World Mental Health Day

This entire week has been Mental Illness Awareness Week, leading up to today, October 10th World Mental Health Day!  Huzzah for raising awareness about mental illness and continuing to work towards support for those afflicted by it.

More and more, especially with the very publicized deaths of celebrities due to overdose or suicide related to mental illness, awareness for mental illness is becoming a mainstream topic.  
Even as I type, I am watching Amanda Bynes’ current Twitter “rant” (for lack of a better word), in which she is accusing her father of sexual assault.  And while this is going down, I’m mildly wondering if she’s become sick again, or if she is actually just taking a bold move to seek some justice for herself…
Then she tweets this:

“My dad never did any of those things The microchip in my brain made me say those things but he’s the one that ordered them to microchip me” – @amandabynes

 And it just breaks my heart.  Cue the tabloids with new fuel to add to the fire about her (which she also tweeted about recently), as we all– myself included– hold our breath to see how this pans out.

I’m imaging in how many celeb gossip sites are going to take this and run with it.  And how many over puffed “psychological experts” they are going to bring on to discuss what they think they know about her and her condition, and use her previous comments and questionable public appearances to pad the narrative they are creating about her and her disease.

And they can do that, because we as a society are relatively ignorant to mental health and mental illnesses and we will lap up the words that those “experts” throw at us.  We’ve all heard the term “schizophrenia” but how many people actually understand what that entails?  I sure as hell only know what I can remember from a few different psychology classes I’ve taken through high school and college– which really isn’t much.  I wonder how many people hear the term tossed around in regards to Amanda Bynes and assume she spends half her time talking to three other personalities?

Which is why days like today are so important.

If you follow me on Twitter (another shameless plug, #sorrynotsorry), you’ll notice a lot of my tweets have been about my own struggles with anxiety.  Maybe someday I will do a “My Mental Health Story” post, but now is not the right time.  All I know is that even though my anxiety disorder is such a big part of my life, there is reason that Twitter is the one place where I am relatively open about talking about it.

On Twitter, it’s me and a screen when it comes to talking about my feelings.  There is no person’s face staring back at me when I say things, no raised eyebrows or tense change in body language when I mention the word “anxious”.  All I have to do is type and hit send, and I don’t have to see anyone else’s reactions to my words.  It’s an anonymous release with my name attached.

This stigma that the world has in response to mental illnesses makes it exceptionally hard for those who suffer to receive help, or even talk about it freely.  Though I am not ashamed of my struggles with anxiety, the fear of opening my mouth about it has never gone away when I am actually speaking with another person.  The fear that despite the fact that this is how I am feeling, and there is no right or wrong way to have a feeling, that somehow it is wrong to feel this way because it’s not normal.

Even to the point where I let myself suffer, have daily (and sometimes multiple) anxiety attacks, never sleep, and basically never leave my house for the last few months because the idea of going back to a doctor and asking for help made me too nervous.  What if she thought I was lying?  I had this distinct idea in my head that despite having discussed anxiety and depression with my doctor several times in the last 5 years, that she would still be looking at me, waiting for me to slip up on my story, or give her a reason to doubt my feelings.

And of course, nothing like that happened.  Last month when I finally went in, she and I had an honest conversation about my symptoms, just as one would expect when visiting a doctor.

Since then, my quality of life has vastly improved.  She prescribed me a medicine to help with my symptoms, and though it still takes some management, being able to finally sleep through the night– and not throw up before going into work each day– has been immensely helpful.

It is still a battle, but a battle that I am ready and willing to continue forth on because I have broken down the fear of being disregarded, at least by that one person.  Days like today, built to raise awareness and get people talking about things like mental illnesses help make that possible.

In a perfect world, mental health would be a continuous conversation and topic of education.  There would be no stigma and no worry, and maybe we wouldn’t be eating up the Amanda Bynes story like starving dogs if we knew more about it.  Until then, we should continue to use days like World Mental Health Day, #BellLetsTalk, and Mental Illness Awareness Week to spark a dialogue in hopes that we can some day get to the point where it isn’t news anymore.

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