“Anxiety is feeling like a swarm of rats is eating your soul. Depression is feeling like it’s already been eaten. Raise your hand if you spend your time cycling between both” (David Wong). This quote from “Why Anxiety is the Plague of the Modern World” not only provides a vivid description of anxiety and depression, but it also highlights the comorbid nature of the 2 conditions. The imagery of a swarm of rats eating your soul is tragically real according to all that I know about anxiety; and I bet if you ask someone who suffers from depression if they feel like their soul has been eaten by a swarm of rats, they would agree.
So why is it that so many people suffer the effects of anxiety and depression? According to the article, the suicide rate is at a 30 year high and there have been surges in deaths related to substance abuse. These statistics are symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, rates of depression went up 800% in 70 years amongst high school and college students and there was a 400% increase just over 23 years in adults who required antidepressant prescriptions. If you dislike numbers and statistics, I will go ahead and summarize for you. All these numbers and statistics indicate a significant increase in rates of depression and anxiety for individuals in our society. Furthermore, those medications that I mentioned are even becoming less effective over time. I return to my original question, why are so many people afflicted by anxiety and depression?
I believe it would be safe to say that people do not want to feel like their souls are being eaten by a swarm of rats or like their souls have already been eaten by said rats. I recognize the loathsome picture painted by the idea of the rats. If you would like a more palatable comparison, I have heard anxiety be likened to the constant feeling of being about to fall. However, the imagery of the rats highlights the disturbingly uncomfortable nature of anxiety. Anyways, if people do not enjoy feeling this way, then why don’t they just snap out of it or think positive thoughts? The hypothetical fix is more complex than that and the root of it all is deeper than one might originally think. David Wong suggests considering the evolutionary purpose of anxiety. You are a hunter and gatherer and your food supply is running low. This causes you to feel anxious so you go and hunt and gather more food. This anxiety is innate and a survival mechanism. The article poses a theory which suggests that modern day media has figured out a way to tap into that evolutionary instinct.
Think about the mixed messages that the media sends us. One day we see a commercial starring a beautiful and flawless body. They tell us that in order to look like that, we need to buy this. Therefore, we buy this in order to look like that. However, this is really expensive and it turns out that you need more than just this to look like that beautiful and flawless model from TV. Not only is it getting expensive, it is also time consuming. You don’t have excessive amounts of time or money for that miracle fix that isn’t really a miracle fix because you are a mom, a wife, a teacher and a student. You have to be all of those things and society tells you that you have to be perfect at being all of those things. Society also tells you that you need to be flawless and beautiful. But wait, you have to be flawless, beautiful, a perfect mom, wife, teacher and student? That sounds pretty demanding and stress inducing. Do you see why anxiety and depression might be a problem in our society? David Wong says it well when he states, “this chorus of voices will tell you that you should be devoting more time and energy to your career (while shaming you for being poor), but also that you should devote more time and energy to socializing (by shaming you for being a friendless virgin). They shame you for your weight, but then make it clear that all of the really cool people eat and drink with abandon. They mock your nerdy clothes and then scold you for being too obsessed with physical appearances.” The writer theorizes that the media profits off of our anxiety and depression.
Anyone who suffers from the ailments of anxiety and depression will tell you that it does not feel good. The feeling is crippling, crippling to the point of staying in bed all day, standing in the corner alone at a party and hating yourself for it, stealing food because you don’t have money since your mental illness is so paralyzing that you can’t get a job or go to the one you have, or feeling physically sick. Honestly, these mental illnesses are lethal in their own right. Although there is not a miracle cure or easy way to beat your anxiety or depression, there are effective treatments and coping mechanisms you can learn. Wong suggests deploying an effective technique, “a sort of martial art of the mind which involves strategically deploying or withholding your shit-giving as needed. I call it noshitsu.” He views your attention as a valuable resource that should be spent wisely. If you overspend that resource, you are harming yourself. Moreover, people who profit from your depression and anxiety are constantly sending messages to your brain that trigger that anxiety and depression. The article equates these messages with e-mail inbox spam, just filter it out. This technique is a cognitive adjustment and is not as easy as the act of writing it down. It takes practice. Being that David Wong suffers from depression and anxiety himself, his insights are valuable and a fantastic resource for a form of psychoeducation. He also speaks about a dark subject in a humorous manor. This is an extremely effective coping mechanism.
My advice? If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, please seek out help. Talk about it with a trusted friend or family member. Seek out therapy. Try to find articles like this written by people like David Wong because they help remind you that there are people who feel similar to how you feel. Try adjusting your cognitive processes by filtering out the spam of society. Always remember that your attention is a limited resource. Do not be ashamed and know that you are not alone. Anxiety and depression are plagues of the modern world but they are not impossible to overcome.