

Because it’s not going anywhere.

We live in a world, I’m starting to think, where anxiety is unfortunately a constant in our lives. Observing people around me, I realise that anxiety, whether as a clinical condition, an emotion or a state of mind, manifests itself with greater prevalence than before.

Whether is it the stress of living in an ever-changing, fast-paced city, the increasing pressure of work and the normalising of work-life imbalance, constant distractions from smartphones and social media, or simply the hyperactive mind, unable to slow down and stay quiet even for a moment – there are so many reasons for us to be anxious today.

There are of course different variations of this emotional state, and I’m certainly not generalising it to disregard the severity of anxiety as a mental health condition. In fact, it seems like everyone is suffering from anxiety these days; do people actually understand acutely what an anxiety attack is like? The kind that people actually see therapists for?

I sometimes wish Anxiety, as in the health condition, could have a more grandiose, severe sounding name, instead of sharing its namesake with a generic emotion that everyone can claim to feel. Just like how people use the word “depressed” so frequently it could actually dilute the meaning and understanding of clinical depression in society.

It is, however, an unfortunate fact that anxiety is here to stay. It won’t go away after a relaxing holiday, or automatically disappear just because certain good things may have happened. We will always struggle to find the balance between all the complex, ever-changing and transient yet seemingly pervasive (especially in the moment itself) and sometimes crippling emotions that we experience – as part of being human.

This piece was actually inspired by a Medium article Why Anxiety is the Handmaiden of Creativity. While I definitely don’t support glorifying anxiety or mental health conditions, especially on the subject of how great artists like Van Gogh or Sylvia Plath have produced their greatest work in their darkest moments – one line in the article actually stood out to me: “Get comfortable with anxiety“.

Perhaps it is the wise thing to do. It is what every therapist tells his/her patient, like it’s easier said than done. Accept it, embrace your feelings, get comfortable with the discomfort. Sit through the difficult moments, and tell yourself that it will pass, time heals, and you might as well try to learn something from it, and gather some meaning or insight.

It’s easier said than done isn’t it? I always wonder how many therapists have successful and well-functioning lives, marriages and families, equipped with the tools every human being needs for every human condition.

In all seriousness, I truly respect the noble field of psychology and therapy. It is truly a meaningful calling that creates immediate value and impact on the lives of others, at least I can say for good therapists.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in modern life is actually to get, and be, comfortable with anxiety. All while creating something productive from a modern ill we cannot escape, transforming the very nature of the modern ill itself.

It is still an ongoing endeavour for me.