How many times in your life have you heard “calm down”, “you’re overreacting”, “you’re being dramatic”? What about being told that “you’re too emotional”? Have you ever felt something so internally crippling, but felt unable to communicate exactly what it was to the people you care about? If you’re anything like me, this may be the story of your life. And if that is the case, know that you are so far from being alone in that experience.
Hi, my name is Daynna. I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. In addition, I sometimes experience depressive tendencies, though these are related to my anxiety, meaning I am not experiencing clinical depression. That being said, my feelings and experiences are real. They are SO VERY REAL. They can be completely irrational, but that does not make them any less valid.
Important Information about Mental Illness
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience some sort of mental illness in their lifetime. Does this statistic surprise you? It shows that mental illness is far more common than most of us think.
It’s important to note that different individuals deal with mental illness differently. Some people are more open to talking about it or seeking treatment. This likely didn’t happen overnight. Many still internalize their feelings and experiences due to the underlying stigma surrounding the topic of mental illness. This stigma, although fading with time and education, continues to plague the lives of those in the mental health community. It is incredibly damaging, for it makes many individuals avoid seeking the treatment and help they need. Fortunately, initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk exist and seek to end the stigma around mental illness. While this is a great start, the work cannot stop there. Education is the key to ending the stigma through greater understanding.
Don’t just take my word for it. You can learn more about mental illness here, or check out the Bell Let’s Talk initiative to learn about one of the largest mental health initiatives in Canada.
My Experience with Mental Illness
The Early Years
From the beginning I was an extremely neurotic child. I cried and screamed in any social situation where I had to interact with other kids. School and extra-curricular activities were my own personal hell. I was labelled as “shy”, but I knew that didn’t even begin to describe it. I realize now that fear of rejection was the underlying root that planted my anxiety. Of course, other kids didn’t want to be friends with the kid who screamed in their face, which ultimately led to my worst anxieties coming true.
Mental illness wasn’t really discussed in the 90s. My anxiety continued to manifest in different ways as I got older and I continued to be labelled as “shy”. I eventually (at a later age than I’d like to admit) got over the crying in social situations and began internalizing those feelings. This ate me up inside. I began to worry about every possible thing. Grades, schoolwork, social interactions… I constantly overthought every social exchange I had. Even now I sometimes catch myself overanalyzing a conversation I had with someone ten years ago!
The Teenage Years
My anxiety changed in high school. By this point, I was able to fake social confidence while struggling internally. I felt A LOT of pressure to get good grades from my parents, teachers, and myself. This was when my self sabotaging behaviours began. This pressure continued and increased exponentially in university.
I had my first real panic attack at 18 years old. It was three weeks into my first week at university. I had just experienced a bad breakup of a two year relationship (extremely toxic, but that’s a story for another day). My roommate partied constantly and woke me up at 4am on school nights. She was generally not very nice to me. I was also incredibly homesick. All of this contributed to me ending up on the phone with my mom in the middle of the night crying in the stairwell of my residence building after my roommate brought a random guy into our room while I was sleeping. And so began my journey with panic attacks.
I was fortunate to have great supports while at university. My best friend was amazing and my family was easily accessible over the phone. My profs were extremely supportive and accommodating, which helped a ton! One of the best things I did for myself in university was attend counselling services at my campus’ wellness centre. I was able to work through all of the things that caused me anxiety and learn coping techniques. In my final year, my doctor diagnosed me with anxiety.
Some people feel weird about diagnoses because they feel labelled. I, on the other hand, was thrilled to know that I’m not crazy and this is (and always has been) valid. I’ve experienced stigma since I was little and am still experiencing it to this day. It’s a struggle and it’s painful when people I care about don’t understand what I’m going through or how I’m feeling or why I’m doing something that seems completely off the wall, but I know that everything I’m experiencing is valid. It’s real, and it’s okay that I feel this way.
The Current Years
Currently, I’m doing an internship that makes me extremely unhappy. I frequently cry about it and find myself awake at night overanalyzing everything and feeling the burnout from being a therapist who doesn’t quite know how to keep her feelings in check. I feel strongly that this isn’t what I want, so why am I torturing myself? The answer is because of other people’s judgement. I’ve cared more about others think than about my own well being. Because people don’t understand mental or emotional pain the way they do physical pain. That, my friends, is the stigma I’ve been talking about. When people say “just get through it, it’s not that hard”. Or “you’re letting yourself and other people down”. Oh, and one of my personal favourites, “depression/anxiety/mental illness is just a sign of weakness”.
What Can You Do to Help?
For one, you can stop contributing to the stigma. If someone tells you they’re anxious or depressed, LISTEN. Without judgement or placing guilt on the person, just listen. If you’re not sure what to say, ask them if there’s anything you can do. Most of the time they will say no, and that’s okay, because you’ve already done something huge. You gave them the opportunity to talk about it without feeling judged, and that is a feeling that I can’t even describe. From there, just let them know you’re there for them, and then be there.
Emotional support and love are basic human necessities. Most people experiencing mental illness feel alone. Offering these basic needs can have a bigger impact than you realize. I’m not saying it’s easy; helping someone through mental illness can be draining and frustrating. We know this, and I think I speak for most of us when I say we’re sorry for that. Just know that by supporting us, you’re having a majorly positive impact on our well being (even if it doesn’t always show right away) and we don’t forget those who stick by us when times get difficult.
I have anxiety. I also have blonde hair and blue eyes. In addition, I love dogs, coffee, tea, travelling, and scrolling through social media. I’ve discovered a new found passion for blogging. My heart is so full of love for the people in my life and I love them and care about them infinitely. My point being that yes, I have anxiety, but that is only one part of me. There doesn’t need to be this stigma. We need to put an end to it. My thoughts and feelings are valid, and so are yours. We are not crazy or “just looking for attention”. Let’s work together to make society a better place for those struggling with mental illness, because there’s a lot of us.
Tell me your thoughts on mental illness in the comments. Did I miss anything that should be touched on? Also, be sure to get access to the free resource library, as I update it frequently with resources to help you with your adulting needs (that includes mental health related resources)! I am passionate about mental health and will talk more about this if that is something my readers are interested in. Please let me know, thank you for reading!
P.S. You can check out my last post here where I talk about career confusion! This post is the first in my new series called Quarter Life Crisis Confessions. Make sure you check it out!