Shame. Fear. Uncertainty. Hopelessness. These are emotions we all feel from time to time. For me, this is a battle I fight every day. I sit here now with trembling hands as I type this message to tell you that I have an anxiety disorder. More specifically I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). So why on earth am I divulging such a big secret? I am doing so for a couple reasons. First, it pains me when I see people who are struggling with mental illness and think they are alone. I assure you, you are not. Second, these struggles should not be a secret. Why is it acceptable to discuss every other part of the body that experiences difficulty except the brain? Why do we feel no shame in telling others that we have the flu, a broken arm, or even a more serious condition like diabetes, yet cases of mental illness are typically not shared with many? Why is there such a negative stigma with mental illness? It does NOT mean you are crazy. It does NOT mean you are weird. It does NOT mean you are inadequate. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and depression all throughout life. The difference between you and I is that I merely experience it differently. My hope is to raise awareness. If you are struggling, it’s okay. You are not alone.
I’ve lived with intense anxiety my whole life. Let me tell you, it can feel like a curse. Waking up in the middle of the night with my heart racing. Worrying about things out of my control. Perhaps feeling the urgent need to check if I locked the doors. It certainly is exhausting. However, it has made me into the person I am today. A person who has been through a battle. A person who has faced many fears. A person I am proud of.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
1. It’s OKAY to get help. I am a huge advocate of using modern day medicine when appropriate. I know that a lot of people believe that anxiety isn’t something serious enough to medicate. If you share this point of view, let me tell you something…you have NO idea what you are talking about. If you think exercise can get rid of it…you haven’t had it bad enough. While there are lifestyle changes that can certainly help to reduce symptoms, there are times that medicine is a must in order to lead a happy life. For those of you who do not suffer from anxiety disorder, imagine this. Imagine that you have to walk on a tight rope across two cliffs over a lake of ravenous sharks. Would you be scared? Of course! Now imagine if someone told you that your fear of walking on that rope was fake. I am sure you would not appreciate the comment. For those that suffer with anxiety disorder, medicine makes these extreme fears more manageable. Medicine certainly isn’t a fix-all solution, but it can certainly improve the quality of life for those that suffer.
2. Don’t be ashamed. In recent years I have come to find that just about every family out there has individuals with some type of mental disorder. Quite frankly, I think everyone has just a little something going on with them. However, the reason why the open discussion of mental illness isn’t more widely accepted and the negative stigma remains is because people are so afraid to talk about it. So we all assume no one could possibly understand and opt to suffer silently. Generally, people are surprised if they find out that I struggle with OCD, but really there are millions of people out there that we perceive as “normal” that are struggling too.
3. Talk about it. Over time I have become more open about my challenges with anxiety, but this was not always the case. The main reason for my openness is because I feel that people associate mental illness with only the most extreme conditions. However, with increased openness, I think that the perception of mental disorders can be changed for the good. Do not be afraid to share how you feel with those you love and to seek help in its many forms.
We are all facing our own battles. Whether it’s mental or physical, challenges come in all shapes and forms. The best way to overcome them is to cast out shame and embrace your flaws. Seek help from those you trust and you will find happiness. Most of all, be patient because it’s a journey. After all pressure makes diamonds and diamonds shine. Just you wait.