The 1-in-4 Reality
This post is about the 1-in-4 reality of experiencing a mental health condition. I am one of those 1-4. Depression and anxiety are still taboo topics, even if there has been a movement within the last several years to remove the attached stigma. The 3-4s tend blame the internet, social media, or label my generation ‘lazy’ – as if that would explain away mental illness. But depression, anxiety, and the fast array of other mental health issues have been around far longer than our hyper-connectivity. Just because people were either unaware of or ignored mental health in the past doesn’t mean those illnesses didn’t exist – we just have a better understanding of them now.
I don’t take medication for my depression. I’m fortunate enough to not have an extreme case which might require a prescription. But let me be clear, that does not invalidate my experience or the fact that I still go through some dark periods. Everyone experiences depression differently.
For me, even though I could give you a list of all the things that I should do that should work to lift my mood (exercise, go outside, socialize, eat more citrus, get more sun, smell more flowers, etc.), sometimes that doesn’t matter. Sometimes I just feel nothing. There is no mood to lift, there’s just me. Some days there is absolutely no energy to do anything, and then the guilt sets in because I haven’t done anything. It becomes a vicious cycle, and I know many 3-4s who are frustrated by this so-called cycle of ‘laziness’. It’s not about being lazy. It’s about not seeing the point in doing anything because I literally don’t feel anything is worth while. It’s not something I can just pretend is an easy fix.
“Just think positive thoughts!” Honestly, I find this suggestion insulting. If it was that simple to fix, no one would have depression. I can understand using ableist language like that when I’m waiting to hear back on a job application, or am hoping for the best. But when it is used as encouragement for a condition that is beyond my control, it makes me feel small, utterly incapable, and less inclined to share anything related to my mental health because it is being brushed aside as a “mental phase” instead of a mental illness.
I know from my past experience with depression that I need to ride it out. I need to feel all the things, acknowledge them, practice self-care, and not feel guilty about any of it. I have had to teach myself that even doing the small things is okay. Take baby steps. Find a good support system. Don’t let other people make you feel bad or less than because you feel nothing.
I have only really recognized my anxiety in the past couple of years. Because it is one of those invisible illnesses, it must not be real, it must just be stress. Only it isn’t. It is so much more.
Primarily, I have social anxiety. People would generally refer to this as me being ‘shy’ or an introvert, essentially brushing aside the actual problem. Meeting new people makes me uncomfortable. Being in large crowds makes me uncomfortable. The kind of uncomfortable that triggers my flight response and can result in a panic attack. Yes, that has actually happened. Telling me to relax is not going to help because I physically cannot do so.
“But you’ve been in crowds before, hell you’ve traveled in nothing but crowds! You’ve met plenty of new people! You never look uncomfortable!” Yes, well, fake it until you make it. That’s what we’re taught, right? If I am by myself, I have to pretend I’m not bothered by any of it. Call it an adaptation of my survival instinct – if I don’t show weakness, I won’t be preyed upon. Half of it is about posturing, and I swear that is probably the only reason I look like I’m handling everything just fine. If I am with friends and I’m feeling anxious, I’ll let them know. And being the wonderful people they are, they let me step away or help calm me down depending on the situation at hand. They essentially act as temporary barriers so my anxiety doesn’t get out of hand in an unfamiliar environment. (Even discussing anxiety gives me anxiety, which I find frustrating, but also somewhat ironically hilarious.)
And that, dear readers, is why I have been away. I have pretended my mental health is a non-issue, pretended it wouldn’t impact my writing or any of the other things I wanted to do, but it does. Life isn’t always going to be sunshine and brownies and make perfect sense. We just have to learn that that is completely okay.
For more information on mental health awareness and a couple campaigns that address this issue, please visit the following links:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- World Health Organization
- Mental Health America
- All of Us campaign
- Bring Change 2 Mind campaign