I debated for a long time about titling this post the way I have. Because unfortunately in our society, admitting you struggle with something bigger than yourself is looked down upon and it really shouldn’t be. We should be helping those that can admit they struggle and those who can’t. My mental illness is anxiety. I’m not some sociopath that is going to blow up a barn or something, so get that out of your mind right now. I get up and go to work every day, perform at my absolute highest – pay my bills, drive a car… everything everyone else does.
If you live under a rock, this may be news to you – Robin Williams, the best comedic actor of our time – in my opinion - allegedly took his life yesterday morning. According to his publicist, he was battling severe depression and also had struggled with substance abuse. I can count on one hand how many celebrity deaths have impacted me – 2. Robin Williams and Steve Jobs. We’re taught that celebrities mean nothing, that when they die life goes on. Which in a way, it does. Obviously I never knew either of them personally, but both Williams and Jobs had significant impacts on all of our lives, it’s near impossible to feel even a little heart broken when their flame goes out. Robin Williams was amazing – his comedy was the best of our time, but sadly it was hiding his enormous pain.
Aladdin, Dead Poets Society, Jumanji, Good Will Hunting, Flubber, Night at the Museum, Happy Feet, RV, Mrs. Doubtfire and so many others. All classics, thanks to him.
Why do I bring all this up with a post titled ‘My Battle with Mental Illness’? Because last night when the news about Williams broke, I suddenly got a rush of anxiety. I’m guessing most of it came from that lovely friend PMS, but some of it didn’t. Some of it was already sitting there, hanging out, waiting for the right time to mess with my head.
My anxiety has always been with me, ever since I can honestly remember. Very early on, my anxiety manifested itself as SAD, or Social Anxiety Disorder. My Mom has told me stories of when I was a toddler in the stroller, we would go shopping to the local Kaufmans (which is now where Macys is located in my hometown mall) and I would lose my mind. Why? Because on the support beams throughout the store, they had mirrors installed around them, which amplified the number of people and made me feel closed in and anxious. Even growing up, I HATED going in that store because of the anxiety it caused me. I would sit outside the store on the fountain’s ledge and wait until my family was done shopping.
As I got older, my SAD stayed but I also developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD. There would just be little moments, like losing a toy or dropping & breaking a plate and I would just absolutely lose it, as in full on meltdown, screaming, crying, slamming things against the wall. Most of my anxiety attacks would happen at home because I learned very early on if I had an attack in public, they’d most likely lock me up forever.
Looking back, I realize now that I coped with this in a very strange way. As I was writing this post, I tried to recall some specific instances I could describe but other than general scenarios (like above), I honestly can’t describe a severe attack for you all. I do remember detaching myself mentally from the situation and almost having an out of body experience – especially in middle school and early high school – where it was almost like my mind split in two. One side was having the anxiety attack and the other felt like a researcher, scratching it’s chin and and saying “Now what we have here is a reaction to X condition…”. It sounds crazy, but I was just conscious of my actions and unconscious at the same time.
By the time I reached high school I learned how to better deal with the triggers of my anxiety – large crowds and just overwhelming situations. I have to admit that taking deep breaths and saying to myself “Just bite your tongue, we’ll deal with it when we get home in the privacy of our bedroom” really helped. Sometimes by the time I got home, I would have forgotten about what made me anxious. Sometimes I had to let it all out. And sometimes it all became just too much and I had to remove myself from the situation and let it out off to the side.
Again, as I got older the attacks grew less and less and I was able to teach myself how to think threw the situations before I reacted impulsively. Don’t get me wrong – I’m by no means cured of anxiety. It’ll be something I struggle with constantly, as I do right now. Currently, most of my anxiety comes from work and finances – as most adults do. I still can’t be in large crowds without getting flustered, but I still struggle with being able to talk on the phone with strangers – it’s just that initial dial and waiting for them to pick up, after we get talking I’m fine.
I do want to point out one very big fact here that some of you may be asking. I have never been on medication for my mental illness. I also have never been formally diagnosed with anxiety (as far as I know). While it’s much more common today to get a diagnosis and be okay, growing up in the 90′s (I know, so long ago right??) it was still very taboo and I’m pretty sure they would have put me in the special classes, had the school found out. I grew up in the heavily medicated ADD/ADHD generation and my parents knew I didn’t need medication to deal with my problems. Which I’m very glad they didn’t medicate me so young. WITH THAT SAID, I truly do believe that some people do need medication for their illness and I don’t discount the amazing work medicine does for those that struggle with mental illness.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that my anxiety is the worst during PMS/right before my period. My mind starts racing to everything and I have a sunken feeling in the bottom of my stomach. It’s hard for me to sleep and harder for me to wake up. I dread doing everything, even showering (gross, right?). But I get over it and squash the anxiety, just like I do all the time. I never, ever let it over power me because it has no right to. I’m stronger than those feelings. I’m better than that.
So again, I’ll never be cured of my anxiety, even if I do at some point start taking medication for it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing if you admit you struggle with anxiety, depression, manic disorder, OCD, ADHD.. any of them. Sure, you may be embarassed for a bit but I promise you, there are tons of people that will want to see you get a little bit better and will help you do so.
If you are struggling with any mental illness, especially depression and suicidal thoughts, please seek help. Suicide is not the answer – it never has been and it never will be. There are free resources out there if you just need to talk to someone. Even if you feel completely helpless and alone, I promise you you are more loved than you know.
If you are in the U.S., you can call 1-800-273-8255 to talk to a real person. If you’re international, Google will direct you to the right number!
Stay safe out there folks. <3