I have to start by admitting this has been a difficult piece for me to write. You may be thinking “Obviously, it takes a lot to write about your mental health issues/eccentricities in a public forum”, however talking endlessly about myself has never been an issue.
You see I write about my anxiety, my agoraphobia and how it affects my life, work and relationships all the bloody time. It has never been a stretch of imagination or courage for me as I can whole heartedly say I am not shy or abashed when it comes to talking about my anxiety. I frequently go into far too visceral detail about my symptoms, both psychological and physical, freaking out strangers on a daily basis in a variety of inappropriate situations. To hinder my verbal diarrhea, I write. It helps me get straight all the anxious hallucinations flying about in my brain like spotty horned tumours.
On this occasion the hindrance has been my personal take on the topic. My intention was to write about stigma, my experience of stigma and how I feel I may have been stigmatised (I can hear a collective “Well duh” as I write this, the website is called Stigma Fighters after all.) Though a large part of me feels I may be lauded for what I want to say because I feel as though I am stigmatised for coping too well.
“Oh what a thing to be complaining about you silly cow. That’s like saying I have too much money, my harem are too damn sexy and my gold shoes are too tight” and similar negative reactions to such a bulbous, arrogant statement echoing in my ears. Perhaps my fears are realistic or perhaps it is just my anxiety talking but I’m coming out and saying it because I want to draw attention to the fact that I often feel my admissions about my mental health are taken too casually.
I think the real crux of this issue is that many people still don’t see anxiety as a “real” mental health diagnosis. When I was diagnosed as a weepy, twitching 18 year old wearing too much eye-liner, I too believed it wasn’t a proper disorder. In my glum, emo, whingingness I believed I had far more pressing problems than a paltry General Anxiety Disorder. I wanted to be dramatic (*jazz hands*), cool and properly crazy, a work of internal carnage and hurt that could only be fashioned into bad paintings or music (Please note I never wrote any bad music but I did make a LOT of terrible black and red art for a while there.)
Now many years later I see how foolish 18 year old me was in wishing for more problems than I already had. I wanted to use my mental health issues as an excuse for any and all behaviour I didn’t want to take responsibility for rather than (wo)manning up and really working at my anxiety to manage it and make my life a more productive, worthwhile place.
So back story, family: riddled with anxiety and mental illness. My Father suffered his whole life but never really took any moves to understand his anxiety, face up to it or work towards management. Instead he expected our family to work around him, his hypochondriasis, vertigo and day-to-day vapours. My Dad was a great guy; amazingly clever, funny as all hell and super creative but deep down I have always resented his inability to accept his mental health problems and work on them for the better of everyone around, not to mention for his own good. It was his stubborn stance on NOT accepting his anxiety that made me as equally stubborn about managing my own. I resolved to try my damnedest to understand, manage and work my cute little ass off to make my life and the lives of those I loved as unscarred by my issues as humanly possible. A tall order indeed.
For me anxiety is an unwanted invisible friend who hangs around like a stale fart. I call him Bruce. He is a total dick head. I can’t kill him with fire but what I can do is work to lessen the affect he has on my life by making his whisperings invalid.
So stigma. I don’t feel as though I have felt the acrid tongue lashing of stigma in its fullest Stalin-esk form but I do feel that I am sometimes stigmatised for managing. It is more of a crime of misunderstanding and social neglect rather than full in-your-face prejudice. I have often been known to say to someone in conversation that I suffer from anxiety and I have been told “oh I think everyone has a bit of that.” As though it were a touch of facial herpes or an infected toenail.
I work very hard to mitigate the issues my anxiety can cause for people and when I am there standing on the snow-capped mountain of hard work I have bested, sometimes I feel as though people see past the heartache, the hours of mental wrangling, the thousands of dollars of therapy and the variety of medications and just see that I seem fine.
I do seem fine, but that is because I don’t want to burden people, be they colleagues, acquaintances or some person walking down the street with the blubbing, twitching, shaking, vomiting mess I can become. My family, close friends and boyfriend know the truth but even he has said that he sometimes forgets that I’m a bit crazy because I cope well so much of the time.
My fear in writing this is that people with more difficult stony mountains will see my struggle as a big pile of bullshit. I don’t want to sound like a massive show-off douche bag yelling “Ner ner ner ner ner I can manage my mental illness and you can’t!!!”
What I do want to do is bring attention to the people you don’t know have a mental illness. The people who seem like they have it all together. What I would like to work towards is a social understanding of mental illness in all its forms, be they obvious (waking up with a naked lady standing over you with a pick axe) or more subtle. If more people knew what it felt like to suffer with a mental illness then perhaps they wouldn’t be the first to judge, to stigmatize but they might be the first to offer support, a hug and a nice cup of tea.
Librarian, cat lover and anxious mire. My name is Lucy Gable and I have an anxiety disorder. Author of Magnificent Facilities, http://magnificentfacilities.wordpress.com/ a blog about anxiety and toilets.
I have suffered with anxiety for as long as I have living memory, endured agoraphobia for 15 odd years and have been using inappropriate and often high exaggerated humour to mask my affliction for approximately a million years. Creator of management techniques such as; “What can I smell?”, how to choose the best public toilet for your panic attack and Business Cry: the way to cope (in private) with work politics when things get rocky.