Today is the last day of May — as well as the last day of National Mental Illness Month. Throughout the month, I’ve written a grand total of seven posts that discuss my experience with anxiety, as well as the perception that mental health has. We have come a long way from the days of mental illness being perceived as something to be ashamed of. With that being said, there’s still so much to be done.
If you’re sitting here thinking hey, I want to do more to make a difference, there’s so much you can do. Unsure what you can do? Here’s a list to help get you started:
Become informed on mental health issues and educate others.
Volunteer for your local mental health agency/suicide line.
Donate money to a charity whose proceeds go to mental health aid.
Write letters to your congressperson about important issues in mental health care and how they will have an effect on patients.
However, most importantly, I ask you to remove all stigmas you have about mental illness and just listen. Yesterday, I discussed the toxic ways mental health is perceived. Now, I want you all to examine how you interact with someone who has a mental illness. I want you to do whatever you can to ensure that you treat them with both respect and kindness. Because, like you, they are human too.
With that being said, just because the month is over, doesn’t mean the conversation has to be. Keep talking, keep learning, and keep educating. Why? Because with every person who strives to make a difference can be crucial to helping the cause become stronger.
Clearly, we know it’s not okay to say to someone who has just hit their head to stop complaining because they are bringing you down. Instead, we ask them if they are okay. So, why do we think it’s okay to tell someone who is diagnosed as clinically depressed to just stop complaining? Or, better yet, why do we belittle them.
Newsflash, people. Mental health needs to have that same perception as physical. End of story.
Being told to suck it up is so last year. When someone has a diagnosed mental illness, it is almost the same, or even worse as a physical one. And, when you tell them that they are complaining too much, or bringing you down, it’s downright rude and disrespectful. They need to take care of themselves, and they are doing the best that they can to do that. Sometimes, people with depression struggle to get out of bed. Sometimes, people with anxiety panic to the point where all they dwell on are the negative. And, if you were their friend, you would do whatever you can to help them – not, disrespect them.
With an Italian upbringing, mental illness was perceived as just not being tough enough. Having anxiety, many of my family members often think that I am just complaining when I say that I am feeling anxious, or think that my therapy sessions are just a waste of money. Or, that I don’t need a therapist.
But, do I tell the person with a broken leg that they don’t need physical therapy? We don’t say shake it off, because you’re complaining too much? No, because that’s crazy. We shouldn’t be saying that going to a psychotherapist, therapist or psychologist is a waste of money, either. Like physical therapy, psychotherapy is trying to heal the mind to make them stronger. And, why would we try to knock down strength – physical or mental?
And, by these stigmas floating around in the world, it might be the very reason why someone is too afraid to get the help they need because they feel like they are complaining too much, or too ashamed or proud to admit that they have a problem. And, that is just tragic.
Mental illness and physical illness need to be on the same tier. Someone who complains anxiety or depression is not them craving attention. It doesn’t come from wanting to drown you down, which by the way is absurd. They come from living in that sea of depression daily. They come from living in a constant state of anxiety and they are not complaining. You running your mouth and saying those things to them is only adding fuel to the fire, and can easily make things worse for them.
Which is something that they didn’t need.
So, let’s not belittle those who suffer from a mental illness. Let’s not make them feel ashamed for getting the help that they need. Let’s applaud those who struggle, but are choosing to get the help they need? Let’s applaud each and every person who decides to fight whatever obstacle they face, instead of just allowing themselves to get swept up in the tide and drown.
Instead, let’s call them warriors, because they go to war with their minds every day, which sometimes can be a constant battle. Life with a mental illness isn’t easy, and therefore, they deserve to be treated with the same sympathy and respect that you did when you broke your leg, arm, or that any diabetic has.
Having a mental illness – or even just going through a rough time – can be the most isolating thing on the planet. It is like you are in a downwards spiral, and have no way out of it.
With that being said, it’s hard to think that there will be an end to the suffering and the pain that you are dealing with. So, I’ve decided to provide a list of mantras for those who are going through a mental illness or a rough time to serve as reminders that you truly can get through it.
As a person with anxiety, it is safe to say it has had an impact on my relationships. When I was in my previous relationship, it was when my anxiety was in full swing, and panic attacks were a regular occurrence. However, I was really lucky to have a boyfriend who was supportive and did whatever he could to help me with dealing with it.
While I am lucky to have minor anxiety now, it still exists. I am unsure how anxiety will play out in my next relationship. But, I learned enough about it over the years to give advice to couples that may have to deal with anxiety.
Note: While this post mainly talks about anxiety, these tips pertain to all mental illnesses, from eating disorders to depression.
Talk it Out
With all relationships, you need to communicate, as communication is key. When it comes to my anxiety, I pretty much am an open book and am completely honest with my partner, or a potential one. If not, then you are putting on a façade of someone you may not actually be. Since my anxiety is a part of me, I like to take the time to have a thoughtful conversation about it with my partner. In that conversation, we’ll discuss things such as what makes me anxious? What are my triggers? What is my role in this anxiety thing, and what can I do to help?
One thing that my former partner and I did was go to therapy together to have an open space to discuss anxiety. I believe that it was a helpful thing for us to do, because it induced productive and effective conversation, and is a worthwhile option for those who are willing. However, therapy is a private thing – meant only for the indexed individual. So, if you don’t want to have your partner sits in on a session, then that’s okay too.
With that being said, always do what you can to show your support for them and their journey. This can be something as simple as hugging your partner while they hit a low, asking them about their therapy session, or just reminding them that you’re here for them.
While the ideal partner is always supportive, it is especially important for when your partner has a mental illness.
It’s Not One-Sided
Sometimes, sadly, a relationship can be consumed with anxiety. It can be overwhelming for anyone to deal with anxiety, especially the loved ones of that person – I am not going to lie. However, it is important to remember that your partner does care about you as well, and wants you to take the time that you need for yourself.
While it is up to you how you prioritize how you divide your time, it can be overwhelming when you constantly feel like you are on call for your partner. Newsflash, you are not a doctor. So, Be sure that you take care of yourself. Play your video games, go for that run, or do whatever it is you do for fun.
In addition to that, do not be afraid to be honest with your partner. If you feel overwhelmed, tell them. I definitely understand, and to be honest, I would want my boyfriend to tell me how he’s feeling.
Just Be There
Sometimes, all we need is a hug and someone to tell us that everything is going to be okay when the world feels like it’s crashing down on you. You may have to do this a lot sometimes, but trust me, it does not go unappreciated.
You might not understand what a panic attack feels like, or the effect it has on the person going through one until you see your partner stare off into space while kissing you because they are scared and feel unsafe. This is especially true if you yourself have never dealt with anxiety. However, all you can do is just understand and be patient. And, if this does happen to you, kiss their forehead and remind them that it will truly be alright.
Remember They Are More Than Their Anxiety
I am much more than my anxiety. I am a writer, a photographer, a person, a bookworm, and so much more. Mental illness, especially the label, does not define the patient. Remember that they are much more than that, and they too are human. So, whatever you do, be sure to remember that there is more to them.
May is Mental Illness Awareness Month, and while it is great to have a whole month devoted to it, I think that every month should be. Anyways, I digress.
Mental illness has come a long way from being damning to being accepted. However, negative stigmas still exist. And, they need to not.
There are so many, myself included, that deal with the effects of a mental illness – whether it may be trauma, anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression. We struggle, and it’s much easier to throw in the towel instead of facing it. But, so many of us choose to be strong, and choose to say I’m broken, but I am not going to let it break me. And, with each passing day we get better. We repair the damage, bloom, and then we grow.
And, with all of us united as one, we too can end the stigma that comes with mental illness.
To all of those who are still struggling, please know that it is okay not to be okay. It is okay to say I need help and to accept it. It is okay to talk to a therapist, who will help you get you back on your feet again. It is okay to cry when you need to. It is also okay to talk about all of the things that are bothering you.
And, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Let’s use the month of May to educate ourselves and others about mental illness and what it is like to have one. Let’s change that stigma and talk about the issues that surround those who suffer with it day in and day out. Let us come together and bridge the gaps, so that no one is truly alone.
This will be the first post in a series throughout the month to spread awareness for mental illness, particularly anxiety. Stay tuned as we fight to #endthestigma
Online bullying, finding out your sexuality, betrayal from friends, suicide, depression, and slut-shaming are some of the issues that were portrayed in the novel turned Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. These are also issues that many high school across America face as well, which is why the novel 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher should be introduced in high school English curriculums.
I’m not saying throw Dickens and To Kill a Mockingbird out the window, as those books are classics. But adding this book along side them offers teens a chance to talk about suicide and bullying. According to Teen Suicide Statistics, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young adults, and is 100 percent preventable — if you recognize the signs. This book allows exactly that.
By introducing it in the classrooms, it opens up a forum to talk about these issues as it pertains to them. Many can relate to what Hannah Baker went through. According to Bullying Statistics, 30 percent of teens are bullied in the U.S. And, teens don’t escape that bullying once they leave school for the day. Thanks to social media, it’s easy for a kid to be bullied 24/7, from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep. Therefore, now more than ever, it’s important to recognize the signs and become aware of the effects of bullying, as suicide is one.
It also helps them become aware of the signs of suicide. This awareness can then help kids notice the signs if they notice a classmate struggling with them, which will in turn help them intervene. Sure, they can Google them. However, I think we should put them in the curriculum for kids to really hammer it in. This message is a bit too important not to.
Hannah Baker was the scapegoat among her classmates. She was betrayed by someone that she thought was her friend and by a guy that she thought she loved. She even reached out to someone, who told her to suck it up.
While Hannah is a fictional character, there are many others who deal with what Hannah did. Bullying is real. Slut shaming is real. And, supposed jokes can hurt. By witnessing what can happen by those words that one thought was a joke can prevent something as tragic as what happened to Hannah.
Integrating this book into the modern high school curriculum may not be the answer to ending teen suicide. With that being said, it does allow it to be brought to the table in a way that teens can relate to it. It gets them talking. And, that is a start.
There is something that I want every single person out there who is reading this to know about my anxiety and about me: it does not make me fragile.
Anxiety causes me to be a bit more sensitive than a person who does not deal with anxiety symptoms, and the smallest of things can often turn into the biggest of deals. Sometimes, I have panic attacks. But, so what?
Just because I deal with (or I should say dealt with, as I am happy to announce that the majority of my symptoms have subsided, and I have not had a panic attack for the past five months) with anxiety does not make me weak or fragile.
In fact, I would like to argue that it has made me stronger. After all, I had just spent a year in therapy learning how to deal with them on my own, and investing time and energy into growing myself. I learned how to deal with it, to truly learn how to be strong, and maintain a positive outlook on life. I grew stronger and more independent, and I am pretty damn proud of this person that I have become.
And what did you do this past year?
Lets face it-having anxiety sucks. However, I learned to deal with the symptoms. Let me say this once and for all: not everything gives me anxiety, and it is not up to you to control my anxiety. My anxiety does not have to do with a lot of things that I deal with daily. I am not anxious writing this blog post. I am not anxious petting my dog, going to the store, buying a coffee, you get the picture. And, even if it did, it is not up to you to help me deal, although I appreciate the support. It is my problem, and I think that I do a pretty good job dealing with them.
That may be harsh, yes. However, whenever I tell someone that I have anxiety, I often feel that they treat me as if I were made out of glass and easily broken. And, that frustrates me. Just because I have some sort of mental illness does not mean that you have to treat me like I am a child and protect me. I can do that by myself, thank you very much.
So, the take home message here? Just because someone has anxiety (or any other mental illness for that matter), does not mean that they are weaker than you. It does not make them fragile. It makes them strong, and that is why they deserve to treated as every other damn human on the planet, with a bit more understanding of course of what they went through, because they went through hell to get to the point where they are at today. We are not the label that we possess-we are so much more than that. Be sure to remember that.
Nearly 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and over suffer from a mental illness each year, according to the Kim Foundation. This translates into about a quarter of the American population who deal with the crippling effects of mental illness on a daily basis. These illnesses have a wide range, from anxiety, PTSD, depression and eating disorders. And, those are only a few that the DSM lists.
With so many mental illnesses out there, there is still a bad attitude towards those who suffer from them, whether it may be calling them “freaks” or “weirdos,” calling those who have a learning disability “retarded” or saying that they simply want attention. These perceptions can originate from many different places, from family members growing up, from media or from lack of knowledge. However, I believe that we as a society need to change this, so we can not only accept those who suffer from these illnesses, but encourage them to get the help that we need.
These negative perceptions have a variety of range, and can have an effect on the patient, because they feel almost as if they are not validated to feel what they are feeling. I suffer from anxiety and have experienced numerous panic attacks. One of the comments that I have received was “you are freaking out over nothing,” or “you are doing this just to get attention.” Honestly, let me ask you this. If I could control my panic attacks, don’t you think I would? Do you honestly think that I want to live with panic attacks that consistently put a stall on my life?
I didn’t think so.
I can honestly say that it is almost twice as hard to heal from a mental illness than a physical one. I myself can speak from my experiences, as it took nearly a year to get to a place where I can control my anxiety. During this time, it was like trying to fight a losing war, as I tried to change my way of thinking, tried to put myself first and figure out what treatment I needed to get better. Anxiety was not something I could just not “get over” at the snap of my fingers. Anxiety was something that consumed my body, taking over both my physical and mental states of being. By saying that anxiety is something that I simply can “get over” is both hurtful and offensive.
We need to stop those who suffer from mental illness to simply “get over it.” We need to change our perceptions of mental illness, and treat them with the same amount of respect, or even more, that we treat those who do not suffer from mental illness. We need to not disregard the symptoms that can not be helped. We need to listen to someone who is struggling with the effects of depression with a kind ear. We need to erase the r-word from our vocabulary.
Those who suffer from a mental illness do not deserve those derogatory terms. They do not deserve to be dismissed. Haven’t they been through enough without feeling that they are less than in a society? I think so.
Being a significant other to someone with an anxiety, or any kind of mental illness for that matter, can be a daunting thing, especially if you have no experiences with the disorder. Anxiety can cause many different problems, especially in your point of view, you do not understand why your partner is freaking out about something small or a larger thing.
As a person who deals with anxiety, and has had relationships, I can tell you that it is not easy. In my experiences, my anxiety had become the third wheel in my relationships. While I was lucky to have a partner who wanted to understand, dating someone with anxiety can be tricky, and I hope this list becomes a resource of everyone who has a partner who has an anxiety disorder. While these tips pertain to people who have anxiety, these also pertain to all mental illnesses-from depression to eating disorders.
1. Communication is key. This is crucial in any kind of relationship, but this is especially crucial in a relationship with a person with anxiety. Ask them about what makes them anxious, ask them about what triggers a panic attack and talk to them about the things they can do to help make them feel better. The more talking you do, I think the better off you are.
However, with that being said, dating someone with anxiety can be overwhelming. If you feel like they are leaning on you too much, be sure to tell them (in a nice way, naturally). I am the first to admit it is not the easiest thing to date me because of my anxiety. With that being said, I also think that if my boyfriend should speak up if he is feeling like he is lost in my anxiety, because I feel like anxiety can consume the relationship as well. Therefore, if you are feeling like that, then please speak up.
2. Do not ever make them feel guilty or tell them how to feel. One of the worst things that anyone can do with someone who has anxiety is make them feel guilty for their anxiety, or tell them to stop feeling anxious over something so small. Whenever I hear that, I want to slap someone in the face, and say “if I could control it, don’t you think I would?” By saying that, you are shutting them out, and making them feel even worse then they already are. Instead of saying “stop being anxious,” replace the sentence with “I do not understand how you are feeling, however I would like to try to. Can you tell me what is going through your head?” This sentence is ten times better because not only are you opening up communications, but you are also making them feel like they can come to you for support, and not pushing them away.
3. Remember they are not just their anxiety. As I mentioned in my sermon, I am a lot more than my anxiety. That is something I want every guy I date to remember. Sure, I deal with this thing called anxiety. But, there is more to me than that. I am sure that every person out there who deals with any kind of mental illness can attest to that. Chances are, there is a reason why you are with that person, and attracted to them, whether it may be because of their sense of humor or the things you both have in common. Therefore, remember that their mental illness is not the whole part of them.
4. Come to a therapist appointment, if you want. In my last relationship, my ex-boyfriend attended a therapist appointment with me to further learn how to manage my anxiety, and become a support system.
While I do not think it is a necessary thing to do, I do think it is something that is beneficial for both communication factors and to help understand exactly the circumstances of your anxiety is. In addition to that, I think it is important for partners to do this, just because it can help create an honest communication with each other, and learn more about anxiety/whatever if not familiar with it.
5. Take care of you. Just because you are dating someone with anxiety, and needs constant support, does not mean that you have to give up everything just to be there for them. Going through a year’s worth of therapy helped me learn to manage my anxiety on my own. However, from time to time, I lean on the support of friends and family. Leaning too much in any relationship can lead down an unhealthy path.
What I want partners of anxiety patients to know is that they do not have to feel like they are on call consistently. As I could imagine (and hope for that matter), you have a life outside of your relationship, whether it is work, school, friends and family. Sometimes, if your partner is having a crisis, you just can not be there for them for whatever reason. And that is okay, and if your relationship is a healthy one, your partner understands that. You need to take care of you, which is something that is important. This includes making sure that you are getting your work done, making sure you do things that are fun for you and making sure you do things that make you happy.
However, I would also like to add that whenever you are able to talk to them, you should aspire to let them know that you are there for them to offer support when needed. That alone can mean the world to them.
6. Be patient and let them feel what they need to feel. Anxiety is often the combination of several thousand feelings at once pulsing through your brain. When I have a panic attack, I am hysterically crying, and feel like I just can not breathe from the weight of the anxiety. Panic attacks come from all sorts of triggers (which is important for you to learn about them), and as I mentioned earlier, some of them you might not understand. Being able to support them and be patient with them is a combination of traits that I think everyone who has a significant other with anxiety needs to have to make the relationship successful.
However, it is important for you to remain patient and let them feel that anxiety. The more you do this, the more comfortable and supported they feel. Speaking more you do not let yourself feel that anxiety, the more destructive it can be.
So while you do not understand why your significant other may be crying in a corner, remember to remain patient with them, hold their hand if you are able to and if you are not able to, just say that you care/love them, and will always be there for them.
I can speak from experience by saying anxiety is tough, and is especially tough to deal with in relationships. With that being said, constant communication and discussion can be your weapons in dealing with its craziness.
The following is the transcript from a sermon I delivered at Luther House Yale on Nov. 28, 2016. A special thank you to Rev. Kari Henkelmann Keyl for allowing me to come and speak about my experiences, as well as the advice to make it the best as I can. Also, thank you Paul for the feedback and advice to compose it, as well as my friends who came to support me and listen to me share my experiences.
A fun fact about me is I am a huge Elton John fan. What makes his music so legendary is the combination of beautiful piano accompaniment, along with poetic lyrics written by songwriting partner Bernie Taupin.
While I think all of the lyrics he pens have the power to stay with you, there is one lyric in particular that has always stayed with me, which are “I won’t break, I won’t bend, but someday soon we’ll sail away from innocence and the bitter end.”
The lyrics are from the song “Simple Life,” a song from 1992’s The One, and something that I always found to be inspiring and comforting while dealing with my anxiety symptoms.
I have dealt with anxiety for over a year now. While I was always the slight bit more anxious than the average person throughout my life, it had skyrocketed throughout my last two years at college. Between taking upper level classes and working two or three jobs along with online internships, I suddenly felt a crushing weight of anxiety, a reminder that I was stuck forever in a state of unhappiness.
Suddenly, my personality changed. I was crying constantly, just because I felt like I could not breathe from the weight of my ‘to-do’ lists. I had lost a ton of weight, just because my stomach was constantly tied up in nervous knots for me to eat. I was constantly on edge, and something as so small as a friend not calling me back at a certain time would lead to an argument.
I was heading down an unhealthy road, and I felt like I was powerless to stop it.
Of course, I tried to change things. I cut down my hours at one of my jobs. I became a slave to using a day by day planner in the attempts to stay organized. However, when those things didn’t work, I went to the counseling center on my campus. It was then I was formally diagnosed with anxiety.
Therapy, at first anyways, was never something that I made a priority. I would skip out on therapy as much as I could, because I was afraid that the people on my campus would judge me for seeking the help that I desperately needed. I would have a hard time scheduling a therapist appointment because I constantly had other things that needed to be done, so therapy ended up on the back of the list.
And, whenever I was in the therapist’s office, I often felt that I was on the road to failure. You see, my therapist had a specific game plan. If this did not work, try this, etc. And when all else failed, I would be given anxiety medications, something that scared me.
During this time of turmoil, my relationships had suffered as you can imagine.
However, the biggest relationship that suffered was the one that I share with God. I constantly questioned whether or not God loved me.
If he did, then why was I so anxious? Why was I constantly crying in a corner? Why couldn’t I gain control of my life? So, instead of turning to God, I turned against God.
Whenever something would go wrong in my life, I would blame God instead of asking for the strength that I needed to get through it.
Little did I know, in a strange way, God had actually given me the strength to get through it.
He gave me the strength to try a new therapist, who approached therapy in a different way, one that was more effective.
God gave me the desire to change my thoughts, to face things that I never wanted to face.
God had given me the motivation to get better, which was a year long process of self reflection, of changing how I would talk to myself, and finally learning how to say goodbye to things that were toxic to me.
God had given me the strength to figure out that writing in a journal, or listening to music is one way that I could stop a panic attack in its tracks.
So, in some way, shape or form, I guess you can say that I in fact got the strength that I desperately craved from God.
It just needed to start with me.
I wish I could sit here and tell you that I’m cured from all of my anxiety symptoms. I wish I could tell you that I beat anxiety, kicked its butt and never have to worry about it effecting it again.
That is not how anxiety works. Somedays, I have good days. Somedays, I have bad ones. And, at the end of the day, as long as I learn how to take care of myself when I need to, I think that is pretty good progress.
Anxiety will always be a part of me, although I would like to point out that it not the whole part of me.
I am a lot of things-a journalist, a classic rock affenicado, a friend, a daughter, a student, and a woman. However, I am not the panic attacks that I suffer from. I am not the anxious tears that I cry. I am not the anxious thoughts that I radiate from.
And, as I sit here tonight, I have a lot of things to thank God for.
I thank God for giving me the courage to deliver this sermon, because public speaking is something that scares the living crap out of me.
I thank God for all of my support systems cheering me on, such as my friends, my dog and family.
I thank God for getting me through four and a half years of undergraduate education, with three semesters on Dean’s List, being able to be in an English Honor society, and for the chance to take classes that helped shape me both as a journalist and a person.
I thank God for being able to have a therapist that truly cares about me, and points me to the right track.
I thank God for learning how to self care, and realizing that I am worth it.
I thank God for my ex-boyfriend, who despite all that went wrong between us, supported me through every panic attack I had, and helped encourage me to become stronger and to branch out to new experiences.
I thank God for my mother, for her countless sacrifices as a single parent, both personal and economical. Thank you God for teaching me to be strong like her. Thank you Mom for paying for my undergraduate education, so I can graduate debt free, for reading every mediocre article I have ever written, and being a pillar of support throughout my life.
But, most of all, I thank God for being able to say that it has been over four months since my last panic attack, and to be able to quote my favorite singer in saying “I’m still standing, better than I ever did, feeling like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.”