One of our listeners, after hearing the Thriving with ADHD episode of Semi-Together, brought up a question that I’ve been thinking about ever since. As she heard me talk about the gifts of ADHD that offset the challenges, she wondered, “Is there any upside to anxiety and depression?” Like me, she deals with both and can feel demoralized by them.
My heart went out to her, because sometimes it just feels so unfair to be wired this way. And this year, even those who aren’t managing a diagnosed mood disorder may be struggling more than usual.
The answer that kept coming to mind, the superpower that anxiety and depression can gift us with, is empathy.
The ability to sit in the darkness with people who are hurting and say, “I get you. I’ve got you,” is an incredible gift. That quiet acceptance, that willingness to simply be beside someone who is suffering, may quite literally save their life.
When I’m feeling depressed, the last thing I want to do is be around other people, because I feel like such a downer and a drag. But isolation only makes it worse; what I actually need is to be seen, loved, and accepted just as I am. Without being compounded by shame, the difficult emotions can process and pass.
Dr. Michelle Frank said that having ADHD herself allows her to be a “wounded healer,” drawing on her own ADHD challenges to help others manage their own. I feel deeply grateful to those who have transformed their trauma into meaningful art or service to others, and I hope to do the same in my writing and podcasting.
A few wounded healers who have moved me to tears lately:
On Armchair Expert, with Dax Shepherd:
Sara Bareilles channeling loneliness and anger into empowering anthems like “Brave” and “Armor”
Jewel helping young people who have difficult childhoods like hers with family assistance and social-emotional learning
On You and Me Both, with Hillary Clinton:
Audra McDonald surviving her suicide attempt in college and drawing from a full range of emotion in her music and theater performances
Jason Kander dropping out of the Kansas City mayoral race to seek treatment for PTSD and depression, and now leading an organization that provides support services to fellow veterans
Even on The Bachelorette this week, contestants shared how drug addiction and bulimia led them to careers helping others with recovery and wellness.
While there aren’t many of us who would choose to deal with debilitating emotions like anxiety and depression, they open up a well of compassion that can help heal others’ wounds. The most empathetic healers are the ones who’ve suffered those wounds, too, and whose loving presence can be a life-changing balm for others. That's a pretty powerful upside. 💕