October 10th, 2018 is World Mental Health Day. As someone who lives with an anxiety disorder, I felt it was important to write something. According to the World Health Organization,
“half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. . . Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviours such as unsafe sex or dangerous driving.“
This means many young people are struggling and may not even realize their emotions are not normal because in the United States we don’t talk about mental health. Americans would rather put up emotional walls and pretend they are invincible humans who never show weakness. Except having emotions doesn’t make you weak, it just makes you a real person. Emotions make you compassionate, driven, and strong. Being able to express your emotions to others without fear of being mocked is very important for growth as a human being, however, Americans have been raised in an insensitive society. A society which elects presidents who mock the mentally disabled and victims of sexual assault. In a society where the public laughs at those who express their trauma, how are any of us supposed to feel safe enough to be truly human? How are the teenagers in this nation supposed to learn how to properly deal with their emotions and become healthy adults? Now is the time to start openly discussing mental health and ways to properly seek help when the world becomes overwhelming.
It is impossible to explain what a mental illness or disorder feels like, unless you live with it. Anxiety is soul crushing, but to anyone outside my mind I seem perfectly fine. I like to refer to myself as a functioning panic attack. My heart can be jumping out of my chest, my thoughts circling around the racetrack that is my brain, my stomach twisting into a million knots making me feel as though I am about to vomit my whole intestinal track, but you’d never know that from looking at me. If you’d look at me, you’d think I were completely fine. A happy, functioning person without a care in the world. I’ve mastered the art of hiding my true identity. This is at times helpful, but other times it is crippling. There are days when all I want to do is cry or talk to my friends about why I hate myself ( I don’t really hate myself, I just hate not being in control of my mind).
Living with a mental illness ( I prefer to say living with, rather than suffering from. We are not the disease, we simply learn to deal with it) can make you feel like your mind hates you . It can make you feel completely out-of-control. It makes you feel like you’re stuck in someone else’s mind, thoughts you cannot control and a body sickened by those overwhelming thoughts. It is not easy. And because our society doesn’t like to talk about this issue, seeking help can be the scariest thing in the world. It is incredibly intimidating to admit you have a problem because no one else is able to see the your mind is hurting. People can see if your arm is broken or if you have chicken pox, but they cannot see if you have anxiety or depression. They cannot understand why your mind keeps telling you not to eat or why your mind has multiple personalities. And because no one else can easily see it, they’d rather believe it isn’t there. They would rather not talk about emotions.
But mental illnesses and disorders are very real. They are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. If you are struggling with a mental health problem, please seek help. For some simple counseling helps, while others need medications. Some people need a combination of both. Everyone I have met with a mental illness has at least needed a lifestyle change because taking care of yourself is key. Many times those with undiagnosed or untreated mental disorders are self-medicating with unhealthy behaviors. Personally, I take daily anxiety medications. I also have chosen to self-medicate with healthy habits. I started working out regularly which helps my brain deal with the extra adrenaline it produces. Exercise allows my brain to refocus. I go to group yoga and kickboxing classes which forces me to be accountable and actually stick to a routine. Writing and talking about my anxiety has also helped and it has helped my friends as well. If you start openly speaking about these issues, you will not only find out which of your friends are actually supportive of you, but you will quickly build a safe space where you know you’ll be listened to on a bad day. I am beyond grateful for my close friends and being able to rely on them for an extra boost on bad days.
If you are struggling, speak up. And for those who are not, LISTEN.