Apparently May is Mental Health Awareness month. Back in October there was World Mental Health Day — I recall it vividly. I read brilliant articles and watched poignant videos about the ill effects of various mental illnesses and disorders, and the systemic change that is needed to help sufferers. Then, just a day later, my Facebook timeline and Twitter feed had moved on. As if all the pain, suffering and death caused by mental illness in all the world had been cured.
Why isn’t every day and month devoted to mental health awareness? Why do we only get 32 days out of 365 to consider a set of perennial problems that affect around 20% of America’s populace, and likely a similar number globally? Every day should be—so I’m doing my part to break the stigma.
This post will be the first in a series of discussions on Medium. An ongoing chat about various mental illnesses and struggles — things no one likes to talk about but everyone should. I’ll mostly cover anxiety, as that’s what I’ve struggled with. But feel free to share your own thoughts, experiences and opinions in the comments below.
For those who haven’t personally dealt with mental illness, it is difficult to fathom its impact; for those who have, it is often impossible to bring oneself to speak out.
Some brief background: I’m relatively new to this whole anxiety thing. I lived most of my twenty-six years completely “normal”, whatever that means. I would hear people talk about their anxiety and I’d be dismissive, as if they were being hyperbolic. And to be fair, many probably were. But it wasn’t my place to judge. I was dismissive because I was guilty of casually throwing around the term. Oh, the anxiety of having a imminent deadline at work, or a paper due at university. Get over yourself.
Now that I actually suffer, I apologise for all those out there with legitimate anxiety issues that I may have belittled.
We all go through anxious moments—that’s a normal human response to the various stressors we face on a daily basis. These responses had practical value to our ancestors, who had legitimate concerns like “I need to gtfo of here before that large, saber-toothed cat gets me”, or “if we don’t kill this mammoth we’ll starve.” Today (for most of us) our problems are a bit more complex, but far less deadly.
Occasional anxiety is to be expected. Like with a big job interview or thesis defense. What’s not normal is a looming, crippling fear that is omnipresent, especially irrational, and because it’s always there, causes chronic physical symptoms. As if you were being chased 24/7 by a silent, faceless predator that you knew you’d never outrun.
Just over a year ago, I found out the hard way that mental illnesses are more common than you’d think—and they can happen to anyone at any time. Even a master’s graduate with countless good friends, a job at one of the most respected publications in the world, an air of confidence and no shortage of attention from the opposite sex.
Just over a year ago I found myself struggling to tread water in the middle of the ocean, in darkness, with seemingly no one nearby to hear my calls for help.
In the next post I’ll discuss some common, stupid things people say to anxiety sufferers. Following that, I’ll go into more detail about the my most irrational fears, frightening symptoms and personal experience. I will also post about problems anxiety raises with work, social life, fitness, dating and a few other things.
Until then, just know that whatever you may be struggling with, you are not alone.