Anxiety can be super embarrassing, like two years ago when I had my first anxiety attack in seven years at work of all places. I was in a meeting that I ran out of because I thought I was going to die and didn’t want to do it in front of everyone (seems to be quite a private affair). Since I didn’t have a panic attack for so long it took me quite some time to understand what the hell was going on. Two hours later I was still panting into a paper bag, surrounded by security, when my boss found me and asked, “why didn’t you tell me you have these problems?” Good question, why not? He is a great guy so why, over a glass of wine, did I not tell him about my mental issues? Probably because it’s embarrassing and not a topic that you just throw out there. Even I, who cannot keep silent about anything (seriously nothing is safe with me), used to tell very few people about my anxiety issues.
When you have a broken leg (I know, much used analogy) everyone can see that you have trouble getting around but mental illnesses are usually not visible. Except if you get to the paper bag stage of course. Mental Illnesses seem to be something that people just do not talk about. Or only when it’s about someone else. Like: “So and so got manic in India and thought he was God. In the end his parents had to go and get him.” “No really? That is insane!!” And yes, it is insane, it is an illness. Just as much, or more trouble, as a broken leg.
I think there are multiple reasons for this silence. Of course, it is totally fine to feel a bit depressed sometimes. Everyone has felt that, after a bad breakup, or on a gloomy day. But it is harder to understand for the “normal” people what a real depression would feel like. Or to understand how it is to have a panic disorder and out of nowhere feel like you will die, the world will come to an end and the loony bin is all that awaits you. Since we, or at least me, want to be understood when we tell others about our woes it can seem easier to just shut up.
Then there are the meds, another thing that is quite taboo. As soon as you mention the fact that you take an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, also known as an antidepressant), or the fact that you sometimes need tranquillizers, two things usually happen. 1. You get judged (or feel judged) for not being able to handle life like everyone else does. 2. Everyone and I mean everyone has an opinion about these types of medication. Especially these days there are articles galore about the overuse of antidepressants, the side effects and the fact that just sports could help those who are unfortunate enough to have low serotonin levels. First of all, I do not like sports! Secondly, someone who is depressed and lying in bed, or someone who is anxious and afraid to leave the house is not very likely to go and spend the day in a gym.
Of course, it also seems kind of crazy to me that about 800.000 people in the Netherlands take SSRI’s. That is a lot! But what is crazier is that you rarely meet someone who says: “Hey I take Citalopram because I am super depressed!” Or: “I’m about to take an Oxazepam, Lorazepam, whatever Pam right now, otherwise I will start hyperventilating and stop feeling my face”. With 800.000 people taking pills that should happen quite often. But no, it is way more likely to get offered a line of coke in the toilet at a random club. In Amsterdam, anyway.
Now I’m not advocating that everyone just shouts of the rooftop about their Mental Illnesses and use of Pills. But a bit more openness and understanding would be nice. Some people just need medication to have a life, and that is ok.
I am not saying that no-one wants to talk or understands. I am surrounded by people who understand, or try very hard to understand. And I cannot thank them enough! Because being a friend to someone with a mental illness offers a whole set of challenges. But that is something for another time.
Rant over! My apologies, quite embarrassing.