“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems” ― Epictetus
My imagination has been the root of more problems than have ever existed on their own. I’m not sure when it began, but I think that my female intuition figures in there somewhere, which has given my worry an air of credibility.
I am not at all what most would consider a worrier, though. I use common sense to deal with most daily problems. It’s the problems that come into my mind as I’m lying down to sleep that become those “imagined anxieties.” When my head hits the pillow, I can often worry a problem into existence if it doesn’t appear on its own.
I know from years of being in Bible studies that “casting my cares” is all I should do, but for some reason it isn’t as easy as we think it will be to do that, is it?
“I wonder if he’s been in an accident?”
“What if I fail this exam?”
“What if I can’t afford to retire?”
“Why doesn’t she like me?”
“What if the car repairs are too much?”
“What if I’m not around to help my kids?”
How many of those anxiety-filled thoughts or similar ones have you had? The truth is that 18% of Americans suffer with some type of anxiety issue (that’s 40 million people, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America).
The bigger truth, in my opinion, is that we as individuals know our own struggles but assume that no one else has similar issues.
We have been taught to not share everything with the world. Instead, we show people what we think they want to see. I’ve been guilty of it. The times I don’t have a smile on my face are few. Usually, I’m happy, but there are times when it’s an effort to smile.
Questions like How are you? and How are you feeling? are more easily answered with Fine, thanks, than the sometimes more difficult truth. It’s not a Pollyanna way of thinking, but a practical way of getting through the moment. Have you felt that way? Millions of people are anxious and full of panic, and they don’t want you to know.
In the business world, anxiety might be seen as a sign of weakness. Men and women work hard to keep their frailties from being exposed. What is it that makes us want to beat up on people who aren’t as strong as we deem appropriate? I’m not advocating a society in which people aren’t pushed to be their best; I am advocating a society in which people are allowed to be imperfect.
I am not a doctor, nor do I have all of the medical answers. Unlike many doctors with whom I’ve dealt through the years though, I have personally experienced anxiety and depression and can attest to the way it feels inside of a person’s head.
Talking with friends recently, my own thoughts were confirmed — not everyone understands the way those with depression or anxiety think and feel. What a surprise for me when I discovered that not everyone experiences extreme sadness or panic. I thought EVERYONE had thoughts or fears that sent them into hours of trying to talk themselves out of what normally might be a minor concern.
While my tormenting seems to happen only at night, millions of people are tormented during the day, when they are trying to interact with people, trying to do their jobs, trying to seem normal. I cannot imagine how difficult that must be.
Every time someone famous commits suicide, the subject of depression becomes a national health care crisis for a day or two. With any suicide, those who can’t understand try to wrap their heads around the subject. Many call the “victim” selfish for taking his own life, and lots of folks just think people should “get it together” because life isn’t that bad.
You who have little difficulty handling life’s problems are quick to say that suicide is a long-term/permanent solution to a short-term/temporary problem. I know you mean well, but it’s just not that easy. Those who succeed in their suicide attempts have dealt with a problem that is bigger than what you see in front of you.
Imagine a physical and mental pain that is torturing you. You would do anything to get out of that pain, and that is where they are in their moments of escape. As with any death, those left behind feel helpless and full of sorrow.
I have tried many things to help my personal struggles and have found that lifestyle changes have helped me tremendously. It isn’t an easy fix, it isn’t a one-and-done fix, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for the next person. This is who I am, and that is what we each have to come to terms with — we are each wired differently, and it’s OK.
I have written before about compassion, though, and that is the one thing that we can each offer to people with illnesses we don’t understand. To the person who suffers with an outwardly visible problem, we typically offer compassion easily, but that same kindness needs to be extended to those whose illnesses we can’t see. The woman or girl who picks at her skin until it bleeds is revealing what she feels like beneath the surface — raw. The man or boy who always has a joke is hiding the interior that feels no humor.
We aren’t usually paying attention to oddities in a person’s behavior, and we take people at face value for good or bad, and for the most part that is OK. We don’t need to wear our issues on our sleeves; it would exhaust everyone. We press on, and we live.
Our problems might be imagined, but our anxieties are real. Epictetus was so right.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.