The Awkward Alien’s Survival Guide to Living on Earth: Tactics for Battling Anxiety and Depression
There are signs that extraterrestrial beings walk among us.
Hidden within a human covering, they walk, talk and look like normal humans … despite being very different. Sure, there are those who obviously failed their classes at the Academy of Human Appearance, and can be identified as different with little effort - but there are also those who are skilled enough to deceive even their closest friends. For the craftiest, only by revealing their true thoughts to a genuine human causes their humanity to be questioned.
When doubts, struggles and weaknesses are shared, Earthlings immediately separate themselves from the cleverly disguised Aliens, calling them un-relatable, weak and pathetic … since no “normal person” would ever struggle like that! After all, Humans are taught to “Buck up and just get over it “. Unfortunately, this approach to struggles doesn’t seem to be successful among the Aliens…
So, after much thought, I have come to the realization that I, myself, may also be one of these Aliens in disguise.
Whether we Humans like to admit it or not, depression and anxiety are complex issues. These conditions take on many forms, which vary in severity from person to person. One thing I have noticed, working at a Teen Center, is that most who really deal with these issues feel very alien because of it. (Hold up! Before we go farther, this isn’t a “Poor Me- Poor Us” article.) But – Be Encouraged! - If you struggle with any of the common expressions of Depression or Anxiety outlined below, you are not all that different … and you are not alone!
Situation #1 – “I don’t want to exist.” This thought may cross your mind often .It isn’t that you want to end things; you just wish that the world would stop and that there would be nothing, especially if “nothing” is what you feel inside. Once you reach this point, apathy reigns in your life, and you find yourself wishing you could care- if there were anything left in you with which to care! Hiding this feeling is sometimes really hard, since hiding your feelings takes energy you don’t have. This is one of the worst situations I have faced, because I absolutely feel sub-human here. Almost alien…
Situation #2 – “I just hurt inside.” This is what I think of as classic depression. It’s not that you don’t feel- like our first situation above - it’s that all you do is feel! Despair, hopelessness, and failure fill your mind, regardless of outside realities. For example, even in a room filled with loving family and friends, all you feel is, “I am alone.” Or, “No one loves me. “ This incorrect, but overpowering, feeling can persist indefinitely. You may still be able to put on a smile for others, but it’s is just muscles moving and not happiness that produces it. At its worst, this situation can cause you to make rash decisions to stop the pain. Once again, you begin to feel so different from everyone around you that you might as well be from another planet…
Situation # 3 – “I feel like life is too overwhelming.” This thought is commonly felt by those who struggle with anxiety. In this situation, you may feel like life is just too much to handle. Think about the scene from Star Wars when Hans Solo finds himself trapped in the space ship’s trash compactor …. With the walls closing in … That’s how life feels! When anxiety hits, the responsibilities of your world seem heavier than normal – and even the little things seem like mountains in your mind. When you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety -and suffering from the panic attack that can follow - the idea of hiding on the floor in a public restroom seems more reasonable then facing life and dealing with the reaction of others. You immediately become most aware of people’s stares… Believing that some of them are judging you… as an Alien…
So what should you do, if you find yourself in one of the situations we’ve mentioned?
Let’s be clear - I am not a doctor. I can’t diagnose you, or give you the details of latest scientific breakthrough for dealing with depression or anxiety. But from my experience in running a Teen Center and talking with many teens struggling with the same issues - and as a fellow Alien who has struggled with all the situations mentioned – I do have a few strategies to share with you. One of my students is realizing that the sudden tension and panic she experiences may not be brokenness or moodiness, but may actually be anxiety that she can learn to deal with successfully. Another is a student that had texted me about his suicidal thoughts. Because his reality feels distorted from the actual situations and relationships around him, he doesn’t know what to do. So we are working through it together. What should we do when we or those near us are going through this? Both of these teenagers – as well as many others who feel like Aliens – could benefit from the 4 strategies below:
1st - Reevaluate.
I, personally, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) As a result, during certain seasons of each year, I slip into some form of depression, struggle with a “cloudy“ mind and am chronically tired. I have had to study my own physical and psychological patterns for years to recognize this cycle. Time spent evaluating and monitoring my attitudes and symptoms enabled me to be correctly diagnosed and treated. Become a student of your own behaviors - instead of making immediate judgments. In fact, bring others that are close to you in to help. You need people around who can be aware of what you are going through, and you need their insight, since yours may be clouded from depression or anxiety. You will learn many amazing things about your mind and body, as you focus on how you function, both in and out of these seasons. Stress levels, medication, exercise, sleep, sunlight, relationships- and even time of the day -all play a part. Become an expert on yourself.
2nd - Reorganize.
Please, please, please never let the observations about your patterns and challenges above become excuses for avoiding life! Too often, people come to the realization that the emotional and physical challenges they face are, in fact, real, so they use the difficulties as an excuse for avoiding responsibilities. On the other end of the spectrum, others try to ignore their findings and truck through their life, as if everything is functioning within normal parameters. I, personally, have tried both approaches … and denying the issues only made the situation worse. Don’t ignore the depression or anxiety you may be feeling – Instead, be smart and reorganize life, so that you can deal with your symptoms as effectively as possible. If more sleep helps during these seasons, go to sleep earlier so you can get the rest you need and still make it to class , work or whoever you are expected on time . If you can’t take on as much work, plan to take on less in advance instead of quitting half way through. If anxiety is a factor, find out what you need to do to calm yourself down, before going into an environment that is stressful. For some, taking medication should be considered. If you think of it as a “crutch” , or shameful , give some thought to all the people who use crutches , walkers , wheelchairs … or insulin , antibiotics or many other types of lifesaving medications …. Medicine can be helpful – If you need it, use it. Do what is necessary to keep yourself healthy and functioning responsibly.
3rd - Remember.
Throughout history, God told His people to set up reminders of who they are and how far they had come. Every time God moved in the lives of His people, Israel established a yearly sacrifice, celebration or ceremony, so that they would never forget what God had accomplished in their lives, even at their weakest points. There is something about us, as humans that make it easy to forget the truth when adversity hits. Put practices in place that will remind you of all the good in life, even when circumstances don’t look so good. Keep a journal to record good moments- keep pictures of friends who care- Remind yourself- again and again- of the people who love you. God did not make a mistake when He had made you. Whatever you need to do to keep your head above water in the dark times, do it. What you do to remember all the good in your life may look very different from what others chose to do … but do something to serve as your reminder. I, personally, keep a binder that contains quotes from people who have encouraged me, students who have told me how they have been helped by the Teen Center, and things that Jesus has told me during prayer times. Fight the corrosive thoughts that will lie to you with reminders of your true value!
Don’t Give In – Don’t Give Up! The feeling of depression or anxiety you are experiencing will pass. The problem we have, however, is that we never know how long our struggles will last, before we can grab a breath of fresh air. Too many teens and young adults have given up the ghost right before the darkness leaves. Keeping in daily contact with Jesus can help, as you wait out the difficult times ; He often gives the most hope in the deepest darkness. And remember - It’s not like Jesus didn’t face some dark times Himself! After all, His family thought He was crazy- His friends abandoned Him at the worst possible time - and the Church people of the day told him He was an irreligious loser, who deserved to die. If anyone can relate to the struggles you are facing – and the feelings of sadness, despair and not belonging that often go along with those struggles – it is Jesus! Ask Him to help: Stay in the fight, surround yourself with friends and keep the faith…. You will make it, young Alien!