Alternatively titled, the struggle to keep anxiety under wraps
Public service announcement
Another difficult but important post for me to write. At the end of this post, I’ve listed quite a few resources on mental health and things not to say to someone suffering from mental health issues. Be sure to read them.
Dear Twenty Somethings,
I’ve got a secret superpower – the ability to make it look like I’m put together on the outside when I’m a hot mess inside. Unless you’re a very close friend or family member you probably don’t see that side too often. Luckily, you’re about to get an inner look inside my mind – my apologies in advance. Sometimes, I wonder what the inside of my brain looks like. I blame I can imagine it looks something like this:
Welcome to my chaotic mind friends!
I’m pretty sure I could set a world record for the number of questions that go through my mind in under two minutes. I’d call it a masterpiece if it wasn’t so consuming. Here are just some of the thoughts that currently race in my head when I wake up- a stream of consciousness if you will:
Shit! What time is it? Did I sleep in too late? Too early? Doesn’t matter really – not like I’m currently in school or anything! Is the strike going to end? Should I work on more assignments? Did my briefing note have too many words? Not enough words? What if I spelled everything wrong? Is it spelled or spelt? OMG, I’m a moron! What if we don’t go back to school anytime soon? Is my semester a waste? Did I even choose the right career? Will I ever graduate? Should I have stuck to teaching? What if I just drop out of college? Maybe I can write about it or tweet about it? Do I talk too much about my blog? Tweet too much? Seriously, am I too anxious? Not anxious enough? Maybe I should apply to work at camp? Can I work at camp forever? I miss camp. Ahhhhh
The thought process has met it’s biggest friend – depression. Cue the sad thoughts on top of the anxiety storm and the tornado picks apart at my mental health.
Even now, I’m anxious about whether I painted an accurate picture of what my brain looks like. Did my anxiety show enough? Worse, did it show too much? Now, people will think I’m a nut job and I’ll be forever alone. It’s a vicious cycle. Man, I need a cute puppy gif to try and calm down.
Now, that’s better!
Thankfully, mental health is becoming less stigmatized. More and more people are speaking up about their mental health journeys. My favourite mental health series is by artist Toby Allen. He depicts mental illnesses as monsters. Obviously, the anxiety monster speaks to me.
Sometimes, the depression monster comes to play. The social anxiety monster makes an appearance every so often. Misophonia makes me shutter.
Some days the monsters stay quiet, lurking in the background. Other days they roar loudly. Sometimes, they live in between the two extremes. They’re always there though. Even on the quiet days, the proverbial shoe seems as if it could drop at any moment.
The stigma is just as bad as the mental health issues themselves.
I spent the first half of my twenties trying to ignore the naysayers and the stigma. It’s all in your head, they say. There are people out there with bigger problems than you and it could be worse, they taunt. It’s all about positive thinking, they preach. In those days, I wish I was able to convince them that there were no magic cures to my problems. I couldn’t just start thinking positive thoughts. It doesn’t work that way. I couldn’t get my mind off of my anxious thoughts by focusing on something else. Sure, some of those people were trying to help, but minimizing the problem, feeds anxiety and worse of all, makes people who struggle with mental health issues feel as though they are a useless burden. In essence, the stigma makes matters worse and coping seem damn near impossible.
So, I learned to keep quiet about it. Nobody needed to be burdened by my racing thoughts. Nobody needed to know that I constantly worried about the future, stressed over whether or not anyone even liked me, or obsessed about making even the tiniest of decisions. I kept all my anxiety in a neat little box, tidily tucked away in the safe space of my brain. It’s right next door to the compartment where I keep my feelings under wrap (repress, rinse and repeat!) Unfortunately, the truth about tiny little boxes is that they can only hold so much before they threaten to explode; things kept under wraps start to unravel after time. Compartments are not conducive to coping.
I’m getting better at coping
Somewhere along the way, I learned that there are a few people trustworthy and supportive enough to give access to those compartments. While there are only a very select few who help take some burden off of me, they are the people that make coping easier. Writing also helps. Rather than keep obsessive and worrisome thoughts stored in a tiny compartment in my brain, I store them using paper and pen. This blog is another cathartic relief for all my little insecurities and thoughts. I’ve debated using meditation as a solution but I haven’t put that into action quite yet. Rather than ignore the racing thoughts and fears, I try to face them. If my thoughts become too obsessive or too quick, I try to slow them down. I can now recognize how to deal with the monsters.
Honestly, it’s definitely not easy. My brain never dealt well with rationalization and sometimes it’s seemingly impossible to negotiate with my mental health. Just like everything, there are ups and downs. At the beginning of September, I was really good at keeping the monsters at bay. At the back of my mind was the worry that I was living in the calm before the storm but using my superior coping skills, I ignored it.
Lately, everything has threatened to come crashing down.
With my school year hanging in the jeopardy of the college strike, my friends being farther away than I want, and classic fears such as being alone and nobody liking me threaten this precarious calm that I have established in my life. It’s not easy, but life never is I suppose. For now, I’ll cling to my coping mechanisms to get me through the eye of this storm. The notion that life isn’t easy somehow is comforting. As my favourite fictional character once said,
Nobody writes songs about the ones that come easy
Instead of unsolicited advice this week, I’ve included some (unsolicited) resources and articles (entertaining and serious) on mental health to help give a better picture than I could write.
- 10 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With a Mental Illness
- Mental Health Resources
- Mental Health Trackers
- 24 Comics That Capture The Frustration Of Anxiety Disorders
There are definitely more resources out there. As per usual, I’m not sure what this post is supposed to be. In the end, even if nobody reads this, the emotional purge provides some relief. The truth about mental health is that the struggle is actually more universal than we think. Hopefully, by reading this, someone will recognize that they aren’t alone in their mental health struggles. I’m here if anyone needs me.