Around this time 5 years ago I first experienced a panic attack and ever since then I have lived with a constant anxiety almost every day for no apparent reason. I do not want to get into details right now about what provoked this first ever panic attack but looking back now I can see how one day everything was fine, I was just my normal self and then the next day I woke up and everything was completely different. Little did I know that from this moment on this would be my new reality.
During those first days and even months I felt completely lost and disoriented – I did not know what was going on with me, I was feeling these heart palpitations, stomach ache, nausea, fatigue constantly and I was going crazy trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I started developing these defence mechanisms that almost all anxiety sufferers use – paying close attention to my body and all of its symptoms, trying to find the illness behind them, searching for information constantly on Google, visiting numerous doctors and doing tons of tests and not being happy with the result that shows no actual physical illnesses. After a dozen of doctors told me that there was not anything physically wrong with me, I felt even more desperate because I started thinking that it must be something really serious and hard to find – I was feeling awful every day and this could not be happening without a reason. This, in turn, made me dig even deeper onto the Web for information – I have read so many medical journals over the years that I certainly feel like I could practice as a GP without any problems – after all even my family and friends started turning to me for basic medical information. The years have passed and this obsession became stronger and stronger – I was constantly researching symptoms on Google, I could not leave the house without carrying a dozen of different pills in my bag and so on. I believe that the picture is quite clear and you get it now.
So much time has passed and no one could find what was wrong with me. I was totally desperate and thought that I will be living like that for the rest of my life.
During all this time the last thing that crossed my mind was that I was actually suffering from a mental problem. With years my mother and my boyfriend started to realise that I was having mental issues, not physical ones and pointed this out to me a few times but I was just laughing at them and told them that it was not possible.
And why did I think that it was not possible? – Because of mental health stigma!
Lots of people think that mental health problems such as anxiety, panic attacks and depression does not really exist, that it is just stress and you must be tough and deal with it, that if you suffer from something like this you are just weak and unable to deal with everyday problems, that you won’t be able to achieve anything in life. Basically that you are weak and incapable of dealing with your own life.
And who wants to feel weak? – Nobody.
The same applied to me – in my head I was so strong and so capable. How dare someone tell me that I am weak and that I am suffering from an anxiety disorder?!
It took me a long, long time – 4 years – to realise that they were right and that I was actually suffering from a mental health problem and that did not mean that I am weak and incapable.
I was just part of this breed of people that are more emotional, more creative, that see the world differently and have a kind heart that cannot tolerate injustice. And although I was trying to change this part of me for a very long time, eventually I did realise that this was not necessarily a bad thing, that thanks to my emotional spirit I was able to experience life more fully, to be more compassionate and understanding, to know better what is best for me and so much more.
But due to the society that we live in and mental health stigma, I have lost 4 years of my youth suffering and obsessing over something that was quite clear. This resulted in health anxiety and hypochondria on top of my anxiety disorder, in the development of a lot of safety behaviours which became habits and overall made the things much worse. Although I have spent the past year trying to get better, I still can’t shake my health anxiety and can’t change a lot of my safety behaviours.
The longer you wait to get help – the harder it gets to get better.
I am sure that there are a lot of people out there who have experienced the same and this made me wonder why in this day and age mental health is still neglected so much worldwide. In the developed world every 4th person is affected by some mental health problem throughout their lifetime. This is around 25% of the population in countries such as UK and USA and still a handful of people take this seriously. The NHS (in the UK) and the media bombard us every day with tons of information on how to recognise the signs of cancer, diabetes and other serious diseases that affect lots of people. But nobody tells you how to recognise the signs of mental health disorders. Having (physical) health assessments and screenings and tests is the norm in the developed world in order to prevent and treat effectively various diseases. But having a mental evaluation means that you are crazy.
I can see how lots of people still talk about mental health as if it is something dirty that should be hidden in the closet and prefer to make it seem like something crazy, because God forbid somebody knowing that they are actually suffering from something like that. The other bunch of people do not ever talk about it for the same reasons.
I myself have not had the courage to tell many people about my issues because I fear the look on their faces, the judgement in their eyes and the way they will be thinking of me afterwards. There are people I have shared my issues with who were not judgemental, but did not really understand what that meant and started just telling me to relax and not to care so much and everything will be ok, which we all know is not of much help because we are not suffering solely from stress.
Unfortunately, this comes to show that the world we live in is not educated at all about mental health. One of the main reasons to start this blog again was to spread awareness about mental health, because this is what our world needs right now!
We should learn to understand mental health better, to recognise the symptoms early on and to be more compassionate at home, at work, at schools, at social gatherings and so on. Everyone could fall and break their leg the same way everyone could ‘fall’ and suffer from a panic attack and anxiety disorder. No one has a guarantee that it won’t happen to them so please bear this in mind the next time you feel empathetic for the person with the broken leg, but not for the one with the broken mind.