It’s a cold world out there. So cold we ought to bundle up, right? Statistically almost half of us at some point will wear more than we expected but I’m not talking about the latest fashions, I speak of mental illness. The cloak that life has knitted for us and forces itself upon you. It screams “Don’t forget me!!” as you walk out the house like a younger annoying sibling you’re forced to look after. Some folks wear anxiety like long-johns and depression like long dreads (no pun intended) but the added weight takes a toll on us. A toll unbeknownst to those around you who may or may not understand what it feels like. Imagine having social anxiety so crippling you miss out on opportunities and interactions because some lump forms in your throat before you can say a word. You fear being judged or embarrassing yourself. You imagine highly unlikely scenarios in your mind of the world tumbling down all around you just at the thought of saying “Hi” to a stranger. Public speech terrifies you, ordering food at Chipotle gives you nightmares, making a complaint about a purchase is dreadful and opening emotionally to someone you find attractive gives you the shakes. Your mind is full of “Should I??……NO!!…. Well maybe?! ….. That would be dumb, you’re going to make a fool of yourself!!…Everybody is staring at me!!”. That was just you deciding whether to get an extra napkin after already sitting down to eat in a cafeteria. This can possibly lead to one experiencing an anxiety attack in the middle of a crowded area. If you have experienced an anxiety attack before, you can possibly become increasingly paranoid to where you create a higher chance of another attack. Over 4 million people in the U.S suffer from panic attacks so it’s not to be taken lightly. People wear these feelings daily so navigating this ever-changing world is quite exhausting to say the least to the point where you try to avoid being around people in general. What bothers you more is that everyone else seems to not suffer from this as you do so you start to think you are crazy when in fact you aren’t. We all aren’t wired the same and our experiences influence our mental health but because majority dread the idea of seeking therapy thus we suffer more than we need to.
What just seems like a temporary mood to those unaffected is more like a lifelong battle for those suffering. It isn’t just a mood but an actual mental illness due to chemical changes in your brain. Your subconscious tells you things like “The world doesn’t care about you” … “You’re on your own” …. “Who would love someone like you?” … “You should hate yourself”. These are the things you may feel in your mind when things don’t go as planned. However, when battling depression for periods at a time, these thoughts occur even when things ARE going as planned because you can still be both happy and depressed. You can have the time of your life one day and the next day you may possibly want to harm yourself. It’s a sort of delicate wall between depression and everything else. The day no one texts you can be the day you return to hating yourself. Perhaps you and a significant partner have a bad breakup and you carry it for months or YEARS so no matter how good everything else is going, you emotionally flashback to times you felt you had it all including their love. You start to feel no one else can love you the way that person loved you and anytime the next partner sneezes too loud you think “Is this really where I want to be”. Perhaps you lose a great job and have a hard time finding a new one, forced to settle for one you wouldn’t normally have taken. That depression affects everything from your friendships, habits, to even your diet. Depression can change who a person is for better or for worse and not everyone handles it the same. I found myself researching into the high suicide rates in Japan as I have always wanted to learn more about their culture and found alarming news that around 70 people (mostly men) killed themselves daily in 2014. Studies suggest single biggest killer of men in Japan aged 20-44 was due to lack of stable jobs. Now if we looked at unemployment in the U.S the 5% rate is low but job security is still lacking. Many are underemployed with hours being cut meanwhile others face being laid off due to budget costs. Around 2.1 million Americans have been unable to secure a job longer than over half a year. Not to mention having the second highest incarceration rate in the world with ex-offenders reentering society only to face felony disenfranchisement. Just off viewing the employment landscape alone, you can see where the economy can drive one into a long bout with depression.
But what does mental illness look like? Does it manifest as some raving insane asylum patient or is it the quiet student who never socializes with anyone only to shoot up the school the next day? In all honesty, mental illness varies from person to person as well as from day to day. We stigmatize mental illness with negative extremes and ignore the subtleties of what really happens to one who suffers from them. We assume people must look depressed to be depressed and that people with anxiety should just “stop worrying”. We confuse executive dysfunction with laziness and casually make eating disorder jokes as if we can’t relate to what it’s like to worry about body image. Many suffer from multiple illnesses at the same time which creates more struggle, more self-motivation required to accomplish daily activities. The weight and pain of suffering these illnesses can lead to substance abuse or self-harm and/or possible suicide. This means fighting the good fight day in and day out for yourself and possibly others in hopes that things do get better. The people around you including friends may mentally wear these weights without either acknowledging it or wanting you to view them any different than before. With the present stresses in us all, it’s important to educate ourselves or seek professional help when needed. Learn and practice self-care, not just for yourself but to show by example for those who suffer quietly.
“The people with social anxiety are the most understanding. The people with depression are the nicest.”