Sunday, December 9, 2018

Let's talk about the A word

Disclaimer: I am not a professional, nor do I consider myself as highly knowledgeable on the topic of mental disorders. What I'm writing about is solely out of personal experience, and what I've witnessed and read about.

Imagine this: You’re at a party, the music’s loud, it’s crowded and everybody is dancing and just having fun. Everything is fine. Actually, the whole situation is more than fine. You’re trying to fit in, you finally decided to leave the comfort of your room and actually go out and have fun like everybody else. But, something just doesn’t feel right, or better said, you think that something doesn’t feel right. Your brain goes into overdrive, you start regretting your decision to go out, your heartbeat starts to race and your palms start to sweat. It’s crowded so maybe that’s why your breathing starts to get heavy, you struggle to catch a breath. So you decide to go outside and while you try to reach the exit you start feeling nauseous. All these emotions and feelings blur your vision, and you have just one goal set in mind – get outside. You finally do, you breathe in deeply and exhale, multiple times. Once you get your thoughts together and stop feeling like you’re about to throw up, the guilt kicks in. Why do I feel like this? Why can’t I just go out and have fun like a normal human being? Why do I have to make a scene out of nothing? My friends are now worried, but I’m not their responsibility, and I don't want them to think of me like that. You start to wonder why you put yourself in these situations when you know it could be either this or nothing at all, but why risk it? But is that the point of living, to not risk it? To live wondering whether you’ve been missing out your whole life?

Everyone can feel anxious, whether that's before taking a test or when you're put in an uncomfortable situation. When those anxious feelings start to overtake your day, start to become an obstacle in doing everyday tasks, that's when anxiety becomes a mental disorder.

Today, It seems that having anxiety is considered "trendy" and everyone "has a panic attack" over every minor inconvenience when there are people out there that seriously suffer from this mental disorder but are being ignored or not taken seriously. Personally, I've said that I've felt anxious in certain situations, as we all have, but I've never claimed to suffer from anxiety because I've not seen a professional doctor who has diagnosed me of such a serious mental disorder. And the reality is, a large number of the people who use that term don't know for sure too. I'm not claiming that people who experience real anxiety disorders, but are not diagnosed, don't have them. The reality is people are either scared, or they think that it's not important and it can be fixed on its own. So people stay silent, and this includes me too. 

P.S. I highly encourage you to read Donna October's post on mental health and her struggles, it resonated with me and gave me the courage to share my side of the story, although I wasn't planning on making this post so...personal.

I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I started to feel anxious. I remember I was in high school, maybe 15,16, and I watched a youtube video about mental health, and the topic was anxiety. It explained it so well that it made me fascinated that the thing I thought was just nervousness could actually be something bigger, and scarier. When someone says they have a mental disorder, people have the assumption that that person's crazy. At least that's what I thought up until that point.

Fast forward to a party, summer 2016. My friends and I were having fun, dancing at our table, and a couple of guys came over and started to make small talk with us. For some reason, when they approached us, a rush of heat went through my body and I immediately felt my heart start racing and I felt out of breath. Some of you may be thinking "Oh, that's because you liked them." Wrong. I didn't know what to do, so I just removed myself out of the situation. Without saying a word I went outside and tried to calm myself down. My friend called me and asked what was wrong, and all I said was "No, nothing wrong, I'm fine." I clearly wasn't. That feeling became engraved in my mind, I think I'll never forget it. It was my first panic attack, or at least that's what I think it was.

Life went on, and this feeling started to resurface at the strangest of times. One time I was laying in bed, and I was thinking about all of the things I had to do that day (as we all do). On that particular day, I had a handful of personally challenging tasks to do and I let my mind go into overdrive. I began panicking about how I can't do anything, how I'm a failure for not having the guts to do basic everyday things, I was basically overthinking about overthinking. And then that awful feeling came creeping up. I was in awe, how can I make myself panic over something so simple?

Today, I have a vague idea of the situations that make me feel the most anxious. Like parties. But not every single one, which is the part that makes this whole thing a bit more difficult. I guess that's why these photos are meant to represent a party, the place that makes me feel uneasy and full of uncertainty about what's going to happen next.

It's important to respect the fact that certain situations make some people uncomfortable, even when you don't fully understand why they start shutting down. If you don't understand it, read about it, educate yourself about it. Mental health concerns everybody, whether you're diagnosed with a disorder or not - it's our duty to be aware of this growing subject.
It's not stupid to ask if you don't know something.
But it is stupid and ignorant to say to a person who has a mental disorder to "Just get over it", or to mock them. Think about what you're going to say before it comes out of your mouth, sometimes words speak louder than actions.

Triggers. Everybody has them, therefore, they’re different for everyone. For me, sometimes it’s the situations. Other times it’s the people. It sucks when it’s the people because that doesn’t necessarily mean I dislike them. And this doesn’t have anything to do with social anxiety and feeling uncomfortable around new people. I could know the person and be very fond of them, but something in my brain has connected them to a “fight or flight” mindset. I always try to choose “fight”, even when it physically pains me. And if I choose “flight” I think of myself as a failure, so at the end of the day, it’s a lose-lose situation. That is why I’ve chosen to think it’s better for me to distance myself from those people, to avoid getting stuck in this vicious cycle of not knowing if I’m going to panic or if I’ll be just fine. And that sucks, big time.

Coping mechanisms. They come hand in hand with our triggers. I find this quite fascinating because as humans, evolution has allowed us to find ways to deal with every type of stress our body is put under. How we choose to act upon this enormous stress we're dealing with is up to us. We have full control over how we choose to do it. And this is the part I find interesting. Up to this point, I've let those anxious feelings take over my sanity, to play with my emotions and physical health. But when I actively choose to start taking matters into my own hands, and I say to myself "Snap out of it! Just breathe!", that's when I know I'm in control now.

Everybody has different ways of coping. Some take deep breaths, some need to be alone in silence and others use calming music. It's all about finding what works for you best. Yes, it sucks that it's based on trial and error, but don't get yourself down because what isn't in life?

Next time you leave the party, don't be discouraged. Go again, and again, and again. Don't let anxiety stop you from doing what you want.
If what you want is to go out and dance - do it.
If what you want is to stay home and watch movies - do it.
If what you want is to push yourself to do something knowing it might end up with a panic attack - do it. It might not this time.
This is what gives me hope every time I try to do something all over again - "It might not this time."


  1. I like how you pointed out that nowadays anxiety is seen as a trend and suddenly EVERYONE has anxiety. I have what a psychologist at school defined as a 'mild case of agoraphobia'. That means I get scared of places with too many people, especially if they are all cramped up in a small space such as a bus,a concert venue, a hospital. I have had two very public and very embarrassing attacks where I start hyperventilating and crying. It's nothing cool. You get embarrassed because while your brain tells you that there is no danger and warns you that you look like an idiot, all your other senses flip out. The point I am making is that you have to start challenging yourself, but you also have to accept that you will probably never be same as those who can go to parties and cling to each other and not care if someone bumps into them. I never was. I never will be. I am the 'okay,we came, we saw, can we go now?' friend at those parties. I stopped trying to fit in in high school after few parties. My brain is not wired as others', and I will not push myself to fit in. Anxiety is not a fad. It's not something you can get over, and it's definitely something you should talk about. Bravo on this post. Love you!

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