I would really like to talk more about mental health in itself and however I want this place to be predominantly positive I would also like to talk about all aspects of it and go a bit further than just outfit posts and recipes.
Some recent encounters and events had me thinking about some aspects of my own mental health problems and how I try to deal with them so I wanted to talk about that. I have experienced that there is still so much misunderstanding about mental health problems. It is a huge taboo. I see it every day - mental illnesses can be as deadly and devastating as any physical illness and need to be treated with the same respect and understanding. Just as you can't cure a broken leg by simply 'cheering up', you can't cure depression by cheering up. You can't cure psychosis by 'just stop acting weirdly', you can't cure ADHD by 'just calming down a bit', and you can't cure ADD simply by 'trying to focus'. Each one of these examples needs to be treated with the same respect as a physical illness. I could go on and on with this, and I'm sure everyone with a mental or neurological illness has experienced comments like these as soon as they opened up about their mental health.
This taboo on mental illness extends to the fact that most therapy is not or only partly being included in health insurance. It is expressed in the denigrating comments on newspaper articles about suicides. It is carried out by people who do desperate and devastating things by having to conceal their issues for so long that they turn completely insane. It is created by a tendency of talking each other down and demonizing each others feelings. It is created by the inability of people to live compassionately and who fail or do not try to understand the people around them.
I hope I can contribute a bit by creating more awareness for mental illnesses by trying to help people understand what it is like to live with them, and help others to understand them and take their problems into account when interacting with sufferers. Therefore I want to be a bit more open about mine.
Today I want to talk about anxieties and how they have affected and still affect my life.
I have anxieties. My anxieties used to be a full blown anxiety disorder, now they are just regular anxieties (which is a good thing compared to what it was before, but still!). Anxieties are not the same as being afraid of something. Having to deal with anxiety sometimes gives you the feeling that you are going to die. I have hyperventilated so many times that I would keep a plastic bag in my room at all times to be able to reach for that when it would happen. The racing heartbeat and the results of the hyperventilating can actually make you panic worse and really give you the feeling that you are about to die, which can worsen the symptoms, and so on and so on.
One of my major triggers for anxiety attacks are moments when I feel verbally attacked. I am really really bad at fighting, or even general discussing, especially when discussions/fights are personal and I have the feeling I have to defend myself or my opinion. Fights make me want to scream my lungs out, cover my eyes and ears and curl up in a corner. Their results can keep me awake for nights. I can feel guilty about a fight for years. I still keep myself awake sometimes thinking about some disagreement I had with someone years ago.
This is an incredibly unpopular trigger and so much less understandable to 'normal' people than for example arachnophobia. People's first reaction is 'you just can't handle criticism'. Which is true. I wish I could. But my years of depression have made me extremely aware of my flaws. If someone points them out to me or discovers a new one, then I am able to blow it up in my head to incredible sizes, blocking out all things that I actually like about myself and leaving me with only that. My ADD mind also makes hundreds of associations to related situations in my past in the blink of an eye, making the anxiety and guilt spin out of control in mere moments.
So yeah, my anxiety used to sometimes wreck me completely in seconds. In the past I used to avoid triggers (and contact with people close to me in general) as much as possible. At high school I managed to secure a seat in every class just out of reach from the teachers eye, on my own, with a bunch of empty tables around me, and the rest of the class in the other corners of the room. That way I could avoid people talking to me and I could avoid to be picked out by a teacher to answer a question, of which I usually didn't know the answer anyway because I was too unfocused and anxious (yep, performance anxiety too!) to be able to do my homework, and in a way of not having to deal with it, I just avoided doing homework.
At home I stayed inside my room as much as possible, often only coming out when it was time for dinner, when I absolutely had to. Unfortunately certain members of my family get really witty and mouthy once they have taken a few bites so dinner time was usually the loudest time of the day. I was a popular subject to make fun of, which I usually just tried to ignore as much as possible, hold in my panic attack, and would disappear to my room or the toilet as soon as I had the chance, where I was able to let my panic attacks go without anyone noticing, and was able to freely loathe myself for what other people said about me.
If I didn't have the chance to remove myself from the room I would try to cope by getting overly defensive and yell, scream and bite around like a distressed animal driven in a corner. This usually happened at home where it wasn't always possible to avoid some people, but it has also happened at school a few times, causing my fellow classmates to think I am weird or mad or to make fun of me.
I also lied about everything that could be a potential trigger for someone to say or think something bad about me. I became a compulsive liar because of my anxiety and I am not proud of that. I lied about everything; my grades, what I had eaten at school, my homework, my school, my home situation, and I even lied about minor things such as forgetting to brush my teeth. And when these lies began to come out, they would lead to much bigger conflicts and eventually I was never believed by anyone even if I told the truth.
The constant lying and avoiding of social interaction has led to years of emotional neglect; not only because no one really understood me (this is partly my fault, because I used to be so secretive, and well, lied about everything, including to myself), but also because eventually every form of social contact with my family and class mates made me feel incredibly awful about myself, to the point that even the idea of social contact with someone I had 'bad experience' with could give me a panic attack and even suicidal thoughts. I have even had to hold in panic attacks on my way home from school because I dreaded to face the people inside my own house.
True fear makes you do terrible things. True fear can be tongue-tying, dreadful and can render you unable to speak or think or even move. It can render you utterly hopeless and defenseless, control your life and resonate in your every thought. It keeps you awake day and night and turn you into a completely different person. Fear is like a monster holding you so tight on the inside and the outside that you struggle to breathe.
This above example is just one of my anxieties. Other anxieties that I have are performance anxiety (which is probably in direct correlation with the above), I have slight claustrophobia due to locking myself up in a tiny messy bedroom for years, and I also have a fear for unexpected social situations, which probably also has something to do with the above. I also used to have an enormous fear of losing people I cared about, especially boyfriends. This was due to the fact that I had locked myself into a social confinement for years and desperately wanted to hold onto any social contact that I trusted, even if I still did not dare to truly confide in them. This usually rendered me completely dependant and there are many people who have abused that. But more on that in a later post.
I am able to speak about this much more openly now than I used to, and I don't get as many panic attacks anymore. I haven't had a true one for some time and I now only get close to it when I feel overstrung due to my ADD. I don't lie anymore either.
Over the past years I have managed to loosen the airtight grip fear used to have on me.
I still however have to deal with the consequences of this anxiety every day, which is usually the guilt part. I feel guilty that I am still not really able to handle criticism directed to me as a person. When I feel triggered I usually try to explain to the person what is happening inside my head; but I feel guilty and whiny for doing that because not being able to handle criticism is stupid, right? I'm doing my best to keep my head up high and continue my life, but I am not sure if the guilt is ever going to go away. I understand and recognize my thought patterns now and they have lessened a lot during the past few years because being able to see them from a different perspective can sometimes calm me down a bit internally. Even though I understand my thought patterns I am not always able to shut them out, which truly sucks sometimes. It is still very easy for me to fall back in those patterns of guilt and fear. I don't know if it will ever be truly gone, but I am working hard on it.
Dedicating my time to the things that I love help me deal with the bad stuff and give me something to brood and think about and look forward to instead of getting lost in thought spirals of guilt. Which is probably the reason that this blog is so full of things that I love. I am certainly going to continue to post about things I love, because I love them and I still firmly believe that dedicating your life to do the things you truly love and be aware of them is the absolute best cure for anxiety and depression, because they help you distract from the negative and focus on the positive.
I do not blame my family for what happened. They are good people and I love and care about them very much, probably more than anything in my life. They never meant to cause destruction in this way. This giant black hole in my puberty is the result of an enormous escalation that originated from misunderstanding one another. I have a really good relationship with my family since I moved out and there is some more distance between us. I have come out of the closet about my mental health issues and we have built up a wonderful relatonship of mutual understanding and trust.
I would advise to any parent to try to listen to your kids and be open to them. Try to recognize problematic behaviour and realise where it comes from instead of thinking of it as a result of laziness and arrogance, disobedience or simply puberty. And, I can't stress this enough: Listen. Understand. Empathise. Learn from each other. Understanding, believing in, taking care of and helping each other is the key to happiness; together with pursuing the things you love most in this world.