It took me almost 20 years to put a name to the dreaded feelings that would come over me during both times when I expected it, such as before tests, during dentist appointments, on the first day of school, during the first week of school for that matter, and when I didn't expect it, like at the movie theater, or watching a sports event live, or celebrating a friend's birthday. When it seemed rational, fearing for myself or the safety of others, and when it didn't, like driving, or while cooking, or after an event when I got home into comfortable clothes, in conditions and circumstances I *should* feel good in.
It's a feeling that most people experience during high stress situations, or when they fear the worst, but to varying degrees.
This feeling has been with me since some of my earliest memories. I knew something was off, but I internalized it as much as I could because I thought there was something wrong with me. I hid it from many people for many reasons.
It's too hard to explain. I can't explain it, I just feel it. It's easier to just sweep it under the rug. I don't have time to explain. They won't understand. I'd rather them make assumptions about why I did that or am like that than to know the truth.
I have anxiety and panic attacks.
Putting a name to these feelings has helped me learn more about them, about myself, and how to get help. Not only that, but it made it easier to relate to others. Others who were able to put a name to their feelings, or lack thereof.
I realized, to my relief and chagrin, I wasn't alone.
Since then, I've learned about friends and family before me who also suffer(ed) mental illnesses. I've listened to what they went through back when even less was understood about mental health. How they weren't able to put a name to how they felt, or had no one to talk to who understood, dealing with it in silence the only way they knew how.
After it became a more acceptable topic of public discussion with many, I learned even more from those loved ones who suffer(ed) from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, post-par-tum depression and more.
Bottom line is, the people I care about have suffered. Still suffer. Chances are, you and yours have too.
Some are able to cope, and have been a living example of how to handle difficult things in life. It may have taken them a long while to learn the best way for them to feel well, but they always serve as a reminder of hope that it can get better.
For others it is a constant struggle and I'm concerned for them. I worry about them, but I also enjoy the good times even more, because you never know when their beautiful smile will fade, and be replaced by something they feel helpless over.
Finally, some loved ones aren't with us anymore. I remember them often. Mostly the good times, but sometimes I wonder things like, what if the way our society viewed mental health had been different? What if there had been more funding toward a better understanding of mental illness, and to give people suffering more help? Would that person have felt so helpless and alone? Would we, their loved ones, have had a better chance of helping them with the right tools?
We all need more help. Period.
Those are 3 of the reasons I'm writing this.
Regardless of our age, gender, race, income, illness, location, etc. we need more help. There is still such a stigma surrounding mental health and an inconceivable amount to learn, but I feel things have come a long way. People educate themselves with the ever-growing tools available to better understand/support/improve their lives or that of their loved ones.
I believe that confiding in the people we love and trust can not only help to end the stigma, but to build a support system through times of suffering, regardless of what you are going through.
People in our lives don't always say or do the right thing whether their heart is in the right place or not. We ourselves don't always do or say the right thing either.
I've had a great deal of encouragement and understanding, but I have also faced judgement, frustration, and ignorance when dealing with my anxiety from people in my life, and also acquaintances. I've had people tell me to just get over it and to stop being ridiculous or making excuses. People who think less of me because of the way I cope. People who think they're helping, but make things worse. People who, through no fault of their own, I haven't shared my struggles with.
There are people who simply don't understand, some who are afraid, and others who inflict suffering on others because they suffer themselves.
Because of my support system, I've been able to talk things out, during or after an anxiety attack. I have friends who will pick me up when we go somewhere, because they understand my driving anxiety. Family who show their support when I have to challenge myself in order to grow. Friends and family who lend an ear or discuss their own mental health, and I am grateful for their confidence.
I know not everyone is so lucky to have people in their lives they can count on, and that is another one of the reasons I am writing this. One of the reasons I decided that along with talking, listening, encouraging others to do the same, and donating to mental health initiatives when possible, I need to take more action.
I think, if you've made it this far, you want to do more too.
I've always wanted to use my writing, my stories, to add to the quality of a person's life. When I realized I could and should do that in more ways than one, I contacted my dear friend, Jade Eby, another author who I knew would want to do the same. I knew this because Jade has been part of my support system and an advocate for mental health support. We've had so many conversations about our personal struggles, and mental health as it pertains to world issues as a whole. She loved the idea, and together, we decided that each month, readers would not only be able to purchase our stories, but simultaneously help others.
Jade and I will be donating 50% of the profits of each monthly featured book sold to our chosen mental health organizations. You can learn more about it here as we launch our initiative on November 1st, 2017.
We want to hear from you. We want to give you the support you need to help yourself or loved ones. We want to make a change.
I hope you'll join us in supporting mental health organizations that have the power to help so many people.
Above all, I hope you realize you have the power to help people, whether by donating, sharing, talking about your experiences, listening to others, being present for those struggling, or generally giving people hope for a better future.
"If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today." - Thich Nhat Hanh