Hi, my name is Jennifer Brake.
A family member passed away last year due to mental illness at the age of 18. I as well have suffered with mental illness since I was young. It comes and goes. The stigma is hard to deal with. When you tell someone you are tired, they ask if you went to bed late the night before. They're astounded when you tell them you slept for 10 hours, "how can you be tired?" they ask. When you tell someone you're stressed they make sure to tell you how "stressed" they are too. Unless you've suffered from mental illness you don't understand what "tired" or "stressed" can feel like.
I have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and depressive episodes. Some days I find it hard to get up and get a glass of water, for fear I might drop the glass because I won't be able to hold onto it tight enough. Some days the thought of waking up and going to work seems like the hardest thing to do, not because I don't want to go, but because I feel like I don't know if I remember how to turn on the shower.
My hands are always shaking. I feel dizzy all the time, like the world is spinning. I fear not being in control. Sometimes the whole world makes me nervous, taking a sip of water during an office meeting, the sound of a car honking, people on the subway, walking through the mall, you name it, it makes me nervous. Simple, daily tasks make me anxious. Some days I have to remind myself and go over and over in my head that I know how to do something as simple as ordering my daily matcha green tea latte before heading into work. I know that I know how to do things like drive, walk, talk, breathe. But some days I forget, my mind goes blank and I have a mini anxiety ridden panic attack. It happens all the time, no one ever notices it because I've been hiding it for years. I'll run to the bathroom and look in the mirror, make sure I am able to swallow a few times, then walk back out like nothing happened.
I had been prescribed medication in the past, I had been told to talk to therapists in the past but I always declined and said I was fine. A few weeks ago I let my anxiety get so bad that it took over my mind. After a few days of feeling so down that I didn't think I knew how to walk anymore I knew something was wrong. I had one of the worst panic attacks of my life. I took an ambulance to the ER. I was in critical care with my best friend and my parents by my side. And I'm okay. I'm not ashamed of what happened, I don't want to hide something that is a part of me. I'm going to get better. Sometimes reaching the lowest of lows makes you realize that your health, not just your physical health, but your mental health is important.
That being said, people with a mental illness will be some of the most empathetic people you will ever meet. We know how it feels to be down, we feel it a lot. I have friends I rarely see still text or call me as soon as something bad happens because they know I'll be there to listen. We appreciate the little things, like being able to sit through a movie and focus on nothing other than what's on the screen, or getting through an entire lunch date with your friend without worrying every 5 minutes about where the nearest bathroom is "just incase". I have good days, I have great days. I am one of the most outgoing, fun people I know. There are days where I have no problem strutting into a bar in my heels alone to meet my friends and chat up the bartender before they arrive. There are days when a stranger will stop me in a grocery store to say "you have beautiful eyes" and I will say "thank you" confidently knowing that yes, they sure are.
No, I don't have cancer, I don't have the flu, but that doesn't mean I am not sick. If you have anxiety, or any mental illness, I'm sure you can relate. Mental illness can be crippling, but it is not who I am. We as a society need to remember this. We need to practice this. The old saying "don't judge a book by its cover" couldn't be more true when it comes to mental illnesses. Just because you can't "see" that someone is sick, doesn't mean that they don't need help.
The next time someone tries to let you in with an "I'm tired" comment, listen. They could be telling you something more. My anxiety might scare me, but maybe it's okay to be afraid. With proper treatment, this illness will be manageable, but it will never just "go away"
It was a long post but I think it's important that people start to open up about mental health. I'm generally the most outgoing, friendly person I can be because sometimes I am hiding how I truly feel inside. I'm a people person because talking to others makes me forget about what's going on in my anxiety ridden mind.
I've received only positive feed back from both friends and family through this story. Which only assures me that I am heading in the right direction with trying to raise awareness.
Written by: Jennifer Brake