I started a hashtag on Twitter a few weeks ago when I was having a really bad day, anxiety-wise. I didn’t expect that #TheAnxietyDiaries would have as many participants as it ended up having, but it really proved something to me. We don’t talk enough about mental illness. And we need to talk more about it.
I always hesitate when it comes to writing one of these posts, even though I know that my most-viewed post in the history of this blog is my Robin Williams suicide essay. I think it’s because I’ve been taught, as we all have, to hide our mental health struggles behind a curtain of competency. In 2015, I vowed to myself to be more authentic in my writing and in sharing my struggles. It does help me, mental health-wise, but it also helps others. I don’t go into it necessarily wanting to be a saviour, but I do want people to know that they’re not alone. We don’t have to be quiet about our struggles if it connects us to others who know what we’re going through. My hashtag project showed me that much. I made a lot of new friends through sharing my story, and they are the first to step up to support me when I’m feeling badly.
I have been feeling badly – for about two weeks now. It started before Christmas, as it always does, and it’s continued on and off until now. I had a few panic attacks. I realized a few things about myself that I think I wanted to bury. I don’t talk a lot about the abuse that I went through in my last relationship, mostly because I want to protect the other person involved, but suffice it to say, it’s not going away for me. Realizing that I can’t handle everything on my own is a huge trigger. It’s kind of been rough since then.
When I get really anxious, I stop sleeping, which compounds the problems. The constant “anxiety buzz” – that pounding heart, nervous electric current in my brain that never quite goes away even on the good days – gets a lot worse and a lot louder. I start feeling nauseated all the time. It’s harder to see things in a non-catastrophic way. And I feel like the world is against me. Friends who have always been supportive are probably phoning it in. My family just wishes I would shut up and go away, likely. And it becomes easier to slip into bed and sleep, if indeed, I can sleep today. Sleep makes everything better. Sleep resets my brain; well, resets it until something else triggers it into the same intrusive anxiety thoughts that never really go away.
Living #TheAnxietyDiaries is a tough place to be. I mostly am able to pretend in front of colleagues, or at least walk away and deal with surprise nausea attacks or sudden shakiness without them seeing, but I can’t really avoid that stuff at night. I can’t avoid the dissatisfaction, the loneliness, the feelings of being wrong and broken. I can’t avoid the fact that most people don’t go through their lives in extreme caution, afraid to trigger something else that causes another period of anxiety cycling.
And I can’t erase the things that are said to me about anxiety on a regular basis. Talking to friends and family can help, but it can also hurt. Please don’t ever tell someone with anxiety that they could have it worse or that they’re selfish for feeling the way they do. Please don’t tell them that their feelings “might be” valid, but that they’re being insensitive by not looking at a situation from others’ POV. Most likely, they can’t look at it from another’s point of view at that exact time. And most likely, they know that things can get worse. Anxiety is an incredibly selfish and insidious disease. They already know that their feelings are overblown, out of proportion. They already feel wrong.
Also, telling someone, “Well, I guess it’s time for medication and therapy” doesn’t really help either. Medication and therapy are decisions that the anxious person must make for themselves. Most likely, they’ve been through both. I am re-considering therapy, but I have been on many medications and all of them caused side effects that were worse than any panic attack I’ve had. Yes, I waited out the “waiting period”. No, I didn’t feel better when I was on them. I felt like I was on them to please the people in my life. They mentioned I seemed better, but I didn’t feel better. Isn’t that the point of taking them?
Mental health is rarely simple and nearly always subjective to the person experiencing the disease. It is impossible to imagine living in someone else’s brain, but hopefully, hearing their stories may help others to understand what it’s really like to live with a mental illness that cycles like anxiety does.
I encourage everyone to join in, if they’re on Twitter, in sharing their stories on #TheAnxietyDiaries. I tell my stories to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness. I tell them because many, many folks live with the exact same diagnosis that I do – and we all have our good and bad days. Fostering understanding, reducing the fear of admitting that we don’t have it under control, helping to control the panic that triggers can bring – this is the reason why I write this stuff, even though it’s hard for me to do so.
Mental health isn’t some unattainable thing. This is my first step towards achieving the control I long for, in my life, and in my health.