A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by the very friendly Jess from BreakThru Radio for her show Biology of the Blog. What an excellent opportunity to be able to talk about stigmas surrounding mental health and advocate for change. Today is the big day that it comes out! Please join us here and hit play!
What is anxiety? It seems like I've been asked this question a million times in my life. How do you explain something to someone that you don't fully understand yourself? I envy you people who ask me this question. I think you people are so lucky to not understand. I sincerely hope you never get the answer to this question.
You know that feeling when you almost fall backwards off of a chair? That split second of panic. That is what anxiety is. It is like falling backwards, all the time.
Think of the thing in this world you fear most, then imagine that thing is in the house with you. Always there. Always waiting.
Panic attacks, now that is when the real fun starts. Everyone has different varieties. Some people act out with aggression and anger. Some people it comes out in the form of hyper activity, and un-ability to form a clear thought. For me, everything stops, except my heart rate. My hands go numb, and then the closest way I could describe it, is like having my soul sucked out of my body through my feet.
I don't remember the first time I really had anxiety, I think maybe I always had it. I didn't have a troubled childhood. My parents are good people. I am well educated. I have made some less than favourable life choices in the past, but that was long after the anxiety had moved in for good.
There are millions of treatments out there thought to help or "cure" anxiety. Natural, chemical, illegal, legal...pick your poison. I have tried likely close to a million.
People are more than happy to tell you their ways of dealing with anxiety, exercise and good diet come up a lot. I'm happy for you people who a good run seems to fix everything, maybe I should buy a hamster wheel. Problem is sometimes I am too anxious to leave the house. The very thought of stepping foot inside of a gym makes me uncomfortable.
Medications, there are also a million. I have tried a few of these, some have made me a lot worse off for wear. Finding the proper treatment takes time, commitment and a lot of frustration. You're anxiety is unique to you. It is a unique as you are, and just as much a part of you as your eye colour.
Here is the good news, anxiety does have its up-sides. We are known to have more empathy that most, we know what it is like to struggle with something, and that makes it easier for us to relate to others. At the very least, it gives us the drive to want to relate. We are sensitive, and caring. We are detailed.
I am learning all the time about how to deal with anxiety. I have learned that I am going to stop putting myself in situations that cause me anxiety. I have learned to surround myself with supportive people, and to forget the rest. I have learned to just work with the bad days instead of fight against them, if you need a day for you, take it. I have been an insomniac since I was a teenager, so I work a lot of evenings and nights. I work in social services with other's who suffer from mental health issues, this gives my anxiety purpose.
Some of the most talented a creative minds in history have struggled with mental health. We are the artistic, the actors and comedians. We are mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. We are the stranger on the bus. We come from all walks of life. We are the 1 in 5. We are everywhere.
NOTE: I originally wrote this for stigmafighters.com, a great site where you can read stories and articles from many people suffering from mental illness. It is refreshing to read a site that is told from the afflicted's point of view. You can find my story here.
I think it might be rant time...I've been noticing a lot of posts saying Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is not courageous, or a hero. While this may not be your usual blaze of glory war story we associate with heroism, Caitlyn is an inspiration to thousands of trans who are scared to take a step forward, for those who have committed suicide, for those who have been rejected by their families and friends for being different, and for those who are just plain old scared of being themselves. Heroism has many faces, just because the story doesn't speak to you, doesn't make it any less amazing. Open your minds. I personally think she is beautiful.
Caitlyn's big reveal has sprouted some intense and interesting conversations over the past few weeks. I think it is wonderful that this subject is getting some much needed airtime in our society. I work with homeless in my city, and it is shocking how many people I have worked with who have been rejected from their homes, their families, and even their communities and have no where to go but the streets. Now tell me, is this the proper way to treat a fellow human? Even if you are of the opinion that this is a mental illness, do we discard our mentally ill to the streets?
I posted that first paragraph to my personal Facebook page yesterday and was pretty shocked by some of the replies I received. Still so much hate, ignorance and misunderstanding. One comment called the trans surgery body mutilation, but in the next comment stated that breast implants were ok in his book. Another comment maintained that homosexuality was only taken off the DSM-II to gain political votes in the 90s. I am not sure where they are getting this info, and I'm a little concerned about what is happening in the education system.
I should clear up right now that I do not think this is mental illness. It is still in the DSM-II, and a fun fact is that many in the transgendered community don't want it to be de-classified because then the treatments would not be covered by our health care system. Homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness until 1973, but I think it was also okay to beat your children and wives back then. Women couldn't vote for a good chunk of the 20th century, and the world was flat for a very, very long time. Just because this is what society believed, doesn't mean that it was right. Society's norms, and knowledge changes (and hopefully progresses) all the time. I can't wait until we live in a world where a story like this, just isn't a story. Just another happy ending.
I, for one, am happy to see a celebrity that is in the news to stand for something. Caitlyn is, and will be in the future, a trailblazer for many trans youth and adults out there. She is an inspiration to the mental health community for just being proud of who she is, regardless to what society might be saying. If this gets people talking about the discrimination that these people face in their everyday lives even a little bit then I say bravo! So here is to you Caitlyn Jenner, I look forward to hearing more about your journey.