With Mental Health week 2017 running last week, I wanted to write about two mental health topics close to my heart that I feel compelled to raise awareness for. The first topic being Eating Disorders which I wrote about on Tuesday, and the second topic being about anxiety and panic attacks and the anxiety disorders.
I want to make the huge point that you should never feel ashamed for having any of these issues.
We all experience anxiety in our lives. We may feel anxious about an upcoming interview or driving test. There could be big nerves before a presentation or public speaking. We may feel a little worried about an exam result that may be the difference between which University you get into. These anxieties are what I call “normal life anxieties”. You see, anxiety is a normal human emotion and it can help us stay safe, to make sure we study for an exam or prepare for that speech and in life threatening situations, the fight or flight system can save our lives.
The problem is when anxiety begins to dominate your life. What does this look like? What does this feel like?
When anxiety becomes a mental health problem, you could find yourself worrying all of the time about every little thing in your life. You can even be worrying about things that aren’t even happening yet. You can get lost in a spiral of what ifs and worry. You live from a place of fear each and every day. What used to be “normal” life activities you would not even think about, become huge obstacles and worries; getting on busy train, meeting new people, going to the supermarket, being in a crowd, even leaving the house. You can experience social anxiety. You can experience panic attacks/anxiety attacks which leave you feeling terrified of having another attack or of anything that may make you have an attack, or any situation that will make you feel anxious.
Below are some different physical or psychological sensations you may experience with anxiety from the Mind Website:
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Experiencing anxiety or having an anxiety disorder is not pleasant. It is not fun to be feeling the above sensations and feelings and it can be incredibly draining. It can be exhausting, emotionally draining, terrifying and tiring, and it can leave you feeling hopeless, sad and with mountains of shame.
This is what I want to address today; the shame.
I have had experiences with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attack Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And for a long, long, long time, I felt HUGE shame for having these issues. I felt like I was a freak, that I was unworthy of love and that everyone thought I was crazy. The more shame I felt, the stronger my anxiety became, because I was trying so hard to cover it all up and I was terrified of people knowing. I avoided so much so that no one could find out about this part of me, or so that no one could see me in an anxious state. Because in my mind that was seriously a terrible thing that could happen; to not be seen as “perfect” or “normal”.
This shame I think is born from our societies views of mental health issues. We can generally believe these things only happen to “crazy people”, that “strong people” don’t get these issues, that these issues make us weird, weak and unworthy.
Yet I am here to tell you, people who suffer with these issues are some of the strongest people on this planet. The amount of strength and determination it takes to work through these issues, to muster up the courage to get through a day after being beaten down by your own mind, to face your fears and demons every single day. It takes incredible bravery and courage. And if you have never experienced any of these issues, I ask that you try and have compassion and understanding for the bravery people with anxiety disorders have in order to live with these issues and to keep trying.
Having an anxiety disorder is nothing to be ashamed about. It just is. It is no different from having a chronic physical condition that someone has to live with, manage or heal from. It just happens to affect the mind.
We can often feel shame because we believe as a society that we “should be able to” control these issues. Yet we don’t shame people for not being able to control their chronic pain or their cancer. As someone who has had a cancerous melanoma, I was treated with so much love, kindness and concern and I was never worried to tell anyone thinking I would be judged or shamed. Yet I have been terrified to share about having anxiety, because of the huge misconceptions we hold as a society on mental health problems.
So… just like you are incredibly worthy if you have a physical illness, you are incredibly worthy if you have a problem with anxiety. You are incredible for getting through each day. You have incredible strength, bravery and courage. You are amazing. And you have nothing to be ashamed about.
People with anxiety disorders are often perfectionist, Type A personalities and therefore feel a need and compulsion to be perfect at all times. Perfectionists can therefore view having anxiety as a flaw, or something to be ashamed about. But this is just not true. There is no such thing as being perfect, this is an illusion. Everyone has their imperfections and everyone has something they are dealing with. There is no need to be ashamed over not “being perfect”, because this is something that does not exist. We are all human.
So… Please do not let shame stop you from seeking help. You are worthy of good mental health and recovery. You are worthy of support, love and help.
And remember this. Your anxiety issues are only a small part of you. Whilst at times, they can dominate your life, they are not who you really are. Just like someone is not their heart disease, their chest infection or their MS, you are not your anxiety disorder.
Know you have nothing to be shamed about. Seek help, look after yourself, and nourish your mind, body and soul. You are worthy and you are so loved.