I had an encounter recently that reminded me how much people still don’t understand mental illness. Even though anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental disorders out there, and even with all the strides in spreading awareness, a lot of people still don’t get it.
A person I know was telling me about a time when they were so stressed out that it caused them to be physically ill, about a year ago. Since we were talking about stress, specifically relating to me, this person then said it was such a bad experience for them and they hope that I never have to experience that. That’s all well and good, but this person is aware that I have an anxiety disorder and that I am currently under a great deal of stress.
Now, here’s the thing. That sort of thing happening one time in a person’s life, or even a few times, is considered to be “normal.” Its stress. Everyone experiences stress at some point in their life. If you don’t, well……maybe you’re not normal. Or you’re just extremely lucky.
I so badly wanted to speak up to them about it, but I chose not to, given that it was not really appropriate to the situation.
Here is what I wish I could have said:
What you have just described is normal.
Stress happens to everyone at some point. It is just part of being human.
Our minds are connected to our bodies in more ways that most people realize. Our physical health affects our mental health and our mental health affects our physical health. There’s no question about it. It is a proven fact, and I experience it myself on a regular basis.
Coming back to your specific experience; it happened to you once. You told me you don’t want me to experience the same thing.
What you don’t understand is that, right there, is stigma and lack of understanding about mental illness.
That physical reaction to stress that you experienced that one time, I experience it anywhere from once a week to multiple times a day.
It interferes with my life on a daily basis, and that’s key. Sometimes it isn’t so bad as to cause a severe physical reaction. It can simply be thoughts racing through my mind, but am still able to look and act human on the outside, while inside is complete and utter chaos and panic. Other times it can be so crippling that I can’t get out of bed or am so physically ill that I cannot leave the house and am forced to stay near a toilet.
That is the difference between a diagnosable anxiety disorder and normal life stress.
This is the main reason I have this blog, and why I share links and stories on Facebook and Twitter.
There is so much stigma and just general lack of knowledge when it comes to mental illness. People just do not understand it. Everyone needs to be educated.
This is so extremely important! Being personally affected by it is the reason why I feel so passionately about spreading awareness and ending the stigma.
Also, because I went for so long without getting help because of the stigma, because I was embarrassed and terrified that I would be judged and even told that there was nothing wrong with me. I felt like I was going crazy. I don’t want others to go through that. I went on like that for years. Years that I could have been happy and living my life, managing my illness, instead spent suffering silently, keeping it all inside until it built up so much that I couldn’t hold it in any longer, hoping no one would see how I really felt and how much of daily life I could barely handle.
Trust me, I understand that if you have never experienced mental illness personally, it is a lot harder to truly understand what it feels like, but please, please do not think that you know exactly what it is like.
Sure, you may be able to relate situationally, and that’s great! If it helps you to even understand a little bit about what it is like to have a mental illness, that can go a long way to helping us feel comfortable opening up to you about our struggles and even helps you to understand it. But don’t compare your experience to our’s in a way that makes you sound ignorant and that our struggles are aren’t significant, because to us, they are.
This reminded me of something Beckie0 once said.
Our problems and achievements mean the world to us, and it’s not for somebody else to tell us that they don’t mean anything.
I know this doesn’t exactly match the story, but the general point is the same. I saw Beckie0’s video some time ago, and it really stuck with me, and it just made sense with this situation.