I had someone tell me today that I needed to stop using my anxiety as an excuse and that I needed to “grow out of it”.
The person that said this is someone I care deeply about and whom I know cares deeply about me. However, the way they see the world is entirely different from me. They are very logical and practical. X+Y=Z. Period. Everything is black and white. And emotions and feelings belong nowhere near the decision-making process.
I, on the other hand, am as emotional as they come. I am both an empath and a highly sensitive person (HSP) meaning that I am very sensitive to the environment around me, the emotions of others, their moods, sights, sounds, smells and also that I absorb the energy of those around me and make it mine (which I have to fight hard to control). So when I make decisions I rely on feeling and intuition, thinking about how my decisions and my words will impact others, how it will make them feel. And I deal with anxiety on top of all of that.
So you can imagine how I must have felt hearing that comment. Offended, hurt, livid. Just to name a few.
One of the things that annoys me most about our society is the stigma placed on mental illness and how it is treated so differently from physical illness. For instance, you wouldn’t tell someone with Type I diabetes that they needed to “grow out of it” would you? Type I diabetes is a physical illness that is usually diagnosed early in life and for which there is no cure. People with this illness take medication daily and make lifestyle adjustments like healthy eating and exercising to maintain control over their illness. If they don’t follow the necessary maintenance steps, the disease gets out of control and takes over and they end up in the hospital or worse. God forbid that this person loses a limb due to their disease and has to go through physical therapy to learn how to function again.
But nowhere in this scenario does someone tell them to “suck it up” or “get over it”.
Now think of a mental illness like anxiety in those same terms. It is something that can be diagnosed at any age but once it is diagnosed, it becomes a part of that person’s daily life. Some people take medication for it and/or make lifestyle adjustments like self-care and avoiding trigger situations. If they don’t perform these maintenance steps, the anxiety gets out of control and takes over and they end up in the hospital or worse. Following hospitalization, individuals usually require some intense therapy to learn how to function in society again.
Speaking from experience, a year agoI wasn’t following the steps necessary to maintain control over my anxiety and depression and I landed in the hospital. After spending 3 days in an inpatient behavioral health unit, I was stable enough to go home. But I had to spend 6 weeks in intensive outpatient therapy (IOP) to learn how to function again. IOP was like physical therapy for my mind.
But I didn’t just want to function. I wanted to THRIVE. So following completion of IOP, I continued to see a therapist twice a week for months. I put in some hard work. I faced hard truths about myself. I changed thinking patterns. I cried many tears. But most importantly, I FOUGHT.
Everytime it got hard and I wanted to quit, I FOUGHT. Everytime I felt like I took two steps backwards, I FOUGHT. Everytime I felt discouraged, I FOUGHT. I fought like hell to become the woman I am today. I fought hard to get to a healthy place and maintain it.
So you’re damn right I take offense to someone belittling my hard work and reducing it to a phase that I just need to “grow out of”. As would someone who lost a limb to diabetes and put in the work to learn how to walk again.
So the next time you encounter someone with a mental illness and you aren’t sure what to say, remember this:
If you wouldn’t say it to someone with diabetes, a broken leg, or any other chronic physical disease or ailment, don’t say it to someone with a mental illness.
Breaking the stigma that society has placed on mental illness is very important to me. May is Mental Health month and to kick it off, I am participating in the St. Louis chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ annual walk on May 5. I would love your support in any way.