Why I Don’t Write about My Depression and Anxiety
Clickbait alert: It’s not for the reasons you’d think!
I try not to write about my depression and anxiety, because it’s a tricky balancing act: Finding that sweet spot between the “TMI” factor and encouraging words to others doesn’t feel like the most worthy use of my writing time. So, I wasn’t exactly enthused to see a certain viral article about anxiety (actually, the writer confuses “anxiety” with “stress” a lot here, so it’s best to do as he does and refer to his thesis subject as “anxiety,” even if it isn’t). floating around my newsfeed. It had to be a humor piece.
After reading that piece a few times over, as well as many, many others similar to it in recent weeks, I have to admit that I don’t disagree with the author’s main point. Frankly, I don’t disagree with any of these authors. I think that this author is being intentionally generic in his messaging, which instead highlights a problematic aspect of most anxiety-centric writing. For one, he confuses “anxiety” (which is often inexplicable and can happen at any moment) with “stress” (which usually happens for a reason). Which is why I tend to avoid writing about my own struggles with both. Not everyone is going to relate to me, and others might even be alienated by the wrong word choice. The kind of vagueness that this writer employs might send the wrong message to his readers, especially those suffering from anxiety and stress.
If you read any of those anxiety/depression thinkpieces and still have a lot of questions, I don’t blame you. Here’s why I think it fell short of some of its stated goals — and if you read this thinkpiece to the end, you’ll get to learn how I alleviated my anxiety and depression!
Really consider how this writer’s ideal career is possible.
Careers can be frustrating. The more difficult it is to break in, and the easier it seems for others, the worse it gets. You can apply this to nearly any profession, because it’s an accepted fact of life for most people. This author prefers to storify an inherently complex issue, never letting on what his ideal situation is, which implies that it’s pretty close to his current one.
Then again, I’ve dealt with countless life coaches telling me that my less realistic dreams are totally within reach. I have a much easier time believing all the therapists I’ve had who use grounded but encouraging words. Therapists, by the way, are usually the first line of defense for people who have anxiety: Not listicles.
What I’m getting at is that there were, and are, intangibles: What makes you happy might not have occurred to you yet. The worst thing that you can do for your own self-care is view your current life as a failure. No matter how bad the intangibles are. No matter how true it might seem. No matter how similar your life story is to any cartoon supervillain’s. I have trouble believing this advice, but these days I just try to stay firm in my convictions without over-analyzing them. This writer wants to let you know that uprooting his career was his right choice. Of course, he doesn’t detail what led him to that decision.
Not that our situations are similar, but I can pinpoint all of the details that factored into my decision to leave home for a risky career switch (none of which were influenced by therapy). I knew it was the right choice at the time. I didn’t realize until a decade later that the choice to uproot was more about bitterness and rejection from what I couldn’t do but loved, rather than acceptance at what I could do (and hated). Being critical of those who could do certainly didn’t help things. It was simply the most plausible option that I had within reach. Then again, he’s probably being vague because he wants his story to be universal: If this worked for him, then maybe it can work for you.
One thing that alleviated my anxiety was not thinking of the entire universe as some grand scheme where everything is fair and inherently good/bad people always get what they deserve. Even cartoon supervillains (the Ice King is pretty darn complex). Obviously, there are exceptions. If you recognize that there are things that you can and can’t control, and that you don’t really have all the answers, then any real endgame doesn’t matter. Most life coaches will tell you this, and so will most therapists. They just might have to beat you over the head with it repeatedly until you fully internalize it.
Repeat after me: Every Case Is Different
While I don’t know much about this particular blogger, let’s look at some baseline facts about him. He has a steady source of income, as well as a job that he loves. He lives in New York City. He’s not single. He doesn’t vote.
He is working from a position that has advantages and disadvantages. First of all, NYC is a major industry city filled with opportunities, but it also exists in a hub away from the current Tea Party Republican President Who Wants to Abolish Public Programs, Seriously. It has an overqualified Democratic Governor, Mayor, and two Democratic Senators, as well as countless other public servants who ensure that our diverse constituents will always be protected. It also has a precarious balance. While the majority of New Yorkers vote Democrat, that isn’t always the case, and the pendulum can, and has, switched on a dime in the Mayoral elections, especially when enough people find reasons not to vote.
Insisting that avoiding the current news cycle has made you a less anxious person can come across as entitled to the kinds of readers who follow politics, stay informed, and vote, regardless of their anxiety. As someone with essential rights that are no longer protected under this President, and who lives in a major city that may be susceptible to violence (people get mugged at Zabar’s, for Pete’s sake), my experience is both similar and different from his. Of course, I wasn’t always like this. Years ago, I was the most uninformed college kid you ever did meet. I voted once before 2016, and for John Kerry. Today, I could get in bed with Governor Cuomo one second and wake up with Mayor Ivanka the next. I have to work overtime to ensure that it doesn’t happen.
Living in NYC comes with its own unavoidable stressors. You have a job? Try commuting to it. Even if it’s just an eight-block walk to the office, your chances of getting a severe head cold every other week, even during the summer, have increased exponentially, no matter how many kale smoothies you down. You don’t have a job or work at home? Get ready for tons of inexplicable hammering! Good luck avoiding the news, since the bagel shop will probably have C-Span on full blast (it would have been “The Chew” if anyone else had been elected President in 2016), the newsstand on the corner will boast plenty of issues for you to not look at, and your pharmacist might be watching the President’s next official statement while filling your antibiotics. Even my transcendental meditation teachers admit that the stress here is nearly impossible to bear. Particularly after this election.
I would have found it difficult to avoid stress, even if I hadn’t been attending rallies, making calls, arguing about how Democrats support unionization, education reform, the arts, accessible mental healthcare, the environment, and affirmative action and Republicans don’t, getting daily panic attacks about the Electoral College, correcting inaccurate memes about how Clinton and Trump were equally bad (Of course Hillary would have been mean to Victoria Woodhull and Corazon Aquino, there is so much proof!), sharing George Takei’s #VoteBlueNoMatterWho videos, and waiting on line with hundreds of other angry Democrats for hours just to cast one vote. I even found love on the campaign trail. Being involved kind of alleviated my stress because it enabled me to think differently. It’s a struggle just to be selfless in a “Treat ‘yo self” cupcake world. I can’t turn a blind eye to widespread suffering, or the fact that it never needed to happen in the first place.
This was my case, and it just happened to involve political activism. When the current President abolishes therapy so he can increase military funding, perhaps others will understand what I mean. While this writer might be aware of them, the struggles that many of his readers deal with are likely ones that he will never, ever have.
About that “Scarcity Mindset,” which I’d never heard of until now
I’m going to quote from a great but controversial book, Making It On Broadway. I say “controversial,” because many readers believe that it takes a one-sided view from actors who had bad experiences in the field. It’s a pretty fantastic read, but this quote rattles around my brain a lot:
“I’ve learned to live without material goods. It sucks.” — Alex Santoriello
Regarding what this blogger calls the “Scarcity Mindset,” I get what he’s referring to; many people are lucky to come from privilege, but every independent adult has to be mindful of where their income goes.
I see his point in letting go of material goods, in a way, because I lived without social media for over four years. I didn’t miss out on certain things, but I felt like I was missing countless opportunities. I wouldn’t have been cast in my first professional acting gig in years had I not been on social media. I also wouldn’t have landed a great day job, and I wouldn’t have made the friends that I keep today.
Unlike a job, social media is a perfectly expendable thing. I took a job at a startup, too, for reasons similar to the ones that this writer gives. I not only missed out on thousands of dollars that I could have been making at my experience level, but using a job at a “startup” to get into a big room didn’t work in my favor because the executives at other companies didn’t care if I was making my own opportunities. I thought they’d be impressed. Instead, the only interview I got at a company I lobbied tirelessly to work at, despite my connections there, was below my pay grade.
Television is expendable, too, although, in my case, it was also my profession for many years. I remember entering the field with an already-disheartened mindset. Maybe it was that bestselling book that my parents gave me about having multiple careers that didn’t include the arts. Or maybe it was meeting enough people who had quit the profession after some success to believe that my own recurrent failure was already preordained due to a lack of talent and a habit of self-sabotaging. Or feeling like I wasn’t good enough because I lacked both the training and experience needed, but similarly feeling like I was unqualified to do anything else. The act of even doing what I really wanted to do just didn’t seem like a realistic option. And, yes, I admit that there are way too many days where this feels like the case, but I feel like I need to keep going in spite of the odds. You see what I mean about TMI?
Or, perhaps I wasn’t lucky enough to experience the good parts yet. Or I needed better role models and mentors. Or I didn’t take enough time. Or I needed a solution that existed outside of the box. Or I still don’t know. You can look at this in a million different ways, but it was my experience, and my purview, and the brunt of it sucked! It also took a lot of trial and error that I simply wasn’t willing to endure. So much of my twenties seemed like a terrifying glimpse into a future that I wanted to do everything in my power to change. Do you think it makes me any less resentful to turn on the TV and constantly see a President who didn’t need to work hard and do all the logical things needed to become the top of his field in a short amount of time — and this, despite doing things that would get people fired or blackballed from their industries? I want to avoid it, too, but I suppose I can learn to tolerate it and pay attention to it without letting it influence me.
Okay, you read this much. Here’s how I alleviated my anxiety
I worked under the assumption that my anxiety was separate from my thoughts for many years. Because I wasn’t in therapy, I didn’t realize how wrong I was, and how much it caused me to miss out on in the long run.
There was no quick fix; only a lot of trying. Having less anxiety isn’t something that I can tie to any specific life choice. I just decided against making far too many big, consequential decisions that seemed like they would solve everything in one fell swoop. I also acknowledged that I have made mistakes and that I can be wrong. My difficulties have hurt other people and I should take accountability for them. Therapy can work wonders, too.
Sometimes anxiety has a raison d’etre. Sometimes it just happens. Uprooting your life and avoiding current events can help, but they can also have a counterproductive effect because both of these options hit hard. I’ll concede that some of this writer’s tips are valid. Not caring what others think of you is a perfectly valid point, as is not relying on labels. But there has to be a crucial difference between how we actually view anxiety and how we blog about it.