#BellLetsTalk day was yesterday, and once again I was floored at the amount of love and support shown online for everyone living with mental illness. It’s a wonderful day, and a truly important step to growing the global consciousness of and around mental health.
I figured that I could recognize the importance of this day and what it stands for by sharing a little bit of my own experience, and making myself vulnerable like so many others have this week. My approach to this blog has been to help those in becoming comfortable in the way they socialize (or…don’t). I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the role mental health plays here, particularly in my experience. So, let’s do that now.
I’ll start with a disclosure for those who may not know me as well as others: I, like many others, have personal experience with mental illness.
I grew up relatively untaxed in regard to my mental state, only really demonstrating common telltale signs of an anxiety, something very normal in children and adolescents as they grow through their new experiences. However, through my stay at university, these signs began to grow and eventually become emblematic of my mental illness.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and panic disorder. To anybody close to me at the time, this news would have come as little shock. I had become withdrawn from friends and activities I traditionally loved. I would make excuses for not going out. I would hide in my room at the sound of visitors in my student home. I was an anti-social mess, and I didn’t blame people for choosing to distance themselves from me in the same way I did them.
Growing up, I was always introverted, and cherished my time alone watching Star Wars on repeat, or playing video games, or reading my books. That was always me. What wasn’t me however, was my newfound fear of…people.
I started to become anxious at even the thought of talking to someone, and it didn’t even need to be a stranger. I would leave my phone off so I didn’t have to see texts from friends. I would avoid social gatherings altogether. I became withdrawn from even my family. It was a drastic shift in character, and one that I did not remotely understand. I would suffer debilitating panic attacks on the regular, and despite rarely leaving my bed, I was losing tremendous amounts of sleep. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally drained and unwell.
TLDR, I went from a friendly guy who liked his alone time, to an angry, sad hermit who feared anything beyond his bedroom door. It sucked and I needed help.
Thankfully, I got it. The same people I pushed away out of fear stood by as the support I would end up desperately needing. My family helped in any way they could. I saw a professional, was diagnosed, and given medication and therapy. I came to accept what was happening, and began learning how to live with it.
I choose these words very carefully – live with it. Mental illness, in my experience, is not something I can cure, but it is something I can understand.
I understand that large groups of people make me comfortable.
I understand that people won’t hate me for being honest about anxiety.
I understand that my panic attacks correlate with lack of sleep.
I understand that I lose sleep when I imagine a social pressure to partake in things I’m uncomfortable with.
I understand that being reserved doesn’t mean being weak.
By understanding what was happening, I began to learn to live with it. Medication certainly helps, but what I truly believe assisted me the most was coming to terms with my anxiety, what was causing it, and how I could navigate life alongside it.
This won’t be everyone’s opinion or experience with mental illness, and I get that. For some, medication may be all they need to remove the issue altogether. For some, therapy is the secret ingredient to suppressing whatever negative emotions are brought to light. We all have different paths, and different destinations. What’s universally important however, and what’s going to link this whole thing back to my blog, is my firm belief that while mental illness is never your fault, you owe it to yourself to make it your responsibility.
You, I, or anyone who suffers from any kind of mental illness serves to benefit from taking responsibility, and working our hardest to create our best selves. Sitting back and allowing your mind to define you isn’t going to help. Worrying that you’re never going to be better isn’t going to help. What IS going to help, is recognizing what is hurting you, what options there are to treat it, and what actions YOU can take to source your own happiness in any way possible.
Learn to be honest with your friends and family – they just want to help, and will surely listen to anything you say you need if it means creating a better, happier you. Acknowledge the things that cause your anxiety, and come up with ways to work around them. Understand that there is almost always a way to make things turn around, but it will require thought, effort, and support.
Accepting, owning, and living introvertedly has allowed me to do this. I know what makes me anxious, so I’m honest about it to those around me. I know what triggers my panic attacks, so I make an effort to prioritize my health and wellbeing around them. I know how hard it can be to accept that different social situations just don’t work with me, so I write about it on this stupid blog in a hope to help others facing similar challenges.
I hope it’s working for them, because I know it works for me.