As some of you may be aware, it's Mental Health Awareness Week. This year, the focus is on raising awareness of anxiety.
Anxiety is a weird one. I tend to find there are three categories that most people fit in to with their opinions towards it. I don't like putting people in boxes generally but for the purpose of this post let's roll with it for now.
Type 1: 'Anxiety is made up. Pull yourself together, man!' (...or woman, child, dog) It's the whole stiff upper lip thing. The type of people who fall into this category are usually ignorant of other people's feelings or to a lesser extent, genuinely unaware. I don't like to think of humans being closed-minded, un-empathetic souls but unfortunately there are quite a few of them out there, especially when involving mental health. These people tend to think that someone suffering with anxiety is weak-willed, silly, less worthy of a place on this earth than someone of a 'stronger stature' and they usually have no qualms letting everyone know this. I would like to hope that Mental Health Awareness Week can help people who are open-minded but unaware of the situation become more familiar with the signs of anxiety (either with themselves or those around them), I would also like to hope that it can help lessen the resentment and taboo that is held by people unwilling to see that anxiety is a bonafide mental health condition, not just someone hamming stuff up for a bit of attention.
Type 2: 'I have that, I'm like, so crayzee!' The boaster. Again it's not something I'm happy to talk about really but we're being honest, it needs to be addressed that there are a certain amount of people out there who identify with having mental health issues, yet seem to revel in the fact, even contradicting their own problems along with it. In my years talking about mental health, I can remember so many conversations (or having a cheeky earwigging session) listening to people having OCD stand-offs, 'funny' panic attack stories, this weird one-upmanship of 'Oh you think that's crazy? Well, I have to check my door 10 times before I leave the house, it's hilarious!' 'Only 10, well I do it 20! Hahah!' Ok, ok I'm getting cynical. Of course one of the most important things about mental health is being able to have a healthy dose of humour along with it but this is different and I hope that's coming across. I love a laugh at my quirks and I do try to embrace them especially with close friends but the Type 2 I am talking about are on another level. I also know that anxiety can make people chronic over-sharers/talkers but again this is something quite different.
Type 3: People who know the score. Thankfully there are a lot of this type of people out there! Whether this be anxiety sufferers themselves or people who empathise/understand the complexities of it. These people are usually quietly going about their lives, coping as best they can with what their brain throws at them on a daily basis. They are kind towards loved ones in bad times, offering a shoulder to cry on or a nest to hang out in. They know when to give space and don't ridicule over tasks that seem easy to anyone outside of the anxiety bubble (eating, leaving the house, sleeping, going on public transport, taking medication...). Understanding that, yes, some of the stuff we do is funny and we can laugh about it but alongside that, realising that the core of anxiety isn't some circus show of hand-washing and paranoia, it can be utterly debillitating. Type 3 people aren't saints, we all get it wrong sometimes but it's the willingess and understanding that is fundamentally part of their heart and mind that makes the difference.
I hope that didn't sound too preachy. It's something I feel passionate about and always have done, since being diagnosed 10 years ago with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. After going through huge life changes, my brain went through some of it's own. It decided to make me unable to sleep, panic about being in social situations, imagine terrible scenarios happening to my loved ones and towards the latter end of my diagnosis, have obsessional thoughts about things beyond my control (the worst one being finding an abandoned baby in a bin/by a bus stop and being unable to help them). Now statistically this was obviously almost never going to actually happen around me but it felt SO REAL. My heart would pound out of my chest going over what would happen if it did. Could I leave the house today in case I saw something? What about my own baby? Would someone try and bomb the bus I was on? Poison my drink? Would I have a huge panic attack and no one would help? I took a leap on the advice of my beautiful best friend who was going through a similar journey herself and went to my doctor. The last doctor I visited a few years back when I had just started having difficulties sleeping and leaving the house told me to take up swimming and wear brighter clothes, so putting myself back into the firing ring of the 'uncaring GP' was a big step for me, to say the least. With my best friend's support, i wrote down everything and went to my appointment.
My story is mostly positive from here on. I got brilliant help from my new GP with talking one on one and medication, which I understand is not a route everyone wants to take but it helped me. I researched, talked with people openly and tried to get to know and accept the 'new me'. It's still a work in progress 10 years later and will always be, I think... but this is where you'll find most Type 3's. Trying to accept themselves, accepting others, sharing their stories when needed, trying to raise awareness and break taboos, laughing at out coping mechanisms but realising the depth of the situations we're in, too.
The point of this post was to raise awareness of anxiety and especially in my case, to show that it is an actual recognised mental health issue, rather than just a bit of drama. Do you have anything you would like to share? Perhaps your own journey with anxiety or a realisation that you could offer something to someone going through hard times? If so, let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear about it.
Who is Julie?
30 something, mother of two gorgeous boys, lover of one gorgeous husband, perpetually living in a dream world full of wine, chocolate and artsy crafty things.