Sometimes Survival Means Being a Poser: Living With Anxiety
A Great Mask
Today, I made school lunches for my kids and made sure my own stuff was well organized for work. I spent my lunch break chatting with colleagues about a range of topics and sharing a few laughs.
What you can't tell, however, is that my heart is pounding like I've just run a race, and I feel like I'm having a hard time breathing.
This has been an ongoing condition for the last several days, but people wouldn't be able to tell unless they really knew me well. I've been smiling, cheerful, and relatively laid back. Just a normal day at the office! No one would be able to tell that on the inside, I feel like I'm trembling. Outside, I seem relaxed and casual.
There is still a terrible stigma associated with mental illness. People feel concerned that revealing their mental illness to others will "weird them out"—and that's part of the problem, isn't it? People with mental illness still don't want to talk about it because they, too, are victims of the stigma. We're all so worried about what someone might think or feel about something that is not a contagious illness, and that leaves so many folks without desperately needed support.
It's estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, or 20 percent. That's only in the Canadian population, but if you were to apply those same statistics to the United States, you'll no doubt see the same sorts of issues there.
Small wonder that so many people with mental illnesses - whether that illness is depression, anxiety, or a mental illness of a different stripe - are either unaware that they have a mental illness or they have learned to put on a "mask" and pretend like everything is okay. They will simply be told to wait their turn in what has become an increasingly long lineup for treatment.
I read somewhere once that 50 percent of mental health problems can be revealed by the time teenagers turn 14, and that number jumps to 75 percent when the kid hits 18. That's great that we are becoming more aware of these mental illnesses that are occurring in our young people, but who are we missing? Who is still hiding behind a mask?
Masks Don't Help, But They're Easier In The Short Term
Living And Breathing
These masks are only a thin veneer of the truth. They hide what's really happening inside your heart and head, but it does make things easier for the short term. At the very least, the masks we wear can perhaps pull us back to our own lives, sometimes, or make getting through our individual days easier.
Sometimes, for me, it's just about living, breathing, and continuing to move. Old habits die hard, so I may pack everything up and do some hard exercise to get back into the rhythm of my body. I've been running since I was little, so the pounding of my sneakers on the ground with my dog beside me is one of the best things that I could do if I need to get out of my own head. Your body will quit long before your mind does; I've learned that sweating and breathing is a great way to get through the day if I'm having a tough one.
I may not even have a reason for having a tough day. My work might be caught up, the kids might not be fighting, and I may have even gotten a decent sleep. I might also feel that squeezing in my chest that makes it a bit challenging to breathe properly; thankfully, I've learned that writing and exercise both help to alleviate whatever's going on, and like I said, I might not even know. My body might just respond to something in the back of my head and I won't even fully understand why I feel the way I do.
Anxiety is exhausting, and there are days where I wish it would disappear with the snap of my fingers. That's not how it works, though, and that's the really crappy part. I know that I'm fortunate. I've been working on strategies to try and make it easier, and I have the opportunity to teach the kids I know who suffer from anxiety that having this condition doesn't give you an out on life. My students know very well that I almost have to be dead on my feet before I go home sick, as do my own kids. That's what helps drive me through my day - the knowledge that even if my head feels packed with anxiety, my own work ethic and personality will get me through anything. If I can convey the message that having anxiety or mental illness does not mean you're automatically or instantly debilitated, that's important to me.
After all, life does go on.