It is no secret amongst my closest friends that I suffer from anxiety attacks.
Recently, I’ve been pleased to see an increase in exposure for anxiety and other mental illnesses on mainstream social commentary, other blogs and on news websites from writers being more candid about what it feels like for them.
Some of them I relate to, others I do not. That’s because there’s no right or wrong way to experience anxiety.
I’ve been proud of these people without knowing who they are, for being honest, while sitting to the side and wavering over whether to be honest myself. I read recently that 1 in 6 people will report experiencing a common mental health problem every week. So many of my friends and family experience this in some form, that this figure is extremely unsurprising to me. And it’s only a good thing as far as I’m concerned that mental health in this country and around the world is becoming more visible.
When and why does mental health become a competition though?
I used to have a friend who suffers from depression. I felt for her very strongly, and a part of me still does. But I gradually found myself struggling to sympathise with her, because she made her mental health a competition. It didn’t matter to her that I was going through a tough time as well – in her eyes, my life was better than hers so I had nothing to be upset about. It got to the point where I would actively change the subject when in conversation with other people, when I could see her getting worked up to telling them why her life was worse than theirs.
I haven’t spoken to this person in a number of years. At a certain point I had to be selfish in order to continue down my own path to (relative) mental health.
To people who don’t know me I can be pretty convincingly calm these days, and most of the time, I am. But when it manifests for me it feels like I’m tearing apart at the seams.
During one such episode a bit over a year ago, it would take me two hours to eat my bowl of muesli and yoghurt in the morning, and then it would almost be time for lunch. Eating is a chore when all of my energy is being consumed in holding my thoughts in my head, in keeping my limbs on my body, and my heart in my chest. Because that’s what it feels like for me; like if I don’t concentrate on holding myself together, I’ll just disintegrate and there’ll be nothing left.
This was an extreme episode, one that I’ve had before and will probably have again. This time I was able to pull myself out after just a week; but I’ve had them last months before.
I’m lucky to have reasonable control over my anxiety. Most of the time it doesn’t affect my personal or work life; things sometimes slow down for me, but I still get them done. I struggle to relate to people, especially when there’s a lot of them but I’ve become skilled at forcing my way through my discomfort. Or just leaving the situation altogether. We all have a right to say when it’s too much.
I know there are people out there who have it a lot worse than I do. Mental health is not a competition, but I know that that is true. It’s important to me however, that people know it’s a two way street; the stats show us that just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re the only one. And we can help each other!
Never dismiss someone’s pain because you feel it’s lesser than your own. You never know what is bubbling just under the surface.
Photo by Ivan Karasev
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