When You're Not Allowed to Struggle With Your Own Mental Health

Recently, among co-workers, I made a comment that I was feeling quite anxious one morning. “You’re not allowed to have that,” one replied “That’s your job,” and she half-laughed.

A few hours later, sitting in a meeting next to another co-worker, I was quietly using my fidget cube to calm my nerves. (Obviously, I was having quite a day.) When it accidentally dropped out of my hands, this co-worker looked at me as if I had been holding an alien object. “What? Do you have anxiety or something?” She half-laughed.

Truth is, on most days, I present myself as any high-functioning professional with anxiety would — exactly how I want to present myself: professional, intelligent and calm, with a tinge of humorous self-deprecation to lighten serious situations.

On rare occasions, though, “me” comes through. The me who betrays me. For a mental health professional, that’s not so acceptable.

Yes, I teach children about emotional regulation, and if I am truly honest with myself, I am fairly good at it. My favorite work is with children with severe emotional or behavioral disabilities. In their storms, I seek to teach them moments of calm and the skills to find the calm within themselves. If you ask around, people would say I am also a steady hand in a moment of crisis — for students and staff. That’s how I trick you.

I can do your crisis, emotional meltdowns and wild behavior tantrums. That does not mean I can handle my own.

Just this year, my anxiety started playing tricks on me in the form of panic attacks.

“Attack” would be the word of emphasis when describing what it is like to someone unfamiliar. In a flash, I have been shoved underwater, unable to come up for air, my limbs tingling, my head physically and mentally dizzy with angry assaults from my worst enemy — me. I’m uncertain if I’ll faint, vomit or have a heart attack, but I feel any of the three would be better than being seen by the world who thinks of me as my calm impostor. I have to hide but I am frozen.

When I finally ground myself, I’m exhausted, grief-stricken and embarrassed, even if all alone. My world spins into blabbering apologies — to everyone, anyone, even myself. I spend hours, maybe days, having an anxiety hangover — filled with physical exhaustion, sadness and regret.

I promise you I would never ever say this in my moments during or after an attack, but I am thankful for them. Fifteen years now, I have worked with children whose bodies and minds betray them on a constant basis. This year more than ever, I believe you, Dr. Ross Greene, that “children do well if they can,” because I do well if I can. Sometimes, I can’t. And now I see you a little more clearly. I see you. I love you, all of you, even your meltdown. I will love you in your own betrayal. When you come out the other side, we’ll figure out together how to find our calm again.

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Thinkstock photo via SIphotography

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