Do not mock a pain that you haven’t endured –Unknown
If you’re Canadian you’ve probably heard of the Bell Let’s Talk initiative that happens every January. Bell promises to donate 5¢ for every applicable text, call, tweet, social media video view or filter used with #BellLetsTalk.
It wasn’t until last year when I saw friends on social media posting about their mental illnesses (on #BellLet’sTalk day) that I realized I wasn’t alone and that just because someone doesn’t look or talk about their mental state doesn’t mean they aren’t going through something. As much as I love and believe that #BellLetsTalk is an amazing day and conversation starter I am also annoyed that people believe they can only talk about their mental health on this day. I wanted to share my story with you (the person reading this) because if my story can help at least one person it’ll be worth it.
So here it is my mental health journey:
I remember watching Zoella (a UK Youtuber) who struggles with anxiety and never really understanding how she could have these panic attacks and anxiety episodes that could literally make her unable to leave the house. Like the quote I started this post with, do not mock or undermine someone’s pain until you’ve endured it. I had a conversation with one particular friend who struggles with a few mental illnesses and she told me how some days she could not get out of bed. I’m not gonna lie, I couldn’t understand this. How could someone not be able to get out of bed? It wasn’t until I myself experienced this that I finally understood.
It was in my fourth and final year of undergrad that I realized I had high-performance anxiety. Just like any student I was dealing with assignments, projects, trying to achieve a high GPA, participating in extracurriculars, playing volleyball, attempting to see friends and spend family time. I didn’t want to let anyone down, I had built this personal brand and quality of my work over the last few years and didn’t want to disappoint anyone with anything less than perfect. I would say ‘yes’ to too many things and have a plate full of obligations I promised I would do and wanted to do but I had to accept that I couldn’t do it all.
It was a regular weekday and I was making my way to the bus stop to get to school and I couldn’t help but feel this HUGE weight on my chest. No matter what I checked off my to-do list the weight wouldn’t budge. It was like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I did not want to get out of bed because that meant I had to deal with this anxiety. It was on and off that I would be home and just cry over how overwhelmed I would feel. I felt like a failure that I had to keep up this image up. This image that to friends and strangers looked like what I did was easy, I made it look easy. But unless they directly asked they never really knew just how much work I put into…everything. Anxiety isn’t just like what you see in the movies, there are people who have high-performance anxiety, the people who look like they have their lives together or probably holding everything together with tape. I’m lucky enough to have a best friend that I could divulge my feelings. Even though I couldn’t label exactly what I was feeling she would validate my emotions and listen to what I needed to say. This was just the start of me finding my support circle. The anxiety would leave for a week or so and I would genuinely think it was gone forever until another episode began. I didn’t want to be considered “weak”. But the faster I admitted it to myself the faster I was able to figure out how to deal with it. I remember a particular day I was at work on campus and it had been a rough day, I should not have been at work. One of my supervisors from the other department I worked at came into the office and asked if I was okay and I decide to not answer with the typical “I’m fine”, so I told her I wasn’t ok and she listened. She didn’t try to diminish my feelings or tell me that this “stress” would go away soon. She didn’t say “oh girl, I totally feel the same way, I get super anxious & stressed too”. She shared her story with me and related it to my pain in a way that didn’t belittle it. I was able to come to her the following few days and share what I was going through. Having someone to listen to you and talk to about your anxiety was probably the best medicine I could’ve asked for. The feelings I was going through were being validated and heard. People can listen but not everyone hears you.
I realized in my last semester that I needed to start saying ‘no’ to things. As much as it pained me to feel like I was missing out on experiences I knew I wouldn’t be able to give 100% nor would it be good for my mental health. I also learnt that it might take some people longer to understand your struggles and with others, they might never get it, in the end, your support group ends up choosing you, not the other way around.
To all my friends who have mental illnesses; you are not broken, you are not a failure, you do not need to stuff your emotions down, you do not need to hide, you are worthy, you are enough.
Here are some things that help me during my anxiety:
- Listening to Kaleo’s Vor í Vaglaskógi
- Taking deep breaths
- Coming across quotes that are relatable to my situation (below are a few of my favourite)
- Going for a walk outside for some fresh air
- Distracting my brain with comedy (aka finding something that’ll make you laugh)
- Reading a book
I’d like to leave you with this thought: Everyone wants to be the sun to lighten up everyone’s life, but why not be the moon, to brighten in the darkest hour.
I hope that reading my story has helped you in some way even if it is minuscule. I hope that you’re able to find your support system and to be able to talk to someone if you’re ever having these feelings. My email is always open for a chat, even if you just need someone to listen to you. Please, feel free to reach out.