#LetsTalk About Ending Stigma Around Mental Illness

I type on my keyboard and add instructional design prompts for the developers. It’s 9:28 am on a Friday. Just a few more hours and the weekend will begin. A soft rock song plays on our Sonos system. I tap my foot to the beat and stop. My hands feel colder. My heart begins to beat faster, faster, faster, FASTER. I take a sharp breath in. My chest tightens. My heart beats faster, faster, faster, FASTEST. My hands, now freezing, begin to tingle. My legs are jello. I feel I’m going to slip off my chair. I hear my coworker say something, but it sounds fuzzy. She laughs. I think she’s telling me a joke. My heart beats faster, faster, faster, FASTEST. I look at the time in the corner of my screen 9:29 am. The soft rock song keeps playing. It fills my head. I see his face. My palms are sweaty, cold, and tingly. I take in another sharp breath. My lungs won’t fill. I can’t breathe. I grab my earbuds and quickly type youtube.com into my browser. I click on the first video in my “watch again” suggestions. Sigala’s Sweet Loving blasts into my ears. My chest releases. My heart slows. I take in a deep breathe. I’m ok. It was just a panic attack. 

This is just one example of what a panic attack looks like for me. I would describe the above example as a mild panic attack. When I have one that’s more intense, it can last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes and ends with me in tears and hyperventilating.

I was diagnosed with panic disorder a few years ago and have come to realize that panic attacks are just a part of my life. I understand what some of my triggers are (like soft rock music) and I know that listening to a song I like will immediately help calm me down. What I still don’t understand, though, is the stigma associated with mental illness.

Why am I made to feel like I shouldn’t talk about my mental illness? And why is it that when I do talk about it, whoever I’m talking to usually shuts down or says something along the lines of, “Everyone feels anxious sometimes. It’s totally normal! You’re fine!”

If I said I had a brain tumour, would talking about it be so easily dismissed? Would I be told that it’s “totally normal” and that “it’s fine?” I doubt it.

Sure, you won’t see me get a rash from my panic disorder or hear me cough because I’m congested with panic, but the reality is that mental illness is an illness, whether you can see physical symptoms or not. So why are people so scared to talk about it?

I think society puts a lot of pressure on us to always be ok and put on a brave face. We feel as though we don’t have permission to break down and if we do, we’re weak. But we’re not weak! Mental illness isn’t something you can control. You can’t flip a switch and decide, “Well, today I have big meeting so I can’t have a panic attack.” It doesn’t work that way. If I have a cold, I can’t control when I sneeze or cough.

So screw what society says about always being put together and let’s face our mental illnesses head on. Let’s make some changes in our lives to help us feel better. Even something simple like cutting down on coffee can have a huge effect on the level of anxiety you feel on a day-to-day basis. Don’t be afraid to talk to a counsellor or take the medication a psychiatrist or doctor has prescribed. You shouldn’t be ashamed to get help.

I was terrified when I was first given a prescription for an SSRI, but after taking it for a while, I began to feel better. I wasn’t crying all the time, I wasn’t exhausted from having constant panic attacks. I was able to think clearly and feel rested and at ease.

Recently, I made the decision to get off my prescription medication and live more naturally. So now instead of taking the SSRI, I’m taking a mix of Niacine and Neurapass Balance, while also seeing a counsellor. You can read more about that here.

Remember, it’s ok to not be ok. Check in with yourself every once in a while and see how you’re doing mentally. What’s bothering you? What can you do to feel better? And if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, checking in with yourself is always a good idea.

Follow these links so you can read/watch some of what I’ve previously said about mental illness:

smiling-mask

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