By Daniel Sean Kaye
The great thing about enduring a lifetime of depression and anxiety is being able to recognize it in others.
They might call it something else - feeling "down" or "unsettled" or "worried" - but when it lasts for a while, it can enter dangerous territory. Maybe it manifests itself in escalations, leading to catastrophic thinking. Perhaps it's the exhaustion that takes over, stopping you from enjoying life. Or maybe it's a fear that sits in your belly, gnawing at you.
This can all seem "crazy" to some. "Get over it and move on," they insist. But anxiety and depression are powerfully adept at suffocating rational thinking. They are wicked, destructive thought processes. In the grip of these forces, worst-case scenarios are not just possible, but seem likely. And those who can't see it are the "crazy ones."
As 2017 approaches, it appears as if America has become depressed and anxious. Regardless of your side (and there are many sides), something ugly seems to have emerged. There is fear and hatred - and anger - from all directions. It has been shocking and disheartening. Life really does seem to have changed.
For me, the antidote to worry and fear is action. But when faced with a multitiered attack, taking action is not always as simple as it sounds. When my depression and anxiety first took me over, I denied what was happening. I fought help. I crumbled. But then, eventually, I decided I had a choice: Die or find a way to keep going.
I held on to beliefs that had been my cornerstones: Everyone knows the right thing to do, even if some come up with reasons why they don't have to do it. Love is stronger than hatred. Good people accept each other. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. When awful things happen, find hope. Don't blame God for things not being the way I assumed they would be. Don't believe in the inherent evil of my fellow man.
Forty-plus years of depression and anxiety have given me the opportunities to learn coping mechanisms from folks much smarter than I am. First, I learned about my chemical imbalance and found the right medication and dosage I needed for some level of equilibrium.
But medication alone wasn't the answer for me. I had to learn how to combat the dark thoughts. Sometimes it was as simple as saying to myself, "I am going to be able to handle this" or "I've been through bad times before and I can get through this." Sometimes I had to force myself to be around something positive, like a happy child or a playful puppy or kitten. Sometimes I watched a comedy or sought out that friend who can always make me laugh. Sometimes I recited the Serenity Prayer - "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..." - or talked to God, hoping to confirm the feeling that His plan is going to make sense in the end.
And, because of my dark sense of humor, sometimes I just simply remind myself that one day I will be dead and won't have to worry about this crap anymore.
Like I said, they are coping mechanisms and, thanks to loved ones and professionals, these are the ways I have found to cope.
Looking at a new year, I focus on the concept that drives all these coping mechanisms: hope. Hope reminds me that the future isn't written. I know so many others have lived through much more difficult situations. I believe that I can fight back. I can be proactive and imaginative, future-thinking and unwilling to put up with the idea that someone else is pulling my strings. Taking action often seems to blow away the terror of being acted upon. It can be a great way to look at adversity, as if it is an opponent with an Achilles heel that I just haven't yet identified.
There is one thing I won't do, or at least won't do for long, and that is to give up. I won't allow myself to embrace the hopelessness. I won't be beaten down out of fear. I won't let people who have ideas I don't like decide what my life will be like. And I desperately hope none of you will, either.
Daniel Kaye is the director of life enrichment at Rydal Park in Abington, author of "Never Take a Hermit Crab for Granted," and a member of the Montgomery County Suicide Prevention Taskforce. email@example.com.