It isn’t my anxiety that makes me flawed as an individual, it’s my inability to openly discuss the fact that I have anxiety. Today, we live in a society where the stigma of mental illness keeps many of us stuck in our own minds. We don’t reach out for help or support because we are met with eye rolls, criticism, and misunderstanding. We are led to believe that our struggles are not real, that it’s all in our heads and we are forced to fight quiet battles within ourselves. As if dealing with a mental illness is not hard enough.
It’s September and it’s Suicide Prevention Month. So, as someone who has closed herself off from society’s judgments, I am opening up about my anxiety. I’m taking the necessary steps I need for my own mental wellness and I’m hoping to inspire someone else to follow suit. As someone who struggles, I can not sit by as the world continues to belittle mental illness. More importantly, as a mom, I don’t want the children I raise to fall into the same negative patterns.
I’ve had panic attacks for as long as I can remember. Honestly, I can’t even remember a time when I didn’t feel overwhelmingly anxious about everything. As a matter of fact, I can already feel the tightness in my chest as I type out these words. It has taken twenty something years for me to recognize my panic attacks and almost ten more years to pin point triggers that set them off. My anxiety is like a river; some days it is calm and steady and other times it is chaotic and raging, plunging over a tall cliff. I’ve discovered a few techniques that have helped me manage it, I avoid certain situations that I can and establish a plan for the situations that I can’t.
It’s hard for me to discuss my anxiety with others, let alone the public. I have found myself being a hypocrite about it. When asked, “How do you feel about Mental Illness,” my response is always “We don’t talk about it enough.” Yet, I don’t talk about it at all. I don’t discuss it with family, with friends, nor do I discuss it with my doctor. “How are you feeling today,” is always met with “I’m fine.” My simple response is adding to the negativity of mental illnesses and I don’t want to be a part of that stigma anymore.
I am going to be honest, I didn’t have a revelation. I didn’t wake up this morning and decide I was going to start talking about my anxiety. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point. A lot of back and forth, starting to be open and then shutting myself off again. Lately, however, I’ve been inspired by a few of my fellow bloggers.
When asked why she talks about mental health so much, Becca from Becca Blogs It Out responded with, “because people need to hear it.” In other words, people like you and me, who are silent about our suffering, become inspired by people like Becca, who openly discusses the importance of mental health and why it needs to be normalized.
She doesn’t know it yet, (she will when she reads this) but my hero is Janna, from Manic Mama. She openly discusses what it’s like to be a mom with anxiety and her courage to put herself out there has inspired me to do the same. In her piece called Fighting Mom Guilt Together, Janna brings to light the realities of mom guilt and how her anxiety enhances it. She talks about how being vulnerable opens us up to be ridiculed and judged, not just for the decisions we make as mothers, but also our struggles with mental illnesses as parents. Yet, she knows speaking up is important. “I’m not the only mom with an anxiety disorder,” she says. Her posts, such as 4 Rules to Help Cope With Anxiety and Panic While Parenting and Zero to 100 Panic Real Quick, have been amazing reads for someone like me with anxiety.
As a mom, I feel like it’s important that I start to be more open about my anxiety. I struggle between wanting to be a great role model for my daughter and feeling like my battles with anxiety and depression make me a bad mom. If my daughter see’s me lose my ability to be cultivated, then I have failed her as the mom who has her shit together. Jess Johnsons post to her daughter put this thought into perspective for me. In Dear Daughter, When I Fail At Being Your Role Model, Johnson says that being a woman who struggles is the perfect example I can set for my own daughter.
“I wanted to have conquered anxiety and depression by now and I wanted to have figured out my mood swings. I wanted to stop being so damn selfish. I wanted to shake it all off and be the “perfect role model” before your precious soul entered the world. I haven’t done that.” ~ Johnson
Having it together all the time is not reality and I don’t want my daughter to think she has to be perfect. As humans, we spend our entire lives deciphering our emotions, overcoming personal defeats, recovering from traumatic experiences, and navigating through the societal rules of humanity. How do we not lose our minds in the process? I don’t want her to live in a world where she can’t cry when she’s sad or is told she’s overdramatic when she’s angry. I want all of her feelings to be taken seriously and I want her mental health to be important to her. I also want her to be the type of person who openly accepts people regardless of what the latest stigma is. Her first impressions begin with the examples she observes at home.
Reading about how others cope with their own struggles is not only inspiring, but it also defeats the negative association we give to mental illness. The more we talk about it, the more it becomes a standard for others who cope with their own difficulties. Getting treatment for depression will be as easy as going to the dentist for a pained tooth. Seeking advice for managing disorders will be as easy as consulting with your doctor about aches and pains. Telling our friends that we are not feeling well won’t have to be covered up with “I’m fine,” or “I’m just tired.” We can ask for help, we can seek advice, we can talk it out without being met with blank stares or vocalized criticism. Someday, we can be confident about our mental health and hopefully inspire someone else along the way.
If you are struggling with a mental illness, or think you may be suffering from one, please don’t be afraid to get help.