An open letter to anyone who has someone in their life struggling with depression, anxiety, or self-injury:
We don’t need you to fix us. We are not a project for you to tackle so you can feel better about yourself. We are not a problem to solve. We are not here to answer questions we know full well you don’t want the real honest answer to as a way to lift a burden you choose to carry.
When you ask how we are and we reply “okay,” know that we aren’t. When we have a new scar and you assume it was done to get your attention, you’re right. Not because we expect you to have an answer or to fix the problem but simply because we need you to care enough to bring a bandaid. We need someone who can help us understand why we need to show how we feel inwardly in an outward way. But since we don’t know why we have this need, we don’t know how to help you help us.
When we are depressed and you ask if you can do anything, the answer we are screaming is YES. But most of the time, that yes will be so silent, it’s deafening. We need you to help us clean the house and get out of bed long enough to shower. You can’t fix our problem and we aren’t able to give you the tools you might need to help us. So don’t make us talk about it. Instead, remind us why we matter. Tell us why you need us in your life.
When we are struggling with our anxiety and you tell us it will all work out—that we shouldn’t worry—it feels like you’re squeezing a lemon over an open wound. It’s not helpful. In fact, canned reassurance only makes us more anxious. Because now we feel obligated to act like everything’s okay when it’s not just so we’re not judged by you. If we knew how to get over it, we would have done that already. We aren’t incapable of understanding—of seeing the logic that, yes, eventually things might be okay. But for the time being, nothing is okay, so we walk around bearing a weight so heavy, the thought of breathing becomes overwhelming.
We are not a project. We are not overreacting. We do not have an innate need to be the center of attention. We are a living breathing example of what living life from within a box is like. We can hear everyone shouting from the outside, telling us to break the box and set ourselves free, but we are paralyzed by our own sense of who we are and what we can’t control. So we remain there, locked inside.
What do you need to know to help those around you trapped in a box of depression, anxiety, or self injury?
Don’t focus on breaking the box to set someone free. Instead, build your own box and set it down gently next to theirs. Build a bridge from your box to theirs, clear a path, and always leave your door open.
We all live in glass boxes. It’s how we choose to build a community around these individual boxes that really matters.