All things considered, I’d rather have the flu

Some days I could almost—almost, I say—envy those people who came down with the flu this winter. And I could almost—almost, I say—offer to exchange troubles with them if that were possible, and if they were willing to make the trade.

With the flu, a person has measurable symptoms such as a fever and a cough. With anxiety and depression, few if any symptoms can be perceived from outside. When one has the fever and cough of the flu, other people are willing to believe what they say about aches and weariness. When one has anxiety and depression, other people are more likely to say, “It’s all in your head,” meaning, “Nothing is really wrong with you.” A few people might think of the flu virus as imaginary and the flu as something that can be conquered by positive thinking. Many more treat anxiety and depression as imaginary and as things that can be conquered by positive thinking.

When someone calls in with the flu, the advice given is usually gentle, kind, and considerate: “Take care of yourself, get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and don’t push yourself—don’t try to come back until you are sure you are better.” With anxiety and depression, the advice is usually less helpful: “Don’t mope; don’t feel sorry for yourself; think about other people and their problems; get active and keep yourself busy and your problems won’t seem so big.” This advice shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what anxiety and depression are doing to a person. It is as if a well-meaning person walked up to a paralyzed man lying on a stretcher and said, “Get up and take a walk—it’ll make you feel better.” Only our Lord Jesus Christ was able to cure paralysis by telling people to get up and walk. The rest of us can only make that victim feel worse by encouraging him to do exactly what he wants to do and cannot do. The person battling anxiety and depression is equally vulnerable. He or she wants to cheer up, wants to be active doing useful things, and wants to feel better. Those are exactly the things he or she cannot do. Encouraging such a response to anxiety and depression is like rubbing salt into a wound.

How can you support a person battling anxiety and depression? Let them know that you care. Be available for them, even if they do not seem to want anything from you. Avoid advice about how to handle their problems, unless you are a qualified counselor or physician. Do not criticize them for taking medication or seeking counseling to help with their problems—don’t criticize, even if you are convinced in your own mind that such medicines and counseling services are a fraud and a rip-off. Above all, avoid blaming them even indirectly for their problems. Don’t tell them that their fears and their sorrows are signs that they do not believe God’s promises. Pray for them, wish them peace and calm, and keep on loving them—even when their struggles and their means of coping with those struggles make them seem unlovable.

The American landscape has become friendlier towards people who have limited mobility. It has become kinder towards people who have limited intelligence. Insults are still spoken, and sometimes people resist the facilities that accommodate people with various challenges. We still have a long way to go toward accepting and helping those with emotional challenges. That journey begins with genuine kindness and compassion. J.

13 thoughts on “All things considered, I’d rather have the flu

  1. An excellent article. I see myself on the short end of the stick;, guilty as charged; however, I think I avoid showing my lack of compassion. I’m smarter than that, but I do have to take out my frustrations in prayer. As I read my comment, I feel that I am writing from the standpoint of either party-from the view of the emotionally sick or the physically sick. Only Jesus (and Jesus in us) can bring healing to either. However, he does use others as instruments in his hands. Right now I have loved ones in both “categories.” Truthfully I do get more irritated with the one who has the tendency to “think negative” no matter what the situation is. But that problem is probably harder to bring peace to than the other. – As always I benefit from reading your wise and intelligent posts. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words. Yes, the caregiver/friend/family member can be drained of compassion by too much negativity. It’s hard to remember that it (the negativity) is a symptom, not a choice. The other person has to choose between escaping the situation to renew energy (not always possible), faking compassion, or being blunt. Sometimes–maybe once in ten times–the blunt expression can be helpful. Most of the time, though, it hurts more than it helps. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Praying for you. I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for years and I was pretty much told all of those things—buck up, it’s in your head, you don’t have enough faith, you aren’t a good example etc. I’d much rather battle a physical illness than deal with those things.

    May the Lord make his face shine upon you and give you peace.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s