WARNING: This post contains themes that could be a trigger for some. If you're feeling particularly delicate right now, I suggest you don't read this.
I was going to save this post for another day & another time, but right now I need to let this out because it's important that you see the whole of me, not just the lighter & more positive side.
Folks, I suffer from anxiety...or more specifically, social anxiety.
I'll talk more about this particular type of anxiety further on; but in order to understand how I got to this point, we need to take a trip down memory lane...
My issues began once I started school. Having an unusual last name meant that I was easy pickings in the teasing/bullying stakes & as soon as the vultures saw how I reacted to their taunts (by bursting into tears & taking everything to heart), that was it, it was game on as far as they were concerned. Looking back, I recognise this as the first sign of my highly sensitive nature - something I've only just come to terms with in recent years.
Around this time I also began to manifest worries out of nowhere: worries with no logic or concrete evidence that they had occurred. One recurring worry/fear that I had growing up was losing my Mum in an accident of some sort. Every time she was out for what felt like an eternity, I would worry that she had been hurt or injured or worse & that she would never come home. This fear has thankfully subsided as I've got older, but on the odd occasion it still crops up in my mind. At the same time, I began developing perfectionist tendencies - a common trait amongst anxiety sufferers.
Fast forward to high school & that was where things took a turn for the worse. Every single day from about the middle of Year 7 (7th grade) onwards, this one particular (male) classmate of mine bullied me. No matter what I said, what I did, how I acted; they were all triggers for attack & there were certain so-called "friends" of mine who would join in on these attacks as well, by way of laughing at me or taunting me. It meant I was almost constantly defensive - angry even - & it felt like I had no escape as my (real) friends were friends with those people too.
At one point in high school, I went through what I believe was mild depression. I was struggling in classes (particularly English, where I wasn't completing homework & assignments) & being drowned in suicidal dreams at night. In those dreams, I would imagine over & over what my own funeral would look like - who would come (if anyone) & what the bullies would say or do about me taking my own life. The final straw came when I made my one & only (failed) attempt at self-harm. At that moment, I knew I'd hit my lowest ebb & needed to climb back out. To this day, that episode is something I rarely talk about and tbh I'd rather forget it ever happened; however, it's something I felt I needed to mention in the context of this post. It is a part of my mental health history, whether I like it or not. Even now, I'm still prone to mildly depressive episodes - two of which I went through just last month - and I'm aware of the statistic that says you're twice as likely to suffer from depression if you have anxiety (and vice versa).
It wasn't until I was 26 that I finally sought help for my chronic lack of self-confidence & low self-esteem, in the form of therapy, and it was throughout that process that I found out about social anxiety & that I suffer/ed from it. I didn't know much (if anything) about anxiety to begin with - all I knew was there was something not quite right with my mental state & I needed to tackle it head on - so to find out that there are so many different types of anxiety (there's about 5 that I know of) was a learning curve. The difference between my type of anxiety & the others is that social situations like going to a party or making a phone call can induce panic & fear in people. I'll talk more about what specifically makes me anxious in a later post, but those are just a few examples of what social anxiety entails.
Aside from psychological scarring, anxiety has fucked up my life in numerous ways, from being long-term unemployed (which I am at present), to finding love & being in a relationship, to having friends, to having a rich & full life. It can also affect my blogging schedule, in that there are days or weeks where writing posts, taking photos, editing & publishing feels all too much & I'd rather avoid doing it until I'm mentally ready & in the zone, so to speak. I had one of those weeks just recently & knew I had to take a step back for the sake of my own mental state - schedule be damned. It has also made me fearful of putting this blog on social media, despite knowing the benefits & despite knowing that I have my supporters. What can I say; the past runs deep I guess.
The strange part about all of this is I can hop on a plane & travel to multiple countries without raising much of a sweat, yet stuff like writing a cover letter for a job, having to talk myself up & ask people to be a referee fills me with so much dread that I'd rather not do it. Even looking at jobs online feels like a waste of time as I almost instantly dismiss every ad I look at due to not fulfilling all the qualification &/or skill requirements. I avoid the dating scene & online dating apps in general as I understand how vulnerable I am & how much of a sucker I can be when it comes to my heart. I don't have many friends because I either don't know how to make them or I'm too scared to make them (thus leaving me socially isolated), or those that I have made live on the opposite side of the world and don't feel tangible to me. Although I've had friends in the past, I have since drifted from them, either through circumstance or on purpose. If it weren't for my parents supporting me as much as they can, I don't know who, what or where I'd be.
So why am I baring my soul today? Because there are a lot of people out there who are suffering in silence. People who are too afraid to speak up about their problems due to the stigma society still places on mental health (sadly). People who keep their troubles to themselves because of something a family member or friend (or even a stranger) has said about those who suffer from depression or anxiety - stuff like "it's all in their heads" or "they're crazy" - or who have spoken up about their troubles in the past & have been met with stony, awkward silence (its happened to me before). I also know I'm not the only other blogger out there with a mental health issue who feels compelled to talk about it.
I'm also speaking up because I would like to be a voice that helps smash the mental health taboo to smithereens. It costs governments millions, leaves families devastated when a loved one is lost to suicide & is one of the biggest health issues facing the world today. Mental health issues are a cancer - albeit one that can never be cured, only managed, as I've learnt throughout my own journey (for lack of a better term) - and I want the world & society at large to get to the stage where we can talk about depression & anxiety like we do with cancer & not let this one defective part of our individual psyches define who we are as a person. I don't believe anxiety defines me and neither should anybody else.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from anxiety or depression, please get help. You can either call Lifeline on 13 11 14 (if you're in Australia), or get in touch with Beyond Blue either via their website or call 1300 22 4636. Beyond Blue are also in partnership with MindSpot, another service which provides online assessment & treatment for anxiety & depression sufferers.
I guess what I'm saying is there's a myriad of ways in which you can get help - all you need to do is acknowledge your problems & take that first step. I know that it's scary & that there are some shit people working in the mental health profession, but I also like to think that there's some wonderful people within that field who genuinely care & want to help you out.
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Do you or anyone you know suffer from anxiety or depression? Feel free to tell your/their story below.