I have panic and anxiety disorder. I’m quite literally scared of just about everything. The dentist, driving on the highway, tight spaces, wide open spaces, heights, clowns. Too many things to list. Sometimes, I’m scared of nothing. Faceless, nameless vague ideas. Possibilities. Potential outcomes. Right now, as I write this, my mind is running through dozens of different scenarios, playing out hundreds of potential outcomes.
I’m worrying about my car. It’s acting up again and I’m not sure I can afford to fix it. I’m worrying about my son. He has a cold. What if it’s the flu? He’s never had the flu. I’m worried about the infected nerve in my tooth going to my heart and killing me as I wait for the ONE oral surgeon in my area who takes my insurance to have an opening. I was SO worried about that the other day that my blood pressure shot up to astronomical levels. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a big part of anxiety disorder. I’m worrying about whether or not you like me. I’m always worrying about that, even though I tell everyone I’m too punk rock to care if anyone likes me.
I’m afraid all the time. I’m afraid to say “I have a mental illness” because anyone without a mental illness associates those words with things like serial killers and creepy people who hide in shacks building explosives. Yet according to NIMH, about 18.1% of US adults have a mental illness. That’s nearly 1 in five people, and that’s only the people that we know about. So many people hide their feelings because of the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming an estimated 43,000 lives a year. Put into perspective, homicide ranks #17. Over 830,000 people are seen in emergency rooms for self-inflicted injuries, according to the CDC. When I was 14, I was one of them. Like many others with anxiety disorder, I also deal with bouts of depression. I had that under control for a long time, but ever since a very traumatic incident a few years ago, I’ve been dealing with a lot of depression again as a side effect of PTSD.
It stinks to be afraid of so many things. I wish I wasn’t. But I’m not ashamed of my fear. I’m not ashamed of the fact that sometimes I get really, really sad. I didn’t ask for my brain chemicals to be screwy. Neither did the other 18.1% of US adults dealing with mental illness. Isn’t it time we change the stigma surrounding it and instead offer a bit of hope to those suffering in silence?
BringChange2Mind and #MindOurFuture
(BC2M), the national organization co-founded by Glenn Close that works to combat stereotypes around Mental Health, launched a special campaign called #MindOurFuture, asking people to share their stories about helping or reaching out for help during a mental health struggle.
Getting involved is easy. Share your story about lending a helping hand or reaching out for help during a mental health struggle by recording a video and uploading it to YouTube, tagging it with #MindOurFuture.
BC2M will check out all the videos, then select a handful to feature in their next professionally produced, nationally distributed PSA. You have until February 29th to upload your video.
If you’re not comfortable sharing a video (they’re a challenge for me), there are so many others ways that you can help. Check out the BC2M Get Involved page and take the pledge. It’s really just a pledge to be more mindful of those with mental illness and to give yourself a break. Most of it is about common human decency. Which brings me to my next point.
You don’t have to make videos or do anything elaborate to change the stigma surrounding mental illness. You just have to be a good person. Be patient when your friend tells you that she can’t come to your party because she’s too afraid to drive on the highway. Don’t tell her she’s being stupid or silly, or that she’s over-reacting when she says she’s really scared of something you do everyday without even thinking about it. To you, it’s routine. To her, it’s a nightmare.
Listen. Really listen. Don’t judge. Care. That’s all you really have to do.
Just care enough to be part of the change.