When Mental Illness Becomes a Competition

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OK, so there’s something I’ve been thinking about for months. I have been hesitant to write about it because I don’t want people to think I don’t want to support them. I do. The thought of helping another person smile or get through a tough moment quite literally gets me out of bed in the morning on days when it feels like the last thing I should be doing.

If you have had a conversation with me recently, then you probably know I adamantly tell people they are not a burden. No matter what they are going through, they are deserving of love and care. However, I’ve noticed mental illness (and mental health in general) has developed an underlying tone of competition.

That being said, I think it’s honesty time. I am guilty of this. I am guilty of measuring my problems based on other people’s. Last night, I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with a panic attack. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but I was afraid to wake up my friends who were literally in the same room because I felt like my problem wasn’t “bad enough” to warrant their support.

Trying to lie completely still so as not to wake them, I starting thinking through all of my options in my head. Should I go outside? Should I take a shower? Should I go pet one of the kittens? Needless to say, I was confused and overwhelmed.

Over the past few months, here’s the thing I’ve learned about mental illness: you will never feel like you are “sick enough.” I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever truly believe I have anxiety, even though I have a professional diagnosis. If you can’t see it, then society leads us to believe it’s not there. Since, I don’t have a cast for my brain, no one can see I’m healing, not even me.

More than that, it can be really invalidating for someone who is experiencing a crisis when other people neither see nor understand what is happening. Someone may have just had the worst panic attack of their life or literally feel nothing because of depression. They may have only eaten a handful of crackers all day, and someone saying, “Yeah, I was super stressed for that test too,” “I was so depressed when I hurt my ankle and couldn’t go to the gym,” or “Good for you for going on a diet,” can invalidate everything this person is going through. In that moment, it might cause an individual to deny their own illness.

At my worst, I denied mine. I thought because my anxiety was different from my friend’s, mine must not be “real” anxiety. I’m not saying walk on eggshells around your friends. That’s the last thing I would want someone to do with me. What I am saying is take what people tell you as true.

If someone says they’ve had the worst day, then ask them how you can help. Empathize with them. Sometimes, you can’t help and that’s OK. Just be there. If they say they are OK or they just want to be alone, then let them do what they need to do. They’ve got this.

I know I’ve said before that what has helped me the most in my mental health journey is talking to other people who have experienced similar struggles. I still believe that. Yet, the difference is if someone also has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD,) I know they truly “get it,” and more often than not, they will know I don’t want to hear, “Yeah, I had a really bad panic attack earlier too.” It sometimes feels invalidating to imagine what people who haven’t had the same struggles I have think when they hear, “I had a panic attack.”

Basically, what I want to say is if you’re comparing your struggles to someone else’s is stop. If you are going through a rough time, then you deserve support. I promise you your struggles are valid. You do not need to have the same experience as someone else in order for it to mean you deserve help, nor will it help you to think, “Oh, many others have it worse than I do.”

Take care of yourself first. My rule of thumb is if I think I have a personal anecdote that can help someone feel less alone, then I will ask them if they want to hear about my experience to see if it can help them think through theirs. This way it’s their call.

At the end of the day, if you make mental health a competition, then I promise this is a competition you do not want to win. If you “win,” you aren’t living. Be kind and support one another. Remember your vulnerabilities can be your greatest asset.

This post originally appeared on Self-Love Diaries.

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To the People Holding the Hands of Their Friends With Anxiety

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The friends who can’t go to a bar with their best friend.

The people who can’t change our plans without sending us into a state of meltdown. Disarray.

The friends who don’t get to go on adventures with their pal.

The friends who don’t share all the photos with that one absent person.

The friends who stop us from obsessing, make decisions for us and don’t ask too many questions.

The people who take us places so we don’t have a car or busy parking lots to obsess over.

The people who understand when we freak out over the layout of a supermarket, who make sense of our irrationality.

The people who remember the little things, who make sure we have an easily accessible exit and answer questions so we don’t have to. They take the hit.

The people who sit holding our hands, breathing with us and reminding us we are OK. We are safe.

The people who watch those close to them go into a total state of panic. Frozen. Fight or flight.

The people who explain to strangers, who become security and crowd control. Don’t get too close.

The people who chase us down roads, hold us tight and stay with us.

The people who sit up at night with us, who dress our wounds, stop us from shaking and who reassure everyone around us. Create the calm.

The friends who understand, who make things OK when we are unable to see it and talk us into safety.

The friends who don’t take our rejections and silences as rudeness, who still invite us to events whilst knowing we will never turn up.

The friends who stick with us after so long and who understand when things are too much.

We may not say it anywhere near enough, but you are more appreciated than we can put into words. We know you’ve got better things to be doing on your night out than sitting on a cold step, shivering, whilst giving us sips of water and stroking our hair and telling us we’re going to be OK, begging us to believe you. We do believe you, but in that state, our brains do not.

You bring us out of that panic mode when we are unable to ourselves. You may not see that, but you do. You help more than you will ever know. You miss out on being able to do things with your friend because they can’t cope with it. It’s not always fair on you either, and we know that.

We hate that it doesn’t affect or impact just us. It encapsulates everyone around us too. Sometimes we feel so guilty for bringing it to your door as well, and the fact that you stick around with us means so much. When we push you far away, you’re always there when we need you. No questions asked. When we reject your invitations, it’s not because we do not want to go. It’s because of the fear of what may happen if we do. Anxiety isn’t just scary in the moment, but the anticipation of its potential appearance is just as terrifying, which is why we avoid situations where it may happen. We have to protect ourselves.

Anxiety is exhausting. Once the attack is over, we’re done. So, so done. Our brains have just run a marathon. We are over-sensitized, tired and weak. During the attack, we are not there. Physically yes, but mentally we are a hundred miles away. We are gone.

Having someone you can trust, who can help to bring you back, can be so important. Someone to hold the map, guide you with directions and tell us where to turn. You are our sat-nav to calm. We love you, and you mean so much to us.

To the people who struggle with secondhand anxiety symptoms, thank you.

Follow this journey at The Purple Yoga Cat.

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A Day in the Life of a Girl With Anxiety

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Anxiety affects all kinds of people, all over the world. What I have found to be the most interesting aspect of anxiety is how easily it is hidden.

I have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) for years. After a recent discussion with my doctor, it became clear this was a condition I have dealt with since I was a child. It is not easy living my life with this struggle. It can hold me back, influence my decisions and affect the people I love.

Each day is an opportunity for my anxiety to determine what I’m going to do. On my good days, I do what I like to do. I go shopping with my friends, grab lunch with my mom or walk my dog. On my bad days, anxiety decides we’re not going to get up today. The hardest days are the days when anxiety wants to control me, but life is in the way.

For example, there are school days. It doesn’t matter how terrible I feel when I wake up, I don’t want to skip class because I am too anxious. So instead, I’ll get up late. I’ll wear a sweatshirt, a pair of sweatpants and no makeup to class. I won’t participate unless asked to, and I probably won’t pay much attention to what’s going on.

The best part is, no one around me knows a thing. To my classmates, I just woke up late. To my professors, I’m just not dedicated enough to my studies. To the strangers in the hallway, I’m not someone who cares about her appearance.

I’m sure anyone who lives with anxiety can agree with me when I say hiding anxiety may be one of the greatest talents people with anxiety have. There are few people who can see through me, see past the walls I have put up and see the pain I’m hiding from the rest of the world.

You can ask me what’s wrong, and I probably won’t even have a straight answer for you. If I do, then it’s not going to make much sense to you. It doesn’t even make sense to me. It’s just what I feel.

You see, the thing about anxiety is that it is internal. I get to decide what you see me struggling with, and I typically choose to keep my struggles buried deep inside.

A day in the life of a girl with anxiety looks just like a day in the life of a girl without it.

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'Coming Out' as a Person Who Struggles With Anxiety

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I’m coming out. You might think I am referring to my sexuality, but I’m not. I am referring to the fact that every single day, I wake up and make the decision to put on a brave face and fight what is going on in my mind. I’m coming out as someone who struggles with mental illness, or more specifically, anxiety.

Mental illness began affecting my life when I was 11 years old. When I first started the long battle that comes with my illness, even my immediate family did not know. When I was 11, I had no idea what mental illness was. I convinced myself I was not “normal” and what was going on in my mind deserved to remain a secret. Even my sister, who was and is my best friend, had no idea for over three years how I was struggling. For a long time, I used every excuse I could think of to conceal the secret I thought of my illness as.

Three years after I first started therapy, I spontaneously came out to my best friends. I remember how, when and where I told them. I remember the tears that streamed down their faces and receiving the tightest hugs they had ever given me. This was the first time I realized how amazing it actually can be to open up. I had this big grey area in my life that no one knew about for so long. When I opened up, it was like that grey area had gained some color.

Even though it feels amazing to be honest and open with the important people in my life, I’ve learned it isn’t an easy thing to do.

I will always struggle with anxiety. Even on my good days, one small thing will happen and I lose sleep over it, rather than remembering the other million good things that happened that day. Being honest about the biggest secret I’ve ever kept came along with, understandably, a lot of anxiety. The questioning about whether people will still like me, if they will look at me differently, if they will underestimate me, etc. overwhelmed me on some days. But the reason why I decided to finally be honest is because I realized there are too many people, too many 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds who struggle in silence and may not realize their mental illness does not define who they are.

So today, I’m coming out. I’m coming out to the world, and I’m coming out to the people who will judge me for my decision to be open. Most importantly, I’m coming out to the important people in my life who have had no idea for years that I’ve been struggling. I’m coming out as someone who has dealt with depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, social anxiety and panic attacks. I’m coming out as someone who has seen a therapist for years and has been on medication for almost as long — and is totally OK with that.

To the person reading this, I leave you with one thought: Whether you support or judge me or anyone who lives with a mental illness, know that any battle we fight does not define who we are or who we are going to be. And to the person with mental illness reading this, I leave you with three words — anything is possible. Even learning to manage your illness is possible. Oh, and by the way, it is never too late or too early to come out. It’s OK to acknowledge what you are facing, because I promise you it is powerful.

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

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

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Hello, I Am a Person: A Poem About Anxiety

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Hello, I am the girl in

the dorm next to you.

I don’t really know how

to say this, so I am going to just speak.

Hello, I am the girl

down the hall.

I don’t know what you’ve

been told about me, so I am just going to speak.

Hello, I am your roommate.

I don’t know what I did

to offend you, so I am just going to speak.

Hello, I am your

classmate.

I don’t want to bother

you, so I am just going to speak.

Hello, I am your

employee.

I don’t want to let you

down, so I am just going to speak.

Hello!

I am a person.

Last semester I almost died by

suicide.

I am a person.

Last summer I lost people I

thought were my best friends.

I am a person.

Last year I was bullied.

I am a person.

Last year I made

mistakes.

I am a person.

Last year I hurt some

people.

I am a person.

Last year I hurt myself,

more.

Hello!

I am a person who

is afraid.

Hello!

I am a person who

is crying out.

Hello!

I am a person who

is sorry.

Hello!

I am a person who

needs a friend.

Hello!

I am a person who

is terrified.

Hello!

I am a person who

needs help.

Hello!

I am a person who

wants to please you.

Hello!

I am a person.

Hello! I am a person.

I don’t

want your pity.

I don’t want your stares.

I don’t want your false friendliness.

I don’t want your

acceptance.

I don’t want anything

from you.

Hello! I am a person. I don’t

want your pity.

I want your friendship.

I want to be invited.

I want to laugh with you.

I want to watch Netflix

until one in the morning with you.

I want to eat in the dining

room with you.

I want to talk to you.

I want to study with you.

I want to work with you.

Hello, I am a person. I

don’t want your pity. I want your friendship.

I need it.

I need tissues.

I need hugs.

I need companionship.

I need help.

I need to listen.

I need to laugh.

I need to forget.

I need comfort.

Hello, I am a person. I don’t

want your pity. I want your friendship. I need it.

I have something.

I have your back.

I have the notes.

I have a shoulder

I have an ear.

I have a smile.

I have an open door.

I have a bed.

Hello, I am a person. I

don’t want your pity. I want your friendship. I need it. I have something.

You

can’t see it.

You can’t see my

thoughts.

You can’t see my tears.

You can’t see my longing.

You can’t see my muscles

tense up.

You can’t see my hands

sweat.

Hello, I am a person. I

don’t want your pity. I want your friendship. I need it. I have something. You

can’t see it.

I don’t want to explain it.

I don’t want to blame my

fears on it.

I don’t want to blame

you.

I don’t want it.

I don’t know how it

affects me.

I don’t want it to affect

you.

I don’t want to broadcast

it.

I don’t want the world to

know my secrets.

Hello, I am a person. I

don’t want your pity. I want your friendship. I need it. I have something. You

can’t see it. I don’t want to explain it. I want to be more than it.

I want to be happy.

I want to be wanted.

I want to be social.

I want to be loved.

I want to be me.

I want to be able to

party.

I want to be able to

drink coffee.

Hello, I am a person. I

don’t want your pity. I want your friendship. I need it. I have something. You

can’t see it. I don’t want to explain it. I want to be more than it. Sadly, I

can’t.

I can’t sleep.

I can’t shop.

I can’t drive.

I can’t live.

Hello, I am a person. I

don’t want your pity. I want your friendship. I need it. I have something. You

can’t see it. I don’t want to explain it. I want to be more than it. Sadly, I

can’t. I have generalized anxiety disorder.

I have nightmares.

I have medications.

I have panic attacks.

I have irritability.

I have irrational thoughts.

I have coping skills.

Hello, I am a person. I

don’t want your pity. I want your friendship. I need it. I have something. You

can’t see it. I don’t want to explain it. I want to be more than it. Sadly, I

can’t. I have generalized anxiety disorder. I am learning to accept and live with it.

I am breathing.

I am meditating.

I am using essential oils.

I am doing puzzles.

I am coloring.

I am journaling.

I am informing myself.

I am sharing my journey.

Hello, I am a person. I

don’t want your pity. I want your friendship. I need it. I have something. You

can’t see it. I don’t want to explain it. I want to be more than it. Sadly, I

can’t. I have generalized anxiety disorder. I am learning to accept and live

with it.

I need something from you:

support.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Why Hiding My Anxiety and Depression Can Be Counterproductive

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I hide my anxiety and depression every day, sometimes without realizing it.

During my career, I’ve been described as “laid back,” “calm during crises” and “always happy.” More often than not, I smile and make jokes even though I feel like I’m about to explode with nervous energy. Sometimes even my parents or husband don’t know I’m not feeling well.

I don’t necessarily mean to keep anything from my loved ones; it’s more that my focus turns inward as my anxiety and depression increase. Bottling up all that negative energy intensifies my symptoms and drains me. Hiding it has also caused me to be misunderstood and relationships to be strained.

Early in my marriage, I learned to be upfront with my husband. This could mean the first thing I say when I walk in the door is “I don’t feel good mentally.” I get an immediate sense of relief when I say those words out loud. It helps him understand the source of my actions and to not take anything personally. We talk about what’s going on (if there were any triggers) and what we need to do to help me in my current state.

Ever since I began writing my first novel, I became much more forthcoming to friends and family about my struggles with anxiety and depression. I’ve found sharing with others is the most therapeutic action I can take! It still astounds me how many people I know who can relate, either from their own experience or a loved one’s. Not only does this help me realize I’m not alone but it allows me the opportunity to help someone.

Especially at work, I still use caution in sharing what I experience. Not everybody understands, and some may even say something insensitive, which no one needs when dealing with mental illness. Call it instinct, but you can usually tell quickly if someone just won’t ‘get it.’ It’s not worth sharing with those people. Simply say, ‘I don’t feel well,’ and leave it at that.

Even though I’ve opened up tremendously over the years about my struggles with anxiety and depression, I’m still working on being more honest about it. I feel being open will only help me to cope, and it might even help someone else!

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