The Monsters on My Shoulder

TAGS: demons, monsters, Mental Health Awareness Month, story, anxiety, mental health, depression, stories, suicide, fight, health, strength

Anxiety is perched on my left shoulder, digging in talons just over where my heart is, grasping the quivering, beating-too-fast organ. Its dagger-like claws pierce so deep into my flesh, bone, and muscle that it’s impossible to remove. It dips its head just so it’s perfectly positioned for me to feel its rank breath grow hot on my neck as it whispers into my ear:

“What if no one likes you?”

“What if you can’t get this done?”

“What if everything goes wrong?”


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Depression is never far from Anxiety, as the two are joined at the hip like conjoined twins. Depression’s head is farther away from my ear than Anxiety. It’s quieter and most of the time, less noticeable, but it’s equally, if not more, dangerous than its sibling.

The relationship is simultaneously symbiotic and parasitic. Anxiety feeds off of my fears and doubts as it lists off every single “what-if” it can come up with. It gorges itself on every single vulnerability I have, digging deeper at each chink in what little armor I have, and keeps making me question everything I know or thought I knew and worry until there’s a big enough gap for its sibling to get its fill.

At least Depression is kind enough to numb me as it drains my energy, my willpower, my strength, without saying much at all. Nothing I do will make a difference in the world. Nothing matters anymore. I am nothing. If I am nothing, then why not do just exactly that? Nothing.

Anxiety has other ideas. Even if I am truly nothing, that doesn’t stop it from bombarding me with reminders that I have a thousand things to do and not enough time to do them. But Depression holds me hostage, and that's when it decides that now it is the time to speak.

Most people might think Depression’s voice is deep and guttural. It’s not. It has the sweetest, gentlest voice I’ve ever heard.

That’s why it’s so dangerous. It tells you, persuades you — coaxes you, even, to stay where you are, to do nothing, that nobody will miss you, that nobody loves you, and nobody needs you. Depression speaks so softly and with so much love, you can’t help but believe it.

Then Anxiety adds some more evidence of what Depression says to the mix: “Remember that one time at work when you missed some edits and you got a harsh email from your boss reprimanding you for your mistakes? Depression might be right about that one.”

And Anxiety doesn’t stop there. It never shuts up, especially when you’re at your lowest, and the worst part is that Anxiety never goes away. Neither does Depression. They can never be silenced.

This is the most difficult part of having a mental illness. Knowing that there’s no escape from the pain while you’re still alive. It will never go away in full. Never. There is no cure; instead, there are only means to make life more bearable.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I’m lucky I was diagnosed with anxiety at eight years old and depression at 10, I’ve had time to learn coping skills that many people my age are now just learning to deal with. I’m lucky that my parents could afford my medication and therapist and psychiatrist visits. I’m lucky to be alive, even though there are times I don’t want to be, though they are few and far in-between.


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Anxiety and Depression are still perched on my shoulder, but their grip on me isn’t as strong as it used to be, thanks to medication, therapists and psychiatrists, and a supportive circle of friends.

I invite readers to share their stories, how they see their struggles with anything from anxiety to OCD to bipolar disorder, and how they’ve coped or are learning to cope. Send me those stories at sschulte@elitefts.net or drop a comment below.

Header image courtesy of Tithi Luadthong © 123rf.com


If you or a loved one needs help, reach out to these resources. All hotlines listed below are available 24/7 and are confidential unless otherwise noted. In case of an emergency, call your local authorities.

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