An open letter to those who are suffering

John Winstead

“As the semester winds down, the anxiety winds up”, is a sort of university dictum that many of us are all too familiar with. As someone who has and still does deal with depression and anxiety, I know finals week can feel like an impending doom. Because of that, I want to speak candidly to the two types of people who might read this.

The first is the person who can’t remember the last time they were happy. There are so many reasons you might be feeling this way. I understand that feeling of worthlessness. I know that feeling of self-loathing. I understand wanting to die.

But I don’t want to trivialize your pain by saying that things will inexplicably get better. I can’t make those promises. However, I can tell you that you are more than the sum of your failures and successes. I can tell you that you are always capable of growth. I can tell you that you are strong even if you don’t realize it. I can tell you that there is no shame in quitting. And I can tell you that it is not selfish to take care of yourself.

It’s odd writing such a personal statement to an anonymous reader. I am writing this alone. You will probably read this alone. So even if our depression and anxiety causes us to be alone, at least we can be alone together.

The second reader I address here is the person who is worried about a friend. It is hard to watch your friend be in pain and not know what to do. It is even harder to tease out the correct way to approach mental health issues. When do you honor someone’s privacy? When do you reach out to help a friend? When are you overstepping your bounds?

If you’re like me, then you are familiar with these questions because you can’t escape them. You only want to do the right thing, and it scares you that you don’t know what that is. If something happens to your friend, even if no one blames you, you’ll blame yourself. You’re always looking for warning signs, and you’re always seeing them.

Knowing when to help is not an exact science. You will not always know the correct thing to do. Learning to be okay with that is hard because it seems to cheapen the love you have for your friend. We want to believe we would go to the ends of the earth for the people we love, but while we might care about them deeply, we are still human. We have limits. And you can’t blame yourself for being human.

I used to believe in the magical healing power of language — that there was always a series of utterances or symbols that, when put in the right order, could undo damage and make people happy. I suppose, by virtue of writing this, I still kind of believe that. So if there are any magic words, I want to make them these: hope is something we give ourselves. That is the meaning of inner strength. Do not be afraid to look for hope.