Brilliant article in the Huffington Post about controlling “anxious thoughts”.
Brilliant article in the Huffington Post about controlling “anxious thoughts”.
My brother has an anxiety disorder that used to make him apologize for himself all day long. He apologized for existing – taking up space; living as though his consumption of oxygen was too much. Painfully I watched my brother tiptoe around the world working hard to please everyone; working hard to make peace with everyone everything.
“Is that okay?”
“Are you sure?”
Were just a three of the phrases he quietly repeated hundreds of times day. Even those of us without anxiety disorders, even those of us who are not saying it out loud we’re after the same thing in our heads.
I would continually tell my brother to “stop saying you’re sorry” but he couldn’t he needed to say it. Today I want to scream at the top of my lungs: YOU ARE OKAY so the world can hear. It’s painful to watch person after person hurt themselves, torture themselves, drive themselves literally insane in attempts to get those three things. I’m not talking about seeking attention. I’m not talking about wanting someone to notice you. I’m talking about you wanting to feel connected, cared for, loved, accepted.
My message to you today is that you don’t have to apologize to me. You don’t have to change. You don’t have to fit a mold. Don’t try to disappear. I want to hear you. I want to see you. Take up space. Take up room. You are accepted. I invited you into this space because with out you we’re missing something. Without you we’re at a loss. There is only one you – and never say your sorry for being you.
My name is Erin and This is Where I Stand.
“How did you stop being anxious?”
“You mean, you still feel sad?”
Every now and then, yes.
“You mean, God hasn’t healed you from it?”
“Do you think He will?”
God can do anything. And sometimes, I still struggle.
Oh boy. It’s time to talk about faith and mental health.
A part of me always knew this would be a difficult topic to discuss. Some of my readers are not believing Christians and might mistake my post for some kind of subtle hint for proselytization.
And some of my readers are Christians but may not understand how the two phenomenon, God and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), could possibly co-exist in someone’s life.
I’ve had a few readers ask me about my faith and its role in regards to how I cope with anxiety disorder. Where does God fit in?
They might expect me to give them some of these “cookie-cutter” answers:
Because I am Christian, I don’t struggle with my anxiety.
God healed me from my anxiety.
Or my personal favourite…
I believe God is “delivering” me from this disorder.
Instead, I leave room for something else. Something that needs to be said from someone who’s been there, and is sometimes…still there.
Let me clear the air about two things.
First, I am a Christian and I do believe that God can do anything. Nothing is impossible for Him (Luke 1:37). Does this include healing people from illnesses? Yes.
Second, the former argument does not exclude mental illness. While this was not my personal experience, I do know a couple of individuals who have personally experienced God’s healing from different psychological disorders.
So the question remains: does God miraculously heal everyone from a psychological disorder?
The answer isn’t so black and white. And I don’t think this is the right question to be asking in the first place.
Let me explain why.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the following statement from church-goers in regards to mental illness.
“You just need to pray about it more. You really need to go before the Lord.”
Oh brother. Let me tell you about my “going” before the Lord. As someone who dealt with panic attacks and anxiety disorder throughout university, I can only say that I wasn’t only just going before the Lord but I was face-down-lying-on- the-bathroom-floor going before the Lord.
To those of you who have been there before, you are not entirely shocked. All of us have had a moment at some point in our lives where our body meets gravity. All dignity is pushed aside. And we beg and plead. Often on our knees. Or in my case, on my hands on knees.
Take this from me. I cannot do this anymore. It’s just too much.
So, where did this leave God and me?
God did not take away my anxiety disorder that night as I lay face-down on the bathroom floor of my DC apartment. He did not miraculously “heal” me from my anxiety. I didn’t automatically stop having panic attacks. I still had to catch my breath and count to ten in the middle of a work meeting out of fear that I would panic.
God didn’t heal me.
But I started going to counselling.
And I talked to a complete stranger about my fears.
I learned tools about how to stop the onset of a panic attack.
And learned how to manage anxious feelings and negative “self-talk”.
I learned to accept that I struggled with a disorder.
And I told my friends and family members.
I broke some old habits.
I said goodbye to some unhealthy relationships.
And I started to regain my strength and peace of mind.
Then I started to sleep better at night.
And really enjoyed my meal at dinner time.
I relaxed at home by myself, not concerned with the fear of being alone.
So did God heal me?
Not in the way you would think.
As a Christian I believe that God didn’t take away my anxiety. He didn’t minimize my depression.
I still felt sad after going to counselling. I still had the occasional panic attack at random in the supermarket.
You see, God does not promise that we will not experience hardship.
But, He does promise that He will be there right beside us, every step of the way.
How comforting it is to know that I am not alone! Not only do other people serve as a vital support group but it says in Matthew that Jesus overcame the world. He knew what it was like to feel overwhelmed. He knew pain and suffering.
So I’ll be honest with you. Today, I still struggle with anxiety. With negative self-talk.
But I do know one thing: I am not the same person I was 2 years ago. The worst is behind me. And God has been with me every step of the way. From diagnosis to recovery.
And I am on my way. I am on the mend. I am not a slave to anxiety disorder. I am the happiest I have ever been, but every now and then, I feel a little depressed. It’s encouraging to know that I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to feel perfectly. I can just be.
No miracles. I am trudging slow and steady making forward progress.
My name is Rachel and this is where I stand.
Forgive me that I haven’t written to you dear reader. The truth is I haven’t been in the right mind to write to you. My emotions have been unidentifiable. Truth be told, I haven’t felt like myself lately.
In fact, nothing has felt normal recently.
I look the wrong way when crossing the street. I walk on the left-hand side of the pavement. Waitresses find my pronunciation of a café “mocha” confusing and inevitably ask me to repeat myself. My friend’s jaw nearly drops to the floor when I tell her I walk from my house to the local Starbucks café. I cringe when the person next to me decides to make “small talk” or chat away on their cell phone on public transportation. Oh wait, there is no public transport! You guessed it, I’m back in the United States.
Before you criticize my attitude towards the great US of A, let me stress to you that I am first an American and will always be. I love this country more than most people would care to admit.
After having lived in the UK for almost two years now however, I have found myself amidst an identity crisis. To many people’s surprise (except my own), I slowly began embracing British culture. That’s right, I am the secret Anglophile, a traitor to the American dream.
While I will always remain an American sweetheart, I found myself falling in love with the Brits, their uncanny ability to achieve a balance of work and play, their obsession for afternoon tea time, and their general distaste for enthusiasm.
It should come as no surprise to you then to know how difficult I have found these past 9 days. I have felt “lost in translation” ever since I arrived. It’s not that I have a distaste for American culture or regret coming home to the South at the risk of overstaying my student visa. This transition had done a number on my emotions. My ability to handle stress has diminished considerably. Feelings of anxiety have seemed to flare up. Little things cause me to break into tears.
This isn’t about a place. It’s about a state of mind. It’s about progress.
I made progress in Scotland. I learned to manage my anxiety in Scotland. Scotland was a place of healing. It allowed me to finally “move on.” It is there where I discovered more about myself than I ever did during my four years at university. It is there I found a church that for the first time in my entire life, I felt a sense of belonging and unity. It is there that I met the man I am going to marry.
This isn’t about post-vacay blues. This is about the fear of relapse. The fear of not fitting in and feeling left out. This is about reverting back to the way things used to be, but knowing that they cannot ever go back.
A scene from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Return of the King, the third and final book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy springs to mind. Frodo Baggins has just returned home to the Shire after a long and arduous journey across Middle Earth. After a series of adventures, Frodo tries to come to terms with a comfortable and safe life back in the Shire, but to no avail.
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when you begin to understand…there is no going back?”
Ever since I left Scotland, I have been worrying about “picking up old threads.” The fear of “going back” has becoming an ever-present threat.
What if I allow myself to go back there, to a place of anxiety and depression?
How do I stop myself from picking up these “old threads”?
I’ve had many readers write to me about “getting over anxiety”. The reality is, overcoming anxiety disorder is a continual process that requires patience and what I like to call “emotional endurance”. I know individuals who have battled anxiety disorder for their entire lives, but over time have learned the proper techniques to cope with the symptoms of anxiety so that they’re no longer just surviving, but they are living. Others may only struggle for a particular season of their lives.
But they all have something in common = at one point or another, all have experienced a setback. You know what I’m talking about. Ever felt like you’ve taken five steps forward but one step back? Don’t let a small setback ruin your sense of victory. Don’t allow one panic attack to rob you of a good day. Don’t think that you’re not allowed to ever feel sad or anxious again. Give yourself a break. The reality is, most people who battle mental illness ill experience a setback at one point or another, especially during the recovery phase.
But the key is this.
Don’t let a setback get you off track. Don’t allow yourself to go back to that place you once were. Often, I have found that the stress of having anxiety is actually greater than anxiety itself. The good news is, we have the power to not wander down that road. We can divert and choose an alternate route.
Because you know as well as I do, there is no going back.
#believe, Anorexia, Anxiety, anxiety disorder, awareness, be you, beautiful, beauty, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, Bulimia, clinical depression, depression, Dialectical behavior therapy, disorders, eating disorder, Eating Disorders, Education, health, hope, inspiration, inspire, Mental disorder, mental illness, mental-health, Music, Poetry, understanding
Excuse the tone of this blog post, but I’m a little frustrated.
Mental illness is not something that is relative, subjective, grey. It is an illness that impedes the function on daily living. It’s causes are both biological and environmental. The idea that “everyone feels sad” is said to someone who has clinical depression is the same as saying “everyone feels sick sometimes” to someone fighting cancer. It’s insensitive to say the very least.
We can all agree that there is no universal “normal” in the world. My grandmother told me once – normal was just a setting on a dryer. But we each have our own “normal”. We each have our own ability to function; and just like with our stomachs, backs, eyes and ears, we can tell when something is not right with our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
So yes. There is no universal “normal”. But there are globally accepted signs, symptoms, diagnostic criteria and treatments for mental illnesses.
Mental illness is not grey.
My name is Erin and This is Where I Stand.
I used to love snow as a kid. I can remember turning my PJ’s inside out and hoping my dance teacher’s would hip would hurt (because that meant it really would snow!). Hey, I was in school too. Today I hate it…. no, I loath it. The second the weatherman says the word snow I get anxious (hands sweaty-chest tight-anxious).
You can imagine how thrilled I was to wake up to a nice thick layer of white stuff on the ground and a steady fall from the sky… not.
One of my biggest triggers of anxiety is not being able to leave or “escape” a situation. Being stuck at home because of weather causes difficulty. For most of the day I worked hard to distract with cleaning, organizing, playing with my cat, watching movies, doing art projects, and make phone calls, but man I am excited the day is coming to a close.
At the start of (and at certain times throughout) the day I felt annoyed, frustrated, anxious, nervous, and a whole host of other negative things with the biggest irrational thought fueling those feelings was “it’s never going to end.” Challenging negative thoughts is difficult (for everyone) but all day I kept saying to myself “tomorrow you can go anywhere you want.” and “this isn’t so bad.” (even if sometimes I didn’t believe it.)
Now, about to go to bed, and having survived my own anxiety I feel proud because it’s not the snow that made the day difficult it was my reaction to it.
Sometimes we have adverse reactions to everyday things and it’s learning to cope with things we don’t like, hate, loathe, or cannot tolerate that give us the ability to function day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year.
Not everyday is a “snow day”. In fact so many more are worth fighting through those that are.
My name is Erin and This is Where I Stand.
I’ll never forget the look on a youth worker’s face when I confessed to her I was struggling with anxiety disorder at university.
You’re just a little stressed is all. You don’t need therapy. Therapy is for crazy people.
Bless her. I think she was trying to be helpful. In reality, she unknowingly was perpetuating a cultural stigma against people with mental illness within the Church. Christians can’t get depressed, they should know better. This belief leads to denial, which only makes matters worse. Well-meaning friends, and even pastors, who don’t understand what is going on, encourage their loved ones to “snap out of it,” and offer advice on “getting their Christian act back together.”
Don’t be fooled depression isn’t something a person can “snap out of.”
I was extremely reluctant to go to a counselor. That’s for crazy people, as I had been previously reminded. Luckily, my dear mother knew better and dragged me into a counselor’s office with heels dug into the ground. The sad reality was that stigma almost prevented me from seeking help. I cared more about what people would think about me than my own well-being. But I went. And I still go occasionally. And it has made all the difference.
So what about Christians? Surely we don’t need therapy. After all, we have the Holy Spirit, so we can talk to God whenever we want, so who needs licenced psychologists and professionals? In fact, who needs doctors or pharmacists or nurses. We have the One who heals, so who needs any of them?!
So what about Christians? Believe it or not, even Christians need therapy. Stop me if I am blowing your mind but this came as a shock to many people I have come in contact with. Specifically with people from the Church.
Perhaps I need to back up my story a little bit.
When I was in college, I began to experience panic attacks. So much so that they became a part of my day in the same way you turn off your morning alarm clock or turn on the shower – habitual, involuntary, and routine occurrences.
While panic disorder was already quite frightening, perhaps one of the more disturbing aspects of this whole journey had been the reaction from other people who were learning about it for the first time, especially among members of the Church. Before you read another line, it’s important that you understand I am in no way bashing the Church or Christians themselves. I myself am a Christian, I was raised in a Christian home, I went to a Christian high school, and many of my friends are Christian. However, this is not to say the Church has it all together. No-one has it all together, especially when you get a group of sinful selfish people together and label it “church”.
Thank God for His saving grace.
What I am supposing however, is that the kind of reaction and response that people with mental illness have received – negative and unsupportive – is not the kind of response Jesus had in mind when He said to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
There is a stigma against mental illness in our culture today, and sadly it is permeating the Church, the place where we should feel at home, at peace, and free to be vulnerable with one another.
You just need to pray more.
Your depression is a sin against God.
You’re just a little stressed.
If you were really walking with God, you wouldn’t be depressed or anxious.
Maybe your panic attacks are a sign of your waning relationship with the Lord.
In a survey of Christians suffering with some mental illness, all of the recipients confessed to have hearing 4 out of 5 of these remarks from people they trusted. What perhaps is the most disconcerting of all is that these people were individuals in positions of leadership and authority – youth leaders, Bible study leaders, and elders.
One girl I spoke to, remembered a time when she asked for guidance about her anxiety disorder and depression from her Bible study, only to hear her leader tell her that she was sinning against God. This nearly broke my heart when she recollected the story to me. It was evident those words still had an effect on her. What people don’t realize is that their reaction and response to someone with a disorder has the power to reinforce many of the lies that depression and anxiety disorder say about them.
You’re not good enough.
You can’t keep it together, you’re a failure.
No-one wants to help you because you’re too much to put up with.
What do we make of the Church when we are belittling the plight of our brothers and sister in Christ? We have been given doctors and medicine to help heal our physical bodies. We take medicine when we feel ill. In the same way, we have been given the knowledge and resources to understand the human brain, to help correct chemical imbalances in the brain, and to normalize behaviours through various forms of counseling. If “only crazy people go to therapy” (or need it), then I guess we must all be looney tunes.
My name is Rachel and This is Where I Stand.
By Guest Blogger Rachel Gribling
Admitting you have anxiety disorder isn’t a weakness. Telling your friends you are depressed isn’t a sign of failure. Don’t let mental illness trap you into thinking you’ve lost the battle. Admitting your struggle is only just the beginning. Stay strong and be brave. Talk about it. Talk about your anxiety. Talk about your feelings of worry or hopelessness or panic. You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability. Be vulnerable. Be real about your struggle. Because real courage is looking fear right in the eye and saying” move out of my way, I’ve got things to do!”
So go on…you’ve got work to do.
Anxiety, anxiety disorder, Ben Howard, depression, eating disorder, Education, encouragement, health, mental-health, Physical exercise, recovery, Reducing Stress (Essential Managers), starbucks, Stress, stress management, stress relievers, Sugar, understanding
We’ve all been there before. It’s 3:30 AM, and you’re still awake even though you’re exhausted from a yesterday’s early morning, rushing to your 9AM class, and a full social schedule. Your mind is racing with out-of- control thoughts and questions. Like a computer (or a Mac if you’re one of those people), there are far too many open tabs in your browser. Your favourite Ben Howard song is now failing to load all because you’ve downloaded way too many PDF files, while flicking through the latest news headlines, not to mention sheepishly “pinning” new outfits onto your fashion board, while simultaneously attempting to finish an online article for your History module, ultimately leaving you with a sluggish and unresponsive browser. And just when you’ve thought you could put an end to all of the chaos by closing one of your tabs, your screen freezes. You get the idea. Like a computer, our minds overwork and overload and eventually come to a halt, leaving us feeling confused, overwhelmed, and anxious. It doesn’t take a mid-life crisis or a dramatic event for someone to experience overwhelming stress and anxiety. But for the average person struggling with anxiety and panic disorder, “information overload” can become a far too common occurrence.
Even in the midst of writing this post, I struggle to remember a good night’s sleep this past week. It is in this instance that I realize one of the main reasons I have found myself completely overwhelmed by anxiety – I haven’t given myself a break. In the midst of our busy and active lives, we seldom allow ourselves to breathe, and then spend sleepless nights wondering why counting sheep doesn’t seem to work. The reality is, we are not kind to ourselves. Amidst our fast-paced success-based Western culture, we tell ourselves that we don’t deserve a break. Just as the wise philosopher Pink said (who knew a punky rock star could provide such wisdom?!) “I am my own worst enemy”. As someone who suffers from anxiety disorder, I am all too familiar with feelings of guilt and self-critique. I am my biggest critic and show little mercy, especially when it comes to allowing myself some “down-time”. In order to prevent an “information overload” however, we need to allow ourselves the time to unwind, de-stress, and adopt a plan-of-action of effective stress management. In the same way your body needs recuperate after a strenuous workout, our minds and emotions require a “re-charge”. Don’t conflate taking a “time-out” with weakness. Without allowing yourself the time and capacity to de-stress, you may find it difficult to maintain your civility the next time someone cuts you in line at the supermarket. Here are what I believe to be 9 stress relievers to help you stay sane this week.
I know you what you’re thinking, because I thought the same thing. Stop drinking coffee?! Coffee is the only thing keeping me from biting off my bosses’ head in the morning. I might as well hand in my 2 week’s notice now. But when my doctor informed me that certain drinks like coffee, soda, and energy drinks which contain stimulants such as caffeine are proven to increase feelings of anxiety, nervousness, sleeplessness, and irritability in individuals already struggling with severe stress, I instantly jumped on the say-no-to-caffeine bandwagon. But don’t worry folks. You can still grab your gingerbread latte from Starbucks come this November. Instead of giving up coffee “cold-turkey”, learn to minimize your caffeine intake. If you drink 4 cups of coffee a day, cut your intake in half. Switch to tea to curb your hot drink cravings. Tea has loads of antioxidants, and is the only drink proven to lower blood pressure and nervousness while simultaneously stimulating your brain. For example, an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee has about 85 milligrams of caffeine compared to 40 milligrams in a cup of hot tea. If you don’t believe me, read all about the benefits of drinking tea here: http://www.cbn.com/health/nutrition/reinke_coffeetea.aspx. So get sipping!
While I’m not trying to turn you into a tea-drinking hippie who frequents ashrams but once you learn about the benefits of practicing yoga, you’ll be saying “Namaste” before you know it! Yoga is proven to improve mental health in a variety of ways by lowering blood pressure, increasing energy levels, and reducing stress, anxiety, depression. Yoga allows you the freedom to take time out for yourself and to concentrate on your overall well-being, both mind and body. Not only does yoga improve mental wellness, but it also boots your immune system, lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and improves flexibility. Regardless whether yoga is your thing, physical exercise is vital to your ability to tackle anxiety. Exercise allows the body to release endorphins or “feel-good” hormones, leaving you feeling positive and stress-free. Who can no to that?!
Whether you like it or not, everyone at some point needs to “talk-it-out”. Whether that be with a friend or even a professional counsellor, talking about anxiety can help reduce your stress levels. Who wants to talk about their feelings anyway? That’s for crazy people! Believe it or not, I’ve had someone say this directly to my face! Be careful not to fall into this thinking trap. Unfortunately our culture has a huge stigma against counselling and people who seek help. Talking it out isn’t a sign that you’re a failure; it’s a sign of humility. Accepting the need to chat to someone about your troubles is a humble and brave move.
Say so long to “Big Macs” and cheesy puffs, because what you’re eating could be contributing to your low mood. Believe it or not, some foods that contain artificial flavourings, colours, and high quantities of white sugar and flour are proven to increase levels of nervousness, hyperactivity, and anxiety. According to Dr. Oz, “unhealthy white grains, especially when ingested without protein, can cause a spike in blood sugar. Your body reacts by pulling your blood sugar down, causing you to feel lethargic.” So next time, instead of choosing a “Happy Meal” (or what I like to call a “grumpy meal”) for your next lunch-time meal, opt for foods full of protein, vegetables, and natural sugars like fruit. To learn more about “good mood foods”, check out this article http://blog.doctoroz.com/oz-experts/bad-mood-foods.
As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down to a typewriter and bleed.” Writing your thoughts and feelings down on paper is a therapeutic method to tackle severe stress. Therapists often suggest journaling as a mental exercise for patients struggling with mental illness, especially mood disorders. Journaling fosters a time of self-reflection, allowing you the time and space to identify the “triggers” or sources of your anxiety. You may find yourself writing about things you never realise were important to you. Start small by journaling once a week. Find a time of day that works best for you, day or night (I write best at night), and let it all out! You’ll feel a whole lot better, trust me.
Studies show that the average person needs 8 hours of sleep, and for every hour you’re awake past midnight, you need two more hours to cover! Sleep deprivation is directly correlated with stress levels and mood swings. If you find yourself a bit snarky in the mornings, maybe it’s time that you hit the sack a bit early next time? Sleeping in can be just as detrimental to your mood levels however, so be wary next time you’re tempted to hit the snooze button. Over-sleeping is proven to be associated with depression, see http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/physical-side-effects-oversleeping for more information. Aim for a reasonable bed-time (before midnight ideally, and no this doesn’t mean playing “angry birds” on your iPhone) and set an alarm for the morning. If you have to, move your alarm clock to the other side of the room.
Channel your inner Elizabeth Gilbert and learn about “Dolce far niente” or the sweetness to do nothing. Sometime you just need a tiny break in your busy day to re-fuel, re-charge, and focus. Take a tea break, take a walk on a crisp autumn day, listen to a relaxing song, or catch up with a friend. Those few minutes you spend doing nothing but indulging will mean more to you than you realise.
This is plain and simple. You need to learn how to be a little selfish. Sometimes, we overcommit and take too much on. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs (or maybe our hearts in this scenario?), and we put too much on our plate. Know your limits. It’s ok to say no once in a while, especially if it’s the difference between sanity and break-down.
This is a learning process. Learning how to cope with anxiety and severe stress is a step by step individual experience. While there are helpful hints about what kinds of food not to consume and the best form of exercise, the most important lesson of all is how to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. Have mercy on you. Remember to look after you. And learn to laugh it out. Things do get better.
My name is Rachel and This is Where I Stand
By Guest Blogger Rachel Gribling
“Be careful with your words, once they are said, they can be only forgiven not forgotten”
I have never forgotten the three little words she said to me that night. It had been a long day. We arrived back to our apartment in the wee hours of the morning after returning home from the hospital. “Thank you for driving me to the ER. I’m sorry that you had to do that. That you had to give up your night to be there with me. But I want you to know how much I appreciate it.”
For sake of anonymity, let’s call my roommate Beth. Beth was my roommate and best friend at the time. We met our freshman year of university, and decided to live together during our sophomore year. Perhaps it was my adrenaline or fatigue, but I couldn’t believe what she was about to say to me.
“To be frank Rachel, I’m having trouble finding empathy for you. I know you had a panic attack, but I think you’re just being dramatic. I have problems of my own you know. And frankly, you just need to get over it.”
Get over it.
I was devastated. I couldn’t just get over it. If it were as simple as that, believe me I would have done everything in my power to just “get over it”.
My sophomore year, I was diagnosed with panic disorder, a physical symptom of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). That year I found myself experiencing a panic attack almost every day. I was too restless to sleep. Insomnia and OCD thoughts consumed my mind that I slept on average 4 hours a night. I was too tired to attend classes. My friends didn’t seem to understand. I lost my appetite for food, for life in general really. All because anxiety disorder had become my new reality, and I at twenty years old, was trying to pick up the pieces and attempt to cope with one the most debilitating conditions while trying to earn a university degree. The task ahead of me seemed unimaginable and the obstacles were almost unbearable. The last thing I needed to hear from my friend, my support system, were these three words.
Get over it.
Words are extremely powerful. Proverbs 18:21 speaks about their power to bring life or death. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Words can speak truth into someone’s life, or falsehoods from which they may never shake.
“Sticks and stones” is indeed a universal mantra. We all, at one time or many times perhaps, have been there. We all have experienced the blunt of cutting and unhelpful words. As someone who has battled anxiety disorder and depression; however, I can assure you that“ sticks and stones” does not – under any circumstances – apply here. If you ever find yourself offering advice or encouragement to someone battling a mental disorder, do just that – encourage them. And trust me, “helpful words” like get over it will not resolve the problem. It will only intensify it.
People who have loved ones battling a mental illness fit into one of two categories: either they find themselves in a position where they are impatient and too frustrated to think carefully about what they should or should not say; or they are completely ignorant of the appropriate response to encourage their loved one. The kinds of unhelpful and damaging words I have heard first-hand or have heard others use are listed down below, along with an explanation as to why I believe these are not only discouraging, but could exacerbate the situation even more.
This is self-explanatory. Expressing your apathy and lack of concern to me is completely unsupportive. Your response makes me feel hopeless, and unwilling to seek help or continue the healing process.
Let’s not be dramatic ourselves now. This is not a matter of Stephanie flirting with my boyfriend, or feeling overwhelmed about essay deadlines. Even if these were my “triggers, it is in no way your responsibility to label them as “drama”. This is my battle, a battle you are not fighting, nor know nothing about. My individual experience, no matter how confusing it may appear to you, is very real to me. Labelling my panic attack or breakdown as “drama” is insensitive and minimizes the severity of my struggle. By labelling my disorder, it sends the message that “Your struggle isn’t a big deal. It’s a just a matter of you being dramatic. If you weren’t so dramatic, maybe it would go away.” Don’t minimize, just empathize.
Yes, you do. And your poor communication is one with them. Let’s be real here. Everyone has their cross to bear. Let me repeat that. EVERYONE has problems, and everyone must learn to manage them so it doesn’t affect their life in a negative way. But pointing this out to me doesn’t make me stop having problems. Sure, I know you are saying this to put things into perspective for me. The art of keeping things in perspective is something I need to learn to master myself. In the meantime, this kind of response leaves me feeling a sense of guilt. I now feel as if my disorder has become a burden for you because you have taken the trouble to inform me about your own problems, and you don’t know if you can handle a heavier load. To remedy this feeling of guilt, I may begin to close up to you. I hate the idea of burdening you, probably even more than having anxiety disorder. Don’t push me to the point where I don’t want to talk to you. Lack of communication halts the healing process. It’s already difficult enough being honest with you and asking for help.
Yes, thank you for pointing out the obvious. My anxiety originates in my mind. But my mind and body are inter-connected. “As a man thinks, so is he.” You can’t separate the mind from the body. My anxiety attacks are very real with very real physical symptoms: heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, trouble breathing, dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. If you believe that stress can deprive me of sleep and give me headaches, it’s not difficult to understand that anxiety similarly affects my body in a physical way.
This is the antithesis of seeking treatment from anxiety disorder. To overcome anxiety, I go to therapy and talk about my problems to a complete stranger. I go to therapy for me, but it does not give me that buzz like after drinking a caramel macchiato or that thrill after getting a good deal on summer sandals. This is mentally and physically draining, typically resulting in me leaving the office with puffy eyes, and smeared mascara. You would think I just had a fight with my boyfriend.
“Sucking it up” would be the opposite of this. If I “sucked it up” whenever I had a panic attack or experienced anxiety, I would have no reason to go to therapy. I would simply not speak to ANYONE. I would close off entirely from the world.
Most people who struggle with anxiety have “sucked it up” for quite some time. The reason they are in therapy or need to talk about it with their loved one is because they have “sucked it up” for far too long.
Words have the power to be life altering. Words can re-traumatize and minimize the nervous system further delaying the body’s natural healing process, leading to further injury. Choose your words wisely. You never know how inspirational or damaging your words are to someone. I have never forgotten that night three years ago. Those three words left me feeling small and insignificant, more than I ever thought was possible. Instead of holding a grudge however and writing a post bashing an old roommate. Instead, this post is a letter to you. I want to write to you – the loved ones of people battling a mental illness – and encourage you that I understand the pressure you are under. You feel frustrated that I don’t put things into perspective. You are impatient because it seems like one panic attack sets back a week’s worth of progress. You are tired because the number of times I have needed you is starting to wear on you. But you love me. You care about my comfort. Despite the imperfections, you know my mind is beautiful and capable of producing beautiful thoughts.
My name is Rachel and This is Where I Stand