I often see people who I would never have suspected of struggling with mental health issues posting very eloquent explanations about their mental health struggles. I have always admired the courage that must take. I am not one of those people. I just have a chip on my shoulder about a certain issue, so what better way to have a semi-rant than by writing an article for the college paper?
Firstly, we are all familiar with the usual accusations that mental health issues are a means to attracting attention. Listen, I have always been a drama queen for things that, in hindsight, did not deserve my time or attention; I mostly ended up mortifying myself. I admit it. I accept that, and like to think that I have (for the most part) outgrown it. What I don’t excuse is anyone accusing people of using mental health for attention. Nobody has (to my face, at least) accused me of this; it is one thing that I won’t tolerate. It would be an insult to parade around mental health struggles in the hopes that someone might comment ‘hope ur ok hun xo’ or ‘DM me babe x’ on one of my Facebook posts.
Secondly, I would like to address the tendency of many famous people, such as the likes of the Kardashians, to overuse the phrase ‘I have anxiety’. You see it on social media too, with certain bloggers being the worst offenders. They discuss how they perhaps just dropped their favourite eyeshadow pallet (which they got for free I might add – but that’s an article for another day) and declare “Oh god, my anxiety cannot deal with this today.” Or they will say, “I have to speak at an event today and my anxiety is really getting to me.” That is not anxiety. That is nerves. Get a dictionary.
Thirdly, I take issue with people saying ‘anxiety is your friend, it lets you know when you are wearing yourself out’ or ‘scientists believe it is actually your inner genius alerting you to danger’. I disagree. Anxiety is not my friend. And for this reason, whether correct or not, I largely choose to ignore it now. I couldn’t deal with listening to myself go on about it anymore. It is a label that should never have been doled out to me and arguably to anyone. And so, after the first few months of telling several people, cripplingly aware that they assumed I was just looking for sympathy, I ripped the label off and fucked it in the bin. I never spoke of it again. Before anyone goes berserk, fan noimead. I am in no way trying to be flippant here. Everyone is different in how they handle it, and I will, I hope, explain myself properly as this article continues.
Here’s how it felt at the beginning.
Although exposed to mental health issues within my family, I had never had much experience with it directly. Yes there were times where it felt like the world was ending, but it generally was due to an unexpected, unwelcome or tragic event. GPs might have made a comment or hint here or there but I ignored it. I had been to grief counselling but again, those feelings passed. But after several months of unexplained illness, missing a woeful amount of work, feeling stressed, crying all the time, drinking too much to distract myself, being outrageously paranoid and feeling irrationally angry, I decided to go to the doctor. As someone who was generally very social and outgoing, it was a shock and a struggle to be labelled as someone with anxiety. Especially when I was simply told a counsellor would be assigned to me, was given a prescription for tablets and sleeping tablets before being sent on my merry way. I had no idea what this actually meant. I knew what it was, but for me?
In the morning I usually woke up exhausted. I have never been a morning person, but this was different; this was not the exhaustion I was used to. Usually I would have grabbed my phone and earphones, blasted a perky song that hyped me up for the day. But this time no matter what I played in my ears, I would lie there indifferent to it. This is because I had spent the majority of the night feeling a stirring in my stomach and waking up every twenty minutes or so to check the time because I dreamed, again, that I slept in for work. This dream happened every single night for weeks. And every time I went back to sleep, it happened again. When/if I got to work I was groggy but generally it was a great distraction once I got into it, but as I worked for a mental health office, naturally I was painfully aware that I was probably in the worst job, all things considered.
Having witnessed family member’s issues with tablets for various mental health issues, I was extremely cautious about taking them. But I genuinely felt like I couldn’t face getting up or seeing/talking to anyone anymore, so I decided to try the tablets. In fairness, they weren’t so bad. Within thirty minutes I would feel the tightness in my stomach go slightly. Anytime negative thoughts came into my head I could quickly brush them off, which was a luxury I had not experienced for several months. As the day wore on I would become extremely thirsty no matter how much I drank. I might feel a little tired as the medication wore off which was frustrating considering I then relied on the sleeping tablets once it was bedtime.
The real problems occurred whenever I went home. For several months I was tearful, anxious, stressed, angry and exhausted. There were three weeks in a row where I cried every night because I was so tired. I was stressed because I was missing work so much, which was not like me. No one seemed to have anything to say except make comments about my missing work or asking me constantly “are you going to go to work tomorrow?”, as if I was waking up in the morning and going “hmmmm…could I be fucked today? Nah.” I was not someone who had the luxury of picking and choosing. There just always seemed to be something wrong with me to the point where I felt embarrassingly proud anytime I did make it to work. The home situation became worse, and the less I felt I could explain myself, the less I felt anyone wanted to hear about it. The anxiety told me that they thought I was useless, irresponsible, lazy and miserable. It didn’t matter whether or not that was what they did think. Anytime I heard a whisper or conversation in the room next door, my anxiety told me that it was about me and that there was no point in explaining my side because it would start a war. This was not their fault. But it was equally not mine. It was what it was. Essentially, being at my house was not a comfortable place for me. And someone with anxiety needs a comfortable place. When I approached my house every day after work, I started to feel a tightness in my stomach. By the time I got up to my room I felt physically sick and would shake. I would have given anything to settle down in the sitting room and chat to whoever was there, to laugh and joke or make plans to go off on an adventure somewhere. But I couldn’t, and it often felt like it was being thrown in my face that I couldn’t. Again, this was probably not the case, but there we are: this is anxiety. Nowhere and no one felt like home anymore.
The thing about anxiety is that people assume that if you still go out to nightclubs, laugh during a film, go to work or meet friends that the days where you cannot pull yourself from bed or cannot go to work because your stomach feels like it is tearing itself to shreds must be put on. To those of you who do think like this (and I admit, I have been guilty of it in the past), it is easier to socialise with bigger crowds than it is to sit at a kitchen table with your best friends, family, boyfriend, girlfriend or whoever is closest to you and tell them how horrible your day was, especially if it was horrible for no particular reason at all. It is awful, it is upsetting, it is embarrassing and makes you feel even more self-conscious but it is just the way it is.
My real worry was that because of anxiety (honestly, social media makes me cringe anytime I hear/read that word now) and the panic attacks, I could no longer plan ahead. If you knew you had a big day in work coming up, you’d make sure to get a good night’s sleep. If you knew you had to visit family after a big night out, you’d force about three litres of water into you before bed to ease the hangover. If you knew it was going to piss from the heavens on your walk outside you’d bring an umbrella. But if you can’t even sit down to a dinner in your own home without feeling sick or upset at the thought of anyone coming in, how on earth can you plan? And this is why anxiety was not my friend. It still isn’t. Again, this is why I ignore it.
I am not a doctor, I am not a counsellor. So please do not take my advice or experience as gospel. But honestly, what helped me was getting out of the situation I was in, completely. Job, house, town – everything. I was also taken off the medication due to (and this had never been explained at time of prescription) its tendency to dangerously lower your blood pressure. If you feel like it could be affecting you physically, always go to your GP!
I felt better because I took time to breathe, reassess what I wanted to do and, when I felt better, started to make my days so busy that I couldn’t possibly find the time to listen to those voices inside and outside my head. The medicine was no longer needed and probably, in my case, never had been. I can now hold down not one but a few jobs, do my research, help out at home, socialise and survive off very little sleep. Because now when I do sleep, I actually sleep. Dead to the world. Like a baby. Like a pig in shite. Whatever imagery best gets it across.
This was not the worst diagnosis I could have had, but for a long time it did feel like a life sentence. And it is something I feel, on a whole, I am managing well. It is a lot better. I am happy in what I do, not even just career wise but generally I am a happy person. Anxiety doesn’t go away. I still go over every line I have said in a conversation sometimes, hours/days later, wondering if I have offended someone. I might even text a friend every now and then to make sure I didn’t say anything I shouldn’t have that time we met for coffee six days ago that I haven’t been able to stop going over. But when you have the right friends, things like that are quickly laughed off.
Essentially, I am trying to say that while it might feel like you can’t be heard or taken seriously nowadays because of all those people who can’t tell the difference between anxiety and regular variable emotion, you absolutely can be heard. Those people overusing the word ‘anxiety’ may have sullied it a little, but that doesn’t mean it is a dirty word. If you don’t like the label, then don’t use it. Those people who may accuse you of attention seeking? Tell them to jog on. Or don’t. Sometimes it is better not to react at all. With anxiety, however you experience it, however you try to adjust to it, the important thing is that you do experience it and you will adjust to it. Hang in there. It really does get better. It gets so, so, so much better. I promise.
*The author requested that we provide them with a pseudonym, and we complied with this request.