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I was one of those people who thought I would never have any kind of mental health problems. When I was a kid, I thought I was the most normal person in the room – minus, of course, my diabetes.
My parents’ generation told my sister and I about the “mentally ill” as if they were a contagious subset of the population. Just look on any corner in downtown Seattle and you’re liable to bump into someone homeless and raving. Or someone pooping on the street. Things are bad in Seattle.
When I was a kid, those two identifiers were inseparable.
I thought, “There’s no way I’d ever have mental problems.”
Oh, how I laugh at my younger self for that thought.
Surprisingly, I made it through high school, college, and almost two years of full time working before I finally admitted to myself that something wasn’t working – something wasn’t right – and went to a therapist.
Lo and behold, I have a mild form of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Thankfully, I don’t need medication. Naming my problem helped me develop mindfulness practices to keep it in line.
Have you ever had a swooping, sinking feeling in your gut that’s accompanied by a sharp sting? That’s what anxiety feels like for me. And now that I can recognize it, I can feel it coming. I can stop myself and remind my lizard brain that I’m overthinking literally everything and that I need to refocus.
Now, you might be wondering what the build-up to my first (successful) therapy appointment looked like.
I’ve written about losing my first “big girl” job before. It sucked. Badly. It was one of those times that I knew it was coming (because it was a 2-year assignment, and they couldn’t find anything for me at the end of it).
It felt like my superiors would scrutinize everything I did at work under a microscope. I felt like an imposter.
I spent more time worrying about what my colleagues or boss thought of me than I should have. Unfortunately, the culture of that workplace had slowly been eating away at me without me even realizing it. Other offices weren’t as closed off and antisocial, and I didn’t even know it.
There wasn’t any frame of reference to recognize that how I felt about my situation was completely normal for someone who needs social interaction on a daily basis in order to feel – and BE – productive. I also didn’t recognize that my thoughts create my feelings, and I’m 100% in control of those thoughts.
Related: How to Find a Good Therapist
That anxiety built up so much on its own, but compounded by lingering childhood issues. The most notable of those being the idea that having anxiety or depression or any kind of mental health issue meant that something was wrong with me.
That I should be fixed.
What do you say to parents who don’t believe in mental illness?
At this point, nothing. I had, and still have, anxiety about confronting those misguided beliefs. Only when I finally understood self-invalidation did I figure out that others, like my family members, invalidated my feelings too. That’s never fun, or comfortable, or wanted. No child wants their parents to tell them that what they’re feeling is wrong or unfounded or stupid.
I didn’t want that, yet I got it anyway.
Sometimes the question wasn’t, “Are you a little stressed out right now?” Instead, it was, “Go check your blood sugar.” As if the only reason for my state of being upset was how high – or low – my blood sugar happened to be at the time. I developed nervous tics like bouncing my knee and picking at the skin around my thumbnails.
I Have Anxiety
It’s not shameful. I don’t think I should hide it anymore. Nor do I think that others should feel like something’s wrong with them just because they feel anxious.
There are so many causes for anxiety, but mine stem from the things I mentioned above, and you can read more about them here:
While there’s no such thing as a perfect family, we should strive to be educated instead of ignorant around mental issues like anxiety.