To the Philadelphia Eagle Who Publicly Talked About Anxiety, From a Diehard Giants Fan

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Brandon Brooks is a Philadelphia Eagle which means, as a diehard New York Giants fan, I shouldn’t, under any circumstance, like him. And while I will never root for him on the field, today he has my utmost respect.

I live with anxiety. As young as age 3 I showed signs of the mental health disorder, and it has reared its ugly head in various intensities over the course of my life. I developed an eating disorder at the end of middle school and since this event, anxiety has never separated itself from my being.

With experience and a low dose of medication, I’ve been able to become comfortable living with this addition to my life. My mental health is a piece of who I am. The panic attacks and social anxiety are something I live with every day.

It wasn’t always so easy for me to be accepting of my diagnosis. Not that I was personally made uncomfortable by my condition, but I was fearful of the reactions I would receive from others. I hadn’t been brought up in a community and greater society that was honest about mental illness. In health class, we talked about stress and the physical changes that were occurring within our bodies. But depression was glossed over. OCD was ignored. Eating disorders were minimized. It seemed like anything beyond what was considered a “normal” level of feeling was taboo. The emotional changes that come with adolescence are perhaps more important than any development we can see on the outside. And the negative education of these issues is just slightly even more powerful than saying nothing at all.

Slowly this has started to change. Celebrities have begun to share their experiences with all forms of mental illness, from bipolar disorder to depression. But even as Hollywood has become a more welcoming place for these revelations, it feels as though the professional sports world is still many years behind.

Mental health brings with it a feeling of shame because very often it is linked to this idea of weakness and that somehow falling victim to a mental illness symbolizes the very opposite of strength, a trait most athletes are fighting to promote. Over the years, coaches and managers have preached mental toughness on and off the field, demanding their players overcome. Not to mention the fear of losing confidentiality for players who are particularly famous. As a result, many choose not to come forward, refusing to admit to their coaches or even to themselves that they need help.

It can often go unnoticed until it’s too late. Some players fight the “mystery ailment” and experience debilitating symptoms for years without ever knowing the true cause.

But on December 14, Brandon Brooks took a step to change that…. in an 11-minute meeting with the press from his locker, announcing he has been diagnosed with an, “anxiety condition,” one which sidelined him from two games with the Eagles this season, as well as with the Houston Texans in previous seasons.

In his announcement to the press, Brandon was unapologetic of his diagnosis. He didn’t keep this piece of himself from the public, although he had every right to. Brandon wasn’t going to run from his truth because he knows it is nothing to be ashamed of and it doesn’t mean life is over for him. Rather a new, better life will begin because of the tools he now has available to him.

On both game days and off days alike, Brandon would wake up around 4 or 5 in the morning plagued by uncontrollable vomiting. No medication helped to ease it, and the episode would last for a full 24 hours before ceasing. Afterwards, he was left so weak he, “didn’t even have the strength to stand up.”

He had experienced this symptom on and off for years but recently decided to find out what was wrong. After one of his missed games with the Texans a couple of years ago, Brandon was diagnosed with an ulcer, leading him to assume subsequent episodes were also caused by an ulcer or something physical in his stomach. It wasn’t until he received help and evaluation from the Eagles’ medical staff that he learned his symptoms were actually caused by severe anxiety and his desire for perfection.

Not only did Brandon share the name of his illness and his symptoms, but he also spoke extensively about the way in which anxiety affects him, clearly and honestly dismissing some of the misconceptions and assumptions about this disorder in particular. He took the time to make sure the public understands. Because for some, anxiety is experienced as a form of panic and intense worry. For others, it is caused by social interactions.

“…[An] anxiety condition is not nervousness or fear of the game. I have like an obsession with the game,” he said. “I’m a perfectionist and anytime that I’m not perfect, in my head it’s not good enough. And it kind of just wears on me from there… I don’t remember good plays, I only remember bad plays, plays that I should have done them right. The film is constantly playing in my head.”

Additionally, Brandon did not shy away from sharing the treatment plan he has chosen to follow. While many find the issue of psychiatric medications to be a taboo subject and keep their choice of prescription drugs a secret, he shared that he is currently on two different medications to help his anxiety.

I think it’s immensely important to have public figures who are honest with their struggles, not just their triumphs. Brandon Brooks is one such individual. He signed a five-year, $40-million contract with the Eagles in the spring. For some, there is a belief that if you’re famous enough or wealthy enough, you are immune to mental health challenges, that if you reach a certain height, you can’t be touched. And that is just not true.

He also wasn’t fearful of sharing his choice to undergo counseling to help address his “unhealthy obsession” with football. So often there is a feeling of shame that can come along with seeing a professional for help, leading many to avoid seriously confronting the issues ailing them, and as a result, they never truly overcome their obstacles. To hear him say, “I realized I couldn’t defeat it myself” and needed to ask for help is a very sobering and inspiring action, one that can make it easier for others to seek assistance in battling their own demons.

There is so much maturity in Brandon’s story. In a league that has been chastised for incorrectly addressing a variety of issues, both internally and publicly, from domestic violence to concussion protocol, Brandon’s response to mental health and the help he received should not be devalued. Much was done right.

The reactions of Brandon’s teammates are also a wonderful example for anyone who is trying to support a friend through mental illness. After meeting with his teammates to explain his illness to them, he says everyone has been nothing but supportive. “I love the organization, the organization’s been great… The head coach, my position coach… everybody’s supported me. My teammates have rallied around me.” Brandon’s security in sharing this personal information without fear of repercussions proves just how safe you can feel in putting yourself first when you are surrounded by the right people.

Brandon Brooks and I are very much opposite. There is very little that connects us. He plays in the NFL. I have no athletic ability whatsoever. I’ve lived my life in the suburbs, while he grew up in the city of Milwaukee. Brandon clocks in a 6 feet, 5 inches, 346 pounds. Meanwhile, I am barely 5 feet, 3 inches, with a slim frame. He is black, and I am white.

When I look at Brandon, I don’t see a version of myself, someone I wholly identify with. Our experiences are very different. But his authenticity and normalizing of those with mental health challenges has no doubt earned him my admiration. I have personally begun to share my story and advocate as a person living with mental health challenges, hoping to end the stigma so many face. I am honest and unapologetic in the telling of my experience. And watching Brandon’s honest and candid press conference on Wednesday, where he encouraged questions and sought to educate, I happily welcome him into our community and acknowledge all he can do to further support the mental health movement.

In a world where speaking out about mental illness is still a fairly new occurrence, where the list of celebrities who are open about their mental health struggles is fairly short, there aren’t many who are positively affirming the normalcy of these issues, who are comfortable enough in themselves to share their truth with the world. And in being honest, succeeding in telling thousands of individuals out there living with these illnesses that it is OK.

I already found my strength and became comfortable with my diagnosis, largely without an example of what it looked like to live with a mental illness. But I do not for a second underestimate the power Brandon’s admission will have on the thousands of young adults who have been and will be told they have an anxiety disorder. His living and succeeding with anxiety tells them, you are not broken, shows them that if he can do it, you can do it, too.

And Brandon himself is chiefly aware of the role he can play in destigmatizing mental illness, particularly for the next generation. He said, “Hopefully, if I can reach some kids out there that are going through the same thing and let them know it’s OK, life goes on, fight through it. Just like I’m trying to do.”

Trying and succeeding. Thank you, Brandon.

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Holly Hindle's Bear Minimum Comic Illustrates Depression and Anxiety

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When Holly Hindle draws herself, she draws herself as a bear. For Hindle, 27, bears make her comics more relatable and provide an escape from body image issues. While the bears might provide an escape for Hindle, her comic series “The Bear Minimum,” doesn’t shy away from important issues like depression and anxiety.

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“When I started out making the comics initially, it was an art-based challenge – to draw a comic every day for the month of January,” Hindle told The Mighty. “Eventually I found making comics directly about my life such as artist problems, my mental health and community problems within fandoms. [It] really started to feel cathartic. I was seeing a counselor only sporadically, so the comic became a great way to express issues and joys as well as connect with people like myself.”

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The experiences Hindle illustrates are inspired by her experience living with generalized anxiety disorder, depression and dermatillomania. Her comics are candid, giving readers an unabashed look inside her anxious mind. “Despite my original reservations about posting such unfinished doodle artworks, the feedback has been astonishing,” the Ontario-based illustrator said. 

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Overall, working on “The Bear Minimum” has been extremely rewarding, Hindle said. “Repressing or hiding the fact that you are mentally ill is like a slow poison, one that slowly erodes away at everything that makes you who you are,” she added. “Seeking help can be terrifying, especially if you’re anxious! Breaking free of that and taking the first step means everything. Having the patience and determination to heal is half the struggle, finding a way to love yourself the way you are is the rest.”

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You can check out more of Hindle’s cartoons at “The Bear Minimum” on Tumblr

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The ‘Liminal Space’ Before a Panic Attack

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An anxiety disorder is a mental illness, and I get to battle it daily, along with many others.

Here are some truths about anxiety (from a wonderful infographic which can be found at the Mental Health America website):

  • No, it’s not nervousness about a coming event.
  • No, it’s not from too much caffeine consumption.
  • No, it’s not attention-seeking.
  • Yes, it’s me analyzing everything.
  • Yes, it’s a negative voice that follows me everywhere.
  • Yes, I am constantly overcoming fears and worries to battle it.

And no, I’m not ashamed (nor should you be). This is real. Let’s talk about it.

What prompted this post was an panic attack that came after some news I received during a post-op appointment. Here’s a little bit of context: On October 23, I was admitted to the hospital for severe abdominal pain (amongst other incredibly painful things). After my CT scan, I was booked for emergency surgery. My appendix (which we aptly named, Trouble) was angry and needed to come out. The surgery went well and was able to be performed laparoscopically.

Five weeks later, here I am walking into my post-op appointment. I met with my surgeon. He said I was healing beautifully. (Although, we now know I am allergic to steri-strip adhesive. So itchy!) He also told me to keep an eye out for any pain or oozing during my last week of healing.

Then, the surgeon sat down and said he was looking at the tests they did on my appendix. What he said next was the clincher: “You actually had an abscess on your appendix. If you would’ve waited even one more day, then it would’ve been a much graver situation.”

At the time, I casually acknowledged the information. It hit me as I was walking out, in the pouring rain, to my car. “Hold it together. Just make it to the car,” I was telling myself. I shut the door, and the key element of my anxiety disorder, a panic attack, descended.

A panic attack for me is:

  • Shortness of breath, hyperventilating
  • Tears
  • Fear
  • Rocking back and forth
  • Sweating
  • Blinding clarity

The most intimidating of all my symptoms was the blinding clarity. Yes, I did have surgery for a life-threatening illness. Yes, it was real (even the bill for the surgery didn’t make it real!) Yes, if I would’ve waited even a day longer, my life, my life, would’ve been threatened.

Until this attack, I had been floating in a “liminal space,” (and take your time reading about it because I had trouble understanding the immensity of the definition.) In own words (with the the minor research I’ve done), it is the space between one stage of my life and another. It’s basically like remaining in limbo. The information I received from my surgeon triggered me out of this liminal space and into the reality of my life after accepting this new information.

One of the ways to battle a panic attack is to reach out to someone you trust and ask for help. For me, I chose to call someone who knows my anxiety and knows not to say, “just relax,” that cringe phrase!

Here’s how she helped me:

  • She broke the situation down into small bites I could handle.
  • She helped me walk through the situation to acknowledge what was happening.
  • She explained the situation in anatomical details, which actually calms my brain down.
  • She brought me back into reality gently by asking me questions about that day.

I crossed two large bridges that day.

  1. The fog I was in actually has a name, the liminal space, and it was my body’s way of coping with a traumatic event.
  2. An anxiety disorder is a mental illness that is real, but it can be dealt with.

Let’s talk openly about this. Hit like if you can relate. Have you been through a traumatic event that caused a panic attack? I’d love to hear how you were able to walk yourself through it, so I can add to my plan of attack. Just know, we are strong and we can change the thinking around this mental illness.

*I am in no way medically-certified. This reflection is my own opinion of how I battle my anxiety. It’s meant for relating and sharing knowledge, not medical advice. If you feel you need help, then I encourage you to contact your health care profession immediately.

xo,

Holly

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My 3 New Year’s Resolutions as Someone Trying to Overcome Anxiety

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It can be a challenge to set New Year’s resolutions when you have anxiety. Before I even touch pen to paper, I can picture myself failing to meet any goal or resolution I set. It becomes even more challenging when you are a person with anxiety who has just begun therapy, as I have. You have so many new goals. Yet, they still feel unattainable.

An important part of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is goal setting. There is a lot of reasoning behind this. They give you direction, focus and allow you to feel accomplished. But when you have anxiety, each goal is a new opportunity for failure.

I am a believer in the power of sharing and the strength it brings. Perhaps, by sharing my New Year’s resolutions for overcoming anxiety, I will gain the strength to live up to them and have a supportive community to hold me up if I fail.

1. Stop hiding.

Struggling with anxiety in silence from a young age has given me an incredible ability to hide the truth. I don’t lie about everyday things. I lie about how I am feeling. When I show up smiling while my insides are crumbling, my face is telling the lie. So I resolve to acknowledge when I am not OK and seek out support.

2. Stop people pleasing.

Every aspect of my life has focused on keeping others happy. The little voice in my head has always told me people wouldn’t like me if I weren’t exactly what they wanted. I’ve always strived to be the perfect daughter, the star student and the most supportive friend. People pleasing compels you to do a lot of kind and selfless acts, but they come at your expense. I resolve to hold on to this kindness, but to also be kind to myself and take care of my wants and needs.

3. Accept myself.

The drive to be perfect in everyone’s eyes has led me to feel deeply flawed in my own. I’ve set impossible standards for myself that I could never reasonably live up to. I resolve to tell myself every day that I’m deserving of love just the way I am. I resolve to believe my self-worth only comes from me and to not allow anyone’s negativity to make me feel not good enough.

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I hope you too learn to accept and love yourself in 2017. For me, 2016, has been a year of change. I look to 2017 to be a year of personal growth.

You can read more of my posts on TranQool.

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When Someone Asked Me How I'm So Good at 'Acting Fine’

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I’ve been told I’m good at acting like I’m fine, and I am. I’m really good at it. Yet, sometimes, I wish I could turn around and say I’m not. I wish I could just tell someone I actually haven’t been fine in such a long time.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel tired. I don’t mean, “I only got five hours sleep last night” tired. I mean physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. It doesn’t matter if I actually manage to get sleep during the night, I still feel exhausted. My stresses are even coming into my dreams at night.

Yet, people think I’m fine because I can laugh, smile and act like I’m OK. I get up in a morning, and I get on the buses to university. I go to my classes. I go to the library and I do my work. I get home, and I do my reading and essays. I have a cup of tea, dinner and a shower, and I go to bed. I act pretty normal.

Yet, no one sees what it’s like. No one knows in my head I don’t know whether I’m coming or going. No one knows actually when I go for a shower, it’s usually somewhere I can cry and get away with it because I’ll just say I got water in my eyes if they’re a little red. They don’t know when I go to bed, I don’t go to sleep. I lay there tossing, turning and getting more and more frustrated that I can’t sleep to the point where, again, I end up crying.

They don’t know I am so close to giving up because I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of everything, but I don’t. I carry on going, even when I don’t know why I’m doing it anymore. I carry on, smile, laugh and act like a “normal” person would. I feel as though it’s a chore getting up in the morning. Getting up in the morning is so hard.

But why? That’s what is always going through my mind. Why are you getting up? Why are you participating? And I don’t even know anymore. I really don’t. Someone asked me today how I was so good at acting like I’m fine. Honestly, my anxiety started at 15 years old. I’ve been “managing” it for five years now. It’s a part of my daily life, and I’ve just learned how to put a wall up and not show it.

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It’s there in my head. It’s always there in my head. It never leaves! It frustrates me so much being there, and it frustrates me that people think I’m fine. Yet, I never show anybody a reason to think I wasn’t fine.

Sometimes, I wish I could bring my wall down and show people, but it’s not that easy. I have to go on with life, do my work and go to university.

I guess, sometimes, I just wish I wasn’t such a good actor.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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To My Past Self and Anyone Else Struggling With Anxiety

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Dear past self,

I know you think something is wrong with you.

I know you feel like you’re leading two lives, a physical one and a mental one. In your physical life, you know you’re happy. You have a great family, lots of friends, good grades, passions, an awesome job and a hopeful future. You have every reason to be happy, and you know it.

In your mental life, you’re not happy. You’re stressed all the time, and it’s not the “normal” kind of stress. You’re worried about everything. You think you’re going to fail that next test. You think that friend is going to replace you, and you fear being lonely.

You think that guy is going to wake up one day and not like you anymore. You fear heartbreak is going to kill you. You think something bad is going to happen to your family. You think you’re not going to be there to say goodbye because you’re too busy staring at the mirror wondering why you can’t look your reflection in the eye.

I know your mental life is starting to seep into your physical life, but no one else can see it. I know most days you feel like you’re underwater, moving through life in slow motion while the rest of the world continues at a normal pace. I know most nights you’re scared to fall asleep because you think you’ll wake up to find your life moved on without you.

You’ll tell yourself you’re losing it. You’ll call yourself “crazy.” You’ll beat yourself up for it every night, and you’ll tell yourself you just need to get over it. Other people will tell you the same things. You’ll keep them close because you think they’re being supportive.

I know you refuse to use the word “anxiety.” I know you think saying it will make you ungrateful. I know you think saying it will change how others see you. I know memes and social media posts aren’t enough to convince you otherwise. I know it needs to be a real person, and I also know she’ll be there soon.

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I know once you start talking about it, things will start to get better. You’ll go to therapy, and you’ll learn how to breathe again, something you didn’t even know you’d forgotten. You’ll do poorly on a few tests, but it’s OK because you’ll do better on the next one. Then, you’ll cry when you get that acceptance letter.

That friend is going to replace you. So is that other friend, but it’s OK because you’re about to meet some wonderful people who will make it impossible to feel alone. That guy really is going to wake up one day and tell you he never truly cared about you. It’s OK because you’re able to look your reflection in the eye, and this will make it hard to be sad. You’re going to be there when bad things happen to your family, but it’s OK because you’ll all be together. This will make it easier to pull through.

I know you’ll always have anxiety, and I know you’ll learn to be OK with that. I know you’ll have hard days, but I know you’ll pull through. I know it’s too late to save you, but I also know it’s never too late to save someone else.

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