It's Not a "Mood" - Wrapping Your Head Around Mental Illness
Racing Heart, Exhausted Mind
I remember reading an article about Carrie Fisher shortly after she passed in December 2016. I had taken her death pretty hard. I'm a massive Star Wars fan, but I also really respected her as a writer and humorist. Anyway, I read an editorial about Fisher in which the writer, discussing the star's bipolar disorder, referenced something about how she used drugs to soothe her "fevered brain."
I thought that was a really interesting expression. "Fevered brain." It's a great one that really fits someone with bipolar disorder, particularly when they are experiencing a manic episode. But it's a turn of phrase that might apply to many other types of mental illness, as well.
I've made no secret that I live with anxiety, as well as its even more unpleasant cousin, depression. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on the interpretation), what I experience tends to be anxiety. It doesn't seem to matter the time of day, at least for me. I could be fine for a long while—and then it will feel as though my throat is getting tight and someone's sitting on my chest. My head starts racing along with my heart, and I'm scrambling to figure out exactly what has triggered the anxious response.
This will sometimes happen when I wake in the middle of the night to go to the washroom, which is always a joy, because by the time I return to bed, I can't actually sleep because my mind has gone into rapid Rolodex mode. My thoughts start spinning and show up like index cards in my mind's eye, flitting from one topic to the next before I've had the chance to fully process and appreciate what the thought is even about. If I do manage to drift off, I end up having very vivid but strange dreams—dreams that leave me unsettled, though there hadn't been anything particularly frightening about the dream. I wake more exhausted than I was when I went to bed, and I generally end up getting up at least two hours before everyone else.
I know that I am not the only person who deals with this sort of thing regularly, and it's not just troubled kids affected by mental health issues like anxiety. Even the most successful kids and adults will struggle with it from time to time, and it's frustrating as hell because sometimes, you're not entirely sure what's caused it.
You also know the inevitable dismissal of your anxiety - because you will be touchy and sound very irritable, and your body language might reflect that as well - as a "mood" will come. "Why are you in a mood?" might be the question you'll hear.
Those of us with mental health conditions wonder the same thing ourselves, and it's not that I'm using it as an excuse. I am, however, pleading for people to think of what they're saying or even "accusing" before it's said. What seems like a mood to you is very real to us, and dismissing it as a "mood" implies that we had some sort of choice in whether or not to feel the lousy way we feel.
This Works For Me...
I Have My Moments
I refuse to let mental illness win.
I'm OK with taking the meds that I am taking to healthfully manage my anxiety.
There are times where my anxiety feels like my heart is going to pound through my chest for no bloody reason.
Yes, I keep going. What's the alternative? I've got two young(ish) children who look to me as a role model (well, I hope they look at me that way) for how to cope with those moments when I feel lousy and like I just want to run out of my own skin. What good am I if I just shut down and let it win?
None at all.
What good am I to students who see me as some sort of role model for someone to follow - an example of how to overcome anxiety, or at least work with it in your life - if I just say "I didn't do this because I had anxiety last night."
Anxiety is not an excuse to escape from life, and it's not an excuse to not do something.
In fact, I believe it can push you further. That fear of letting anxiety overcome you - letting the sheer panic overwhelm when in stable circumstances for "normal" individuals that wouldn't happen - can be a powerful motivator to move on with life and keep doing what you've got to do.
If the mental illness wins, you've lost.
So you keep going. You keep breathing.
It sure beats drowning in an emotional tidal pool.