written by Mike Fail
Originally published on The Lemon of Troy January 24, 2017. Reprinted with permission from the author.
For context, before I really go any further I just want to express my concern with people saying “You can always talk to me if you’re feeling rough” or whatever variation you see regularly. I don’t think a lot of folks I’ve encountered in recent years understand that just because you say that means it will happen and that I expect you to listen hypothetically. It’s just an important aspect of framing a relationship and the components that can go into it. The overall message is great: combat the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses, but it’s crucial that we’re emphasizing education as well.
Even if you mean well I probably don’t trust you and if I’m going to talk to you it’s likely because I have a pre-existing relationship with you that is established. I think expressing that, specifically is a big thing that’s missing. It’s really possible – and I am strictly speaking from my personal experiences here – that a part of the reason why friends have issues opening up on days like today or in general is the lack of established trust. Primarily around safe spaces. That also means that if you’re struggling or someone you know is struggling the last thing you want is someone prying and repeatedly giving you what seems to be canned responses.
When you do that it doesn’t always help. Again, from my own experiences I’ve been guilty of doing that before and I’ve had people do it to me. When people do it to me it actually makes me more anxious than before. I feel like there are MASSIVE opportunities available for folks to reach out for learning on how to be an effective listener and on this campaign specifically, teaching individuals who want to help how they can be supportive peers/family/friends. This means not giving advice, it just means listening. If a person is opening up it’s usually because they need to vent and it’s not always a situation where they want your advice/feedback. Just sit back, listen, be attentive to what they’re saying, and be supportive.
It’s just something to consider on a day like today and really every day moving forward. So friends, if you have friends you know are hurting just remember to be empathetic, sympathetic, and welcoming. Opening up feels like a burden to a lot of people and it can make conversations difficult. Sometimes just hanging out with someone who is struggling in absolute silence for hours is totally fine too.
My mother, my sister, my aunt, and my grandmother all suffer from a variety of different mental illnesses. All of them battle every day and sometimes they struggle. It’s frustrating because I know I can’t help them, but I do know I can be there for them when they really need me. All of my closest friends from my best friend of 24 years (25 years this summer and oh you best believe we’re playing GoldenEye and eating ramen to celebrate) to my friends who I went to college with, who I became adults with, and to my work friends all battle their mental illnesses each day.
I took a little more time than them to come to terms with things and it took getting help (when I was comfortable doing so) to finally start this trek through life with anxiety.
Realizing that I do suffer from illnesses that I can’t control some days has been an arduous task. Identifying that I needed to get help (and continue to pursue assistance) on my anxiety issues might be the most difficult decision I’ve made in the 28 years I’ve been on this piss-rock of a planet. I say that with confidence because second on that list of difficult things I’ve done is beating Super Mario Bros. 3 before the age of three WITHOUT warp whistles. Come on, if you did this as a kid you know what I am talking about. The triumph of accomplishing this momentous task (it’s not really that huge) at that age is something I’m extremely proud of.
Regardless, I’m alive and still relatively uncertain about how to go about my adult life most days. A lot of the time (even on good days) I’m pretty listless about things around me. That feeling is exponentially magnified on the bad days. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s as physically debilitating as it is mentally exhaustive. When I get an anxiety attack it’s on both levels and it usually lasts at least an hour. My heart rate spikes, I sweat, I get breathing issues, and sometimes I get a migraine. It’s a full-body endorphin rush as my entire body goes into a panic. The shittiest part is how often it happens in public. I can’t count how many times I’ve hidden in a bathroom stall at work, panicking about something insignificant or major, and worrying that I might die.
On a mental level, my cognitive skills deplete immediately. I can’t think coherently, I can’t speak, my mind races to unfortunate dark places, and nothing really makes sense. Eventually after some time it subsides and I’m left drained; virtually unable to complete or do anything. I feel like a sack of shit on as many levels fathomable and I just want to sleep. The comedown from the endorphin rush of my anxiety attacks leaves me drained and I’m usually in need of a nap for a few hours. It’s where I find a momentary refuge from what’s gone on, what’s going on, and what will go on after I wake up.
It’s a safe space…for the most part. Sleep is something that on a good day I don’t get enough of and on days when my anxiety is at its worst it’s something I need like air in my lungs. It’s like a perfect slurpee on a hot summer day. It’s the perfect slice of pizza with the appropriate ratio of cheese, toppings, sauce, and crust density. It’s like playing Overwatch, getting all gold medals, and play of the game. It’s also addictive and it’s a crutch for me at times. When I started becoming more aware of what I was going through I realized how often I spent time sleeping. I would work, go home, eat, and then sleep for 15 hours.
It was a vicious cycle and I’m sort of out of it now, but it’s still enticing. I feel (most days) that if I can just sleep all day it’ll keep everything away from me. It’s something I’m still working on because if I don’t keep an eye on this I know I’ll fall back into the same cycle only to feel the ill effects.
I guess where I’m going with this is as follows: none of this is easy. None of it. I don’t want to sit here, tell you a bunch of things that will probably not help, maybe make things worse, and then I’ll feel bad. I’m not going to sit here and talk about the really, really dark thoughts I have regularly either. I don’t think that’s a good idea on my part. What I will say is this: You’re not alone. You are loved. You are supported. You can do this and you can overcome. You might need a warp whistle here and there, but you’re tougher than you imagine. I believe in you and I know you’re capable of amazing things and I hope that you beat whatever is trying to hold you down.
I figured it would be important to draw attention to the need for people of privileged positions to speak out more about societal barriers that prevent marginalized individuals from receiving the help they potentially need. I need to be better about this and so do you. The LGBTQIA+ (and everyone else who is just as important and marginalized), the first nations people of Canada, every person of color, everyone with disabilities, and so on. They all need access to the same assistance that you and I may need.
Systemic, biased, and corrupt structures are still in place limiting a lot of wonderful people. We need to tear those down. So for as much as this day is about removing stigmas it’s also vital to remember that many voices are using today as an opportunity to shed more light on the plight of the marginalized. Affordable health care solutions for mental health need to be accessible. Full-stop.