It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post and in all honestly, that’s primarily down to feeling pretty sh*t in myself these last few weeks/months. When I hit a ‘bad patch’, my creativity is one of the first aspects of my persona that is effected, basically the worst type of writers’ block possible. So, what better to post about than the reason behind my absence itself!
When you heard the words ‘mental illness’, what automatically springs to mind? Depression, low mood, anxiety, psychosis? Good job, well done. Those things pop into my head too, along with a few others that you may find surprising. Vomiting, headaches, acne breakouts, neck pain, back pain, painful lymph nodes. These are all warning signs that my mental health is about to/has taken a turn for the worst. Overlapping as symptoms of many physical conditions, why aren’t they taken seriously when it comes to mental ones?
Yes, I’m Ill – No, I’m Not Being Dramatic
When it comes to mental illness, I’ve found that getting it the recognition it deserves is a lot harder than you’d expect, for example, when phoning in sick to work or getting a doctor’s cert. for college. A chest infection and a bad series of panic attacks can have an equal amount of stress on the body, physically and mentally, but we both know which case will be excused and sympathized with first. It’s frustrating, it’s upsetting and it’s wrong, especially when the physical effects of a mental illness can be just as if not more debilitating than the ones that our colleagues and class mates can’t see.
What’s Okay/Not Okay To Say To Someone With A Mental Illness
Obviously, there are differences between physical and mental illness, that’s just a fact. The problem doesn’t really lie in distinguishing between them, but rather in deeming one more important than the other. Here are a few things that have been said to me with regards to depression/anxiety that, let’s be real, aren’t okay…
“Just try and remember, a lot of people have it much worse!”
“I don’t believe in medication for mental illness, have you not tried herbal tea and running?”
“How did your boss feel about you taking a day off work for ‘nothing’?”
“You’ll be grand, everybody gets depressed somedays!”
“You’re just worrying over nothing – don’t. Just relax!”
How I (attempt to) Deal With Anxiety & Depression
Some people seem to view anxiety in the same way as arachnophobia or claustrophobia, which is completely wrong. While anxiety does cause fear and feelings of discomfort, it isn’t a phobia and it can’t be dealt with using the same ‘face your fears head on’ mechanisms. Certain situations will make different people anxious and uncomfortable and this will differ in each individual. For me personally, making an order in a cafe, particularly somewhere like Subway where there’s a dozen different steps or crowded, disorganised shops like Penneys or TK Maxx are my triggers. Of course, these situations are very much part of daily life and while I’m not encouraging people to hide away and cut themselves off from shopping/eating out, sometimes you just have to put yourself first and manage the situation so that it brings you the least amount of anxiousness possible.
Watching My Diet
Because anxiety is a mental ailment rather than a physical one, you may not immediately link diet with it but what you consume throughout the day can actually have a massive impact on the severity of your anxiety. When we become anxious or panicky, it’s our bodies reaction to what it sees as a ‘danger’. (Often with severe anxiety, these reactions aren’t in sync with reality and the ‘dangers’ we see aren’t actually as harmful as we visualise). Adrenalin is released by the body as a defence mechanism when it feels it’s under attack. Of course, too much adrenalin in your system will cause severe stress levels in your body, so taking in foods/drinks that contain a lot of caffeine and sugar is not ideal if you suffer from anxiety. Things such as coffee, Redbull and processed foods will cause your adrenalin levels to sky rocket, basically leaving you in an wound-up slump not long after consuming them.
Personally, after being told this, I cut out energy drinks completely and while I don’t eat a lot of processed foods anyway, I became more aware of the sugar levels in certain products. I’m a massive coffee lover, previously I would have consumed around 6-8 mugs a day which I know is awful, so instead of cutting it out completely, which would have caused withdrawals, I reduced that down to 3 and started to opt for green tea infusions sometimes instead. Your body really is a temple and a balanced, healthy diet will encourage a stronger, calmer you.
Understand & Accept
The first and most important thing when it comes to dealing with anxiety is to understand and accept it for what it is. Of course, being excessively anxious in your day to day life, to the point where it causes disruption and upset is not okay, but it’s key that we realise that anxiety levels differ in each and every person and that some people are just naturally more anxious than others. It’s understandable to want to blame yourself for being an overly anxious person, you may feel that it’s you yourself that’s self-inflicting this added stress on your body and mind, however, this is not the case.
When addressing my own issues, the whole concept of anxiety was explained to me as follows. Basically, you need to visualise the person being a container and anxiety being a liquid. In someone who has relatively normal anxiety levels and doesn’t suffer from any panic disorders, their container is never more than slightly filled with liquid, meaning day to day, ‘minor’ stresses don’t cause them much anxiety at all and they find these stresses easy to deal with. Therefore, when an overly stressful event takes place, their container can afford to take on the extra liquid, without overflowing. Now, consider someone who suffers from bad anxiety on a regular basis. Their container is constantly 3/4 full, even by slight stresses that others would see as irrelevant. Therefore, even the smallest of ‘stresses’ will cause their container to overflow, inducing a panic attack.
After having this explained to me, everything made a lot more sense and I was able to understand why seemingly small stresses to some come across as much bigger to me. Whether you suffer from anxiety yourself or are trying to empathise with a loved one who does, I think this analogy is incredibly important to keep in mind.