Monday, 21 November 2016

Anxiety - the social stigma ...

So I got to thinking about why it is so difficult for those non-anxious folk to accept that we, the anxious, generally only turn down social events because of our mental illness. Why is that such a stretch for you guys to grasp, it’s nothing personal, yet it seems to get treated with contempt and hostility.

If someone said they couldn’t attend a gathering because they’d broken a bone or had the flu there would be gushing compassion and sincere wishes to get well soon. However mention mental illness or anxiety and firstly it gets glossed over and ignored, but long term it seems to be taken as an indication that you are an untrustworthy, useless friend who should be excluded from future social functions as a punishment. Perhaps I just have dodgy friends!

Or perhaps is it my paranoia kicking in again?

If what I am talking about is a mystery to you then you’re either lucky or a non-anx person. There was a time when I lied about why I couldn’t make social functions. There was always that distant relative who needed attention, or a friend who needed my help or I had some mystery illness that was sweeping the town. However since my last really bad bout of depression, when I was off work for five months I feel compelled to be true to myself. That period of time was the first time in my life that I actually admitted to myself that I have a real illness, I finally gave myself some credit for not being that selfish stand-offish bitch that allegedly hated people, but instead I was someone who had tried to be strong for far too long.

It took me twenty years of looking in the mirror to accept that depression and anxiety are going to be a lifelong issue for me and it’ll never just be a case of getting better. There are good days and bad days, but admitting it to myself was and is a big deal.  As such if I’m asked why I am not going somewhere these days I am honest whether that makes people feel uncomfortable or not and I think it does make some people feel squirmy.

In the Victorian era in the UK, us, the mentally ill, or the insane, as we were once referred to, were locked away from society, placed in mental institutions or work houses, segregated and scorned. I do wonder whether that stigma still resonates in people’s minds, because there is a stigma to mental illness. I make a habit of saying it out loud these days, especially at work, although you do feel a bit like the elephant in the room when you do. Not because I am the size of an elephant, well not quite, but you immediately sense the discomfort of those around you. People almost want to physically shift away from you, to put some distance between themselves and you. Perhaps there is an automatic assumption you’re an axe murderer, or is it just an inherent discomfort that someone would admit that sort of shameful secret out loud? Or is it more likely to be the fact that many people face similar battles but have yet to see the light in their own mirror, to accept their own truths?

I have deviated from my point. I do not want to be ashamed of my mental illness.  I want to be proud of myself for working through the anxiety, for getting up on those mornings when all I want to do is cry and hide under the dining room table, for continuing to drive in to work when there are tears of panic and stress rolling down my cheeks, for getting back up every time life’s bowling ball knocks me down.

So, you non-anx folks out there if people like me shouting about my anxiety from the rooftops helps me cope and move forwards then you’ll just have to go out and buy yourself some ear plugs. Deal with it!
The next time a friend or colleague confides in you that they’re struggling or don’t feel able to do something because of their anxiety or depression then just say ‘okay that’s fine I understand.’ Give them the space they need, do invite them out again and again. Do not take it personally; it’s about them not you. They’re not trying to insult you; in fact, if they confide the truth in you, they’re paying you the compliment of trusting in you, making the assumption that you’re cool enough to understand them and the struggles they’re living with. Just know that they’re putting their heart into your hands

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