I wanted to write a blog about mental illness and how it has affected me. I always hated that term “mental illness” because it gives off the stigma that something is wrong with you. NEWS FLASH: Nothing is wrong with you and you are not alone.
It’s a tough subject to talk about and it personally took me about 20 years to finally admit it to people. Perhaps because 20 years ago, this was a taboo subject and no one wanted to address it. It was a “phase” and something I would grow out of… but, unfortunately, it only got worse.
I remember like it was yesterday the first time my anxiety hit. I was in 4th grade (yes, 4th grade) and I had to give a speech in front of my entire elementary school for a school play. Not a long speech, maybe 3-4 sentences, but when the time came to give my lines… I froze.
I started shaking and studdering and stumbled through my lines. After, I could feel the other kids laughing and making fun of me (kids can be assholes). After that, I have been afraid to give a speech to this very day.
Heres the thing… once you know you have anxiety and you know how your body reacts to it, you get more anxiety because of it. So, for me, I had anxiety about presenting and more anxiety worrying I would have another meltdown in front of people.
So, how did I survive the rest of my school years? By hiding in the bathrooms and faking sick to get out of my presentations. When I was older, I would take shots before a presentation to try to numb my nerves. Anything to prevent another public embarrassment. When I did have to present, I would purposely shorten everything to get through it as fast as possible.
The thing I want teachers and parents to know is that school was hell for me. Literally every day I was worried about having to present or read in front of the class. My parents and teachers back then had a “face your fears” mentality and would force you to do things you don’t want to do.
I can understand that working in some situations but, for mental illness, it doesn’t. In fact, it made it far worse for me. I’m not saying let kids skip presentations because they are scared. I know almost all people are afraid to present in a way. I am saying that you should really listen and watch how they react. If they are clearly struggling and kids are making fun of them, help them out in any way you can. Don’t let get to the point where it is traumatic and then force them to repeat it.
I always thought that once I got done with school and didn’t have to do presentations I would be fine. Boy was I wrong! Job searching, finances, paying off loans, dating… that is stressful stuff. It really got to a point where once I stopped worrying about one thing, another would pop up.
The funny thing about it is, my outward personality is about as calm and laid back as it gets. People are shocked to hear I stress and I am anxious because it seems like I don’t have a care in the world. I have gotten so good at hiding it, I try to convince myself it’s not there and I don’t deal with it.
That was until I started getting panic attacks and was physically hurting from keeping my stress and anxiety inside. I was literally in the hospital 4 times in 2 months because of panic attacks and abdominal pain from stress. These things are scary and it makes you feel like you are dying… which then brings on more anxiety. So can see how this spirals out of control.
That’s the thing… when you hear about mental illness, you probably think about these depressed kids shooting up their school because that’s the only time it is mentioned on the news. I have more than a few choice words to say about that but that is for a much longer post. The vast majority of us love life and just want to live happily. I have never had a suicidal thought in my life. In fact, I love life so much that I stress about dying or getting a disease.
Just Google “anxiety” and look at the images. All of them depict someone who is depressed, unhappy, scared, and alone. I’m not saying that is totally inaccurate but it paints us in such a bad light. Like all we do is hide in a dark corner all our lives. No, we find ways to deal with it even though it is killing us inside. We are the strongest people because we fight for our happiness even though there is a feeling of worry that is always there(that is what I choose the picture I did for this blog post).
I have been able to find some remedies to assist with handling the anxiety better. I want to share these as they might help you too but just know that these are not a cure.
- Stop Drinking – After a long day at work, I would pour myself a couple glass a whiskey. This would happen 5 or 6 times per week. It felt good to relax but the next morning I could always feel how anxious I was. I have stopped drinking for the past 3 months and I feel so much better in the morning.
- Workout – There is science behind this that shows that working out makes you feel better and can relieve stress. I work out 30 minutes per day now and feel a lot less anxious. Plus, my resting heart rate is much better now.
- Eat Better – I honestly ate terribly most of my life. So much processed foods and almost no vegetables. I still eat some bad things but I have a nutritional shake every day and get more vegetables in my diet.
- Meditate – I use an app called “Calm” and do 15 minutes of meditation each day. You feel so relaxed afterward it is amazing.
Overall, I have found that how you feel physically directly correlates to how you feel mentally. If you are overweight, have bad habits, and suffer from anxiety then start making some changes. Like I said, this is not a cure but it will help you manage your anxiety better.
Even though I feel better, I know this will never go away on its own. That is why I have started on a low dose of medication to assist me with my other natural improvements. That is one thing I would advise all people struggling with anxiety. When you know that you have tried everything and it won’t go away on its own, don’t feel bad about adding medication. If it improves your life, then what do you have to lose?
So, the moral of my story is don’t run and hide from your anxiety like I did. Tell people! Tell your family, your friends, your teachers, your boss, etc. You will be surprised how accepting people are and how much better you will feel not having to try to keep everything inside. I waited 30+ years to tell people because I didn’t want to seem “weak” and it was awful. Don’t make that same mistake I did.
Just remember, even though it probably feels like it, you are not alone. So don’t try to face this alone. Life is too short to live in fear of what others will think. And, if you are lucky enough not to have to deal with it, just remember that you have no idea what someone else might be going through no matter how they seem on the outside.