Anxiety disorder is real.We are taught to run when others reveal the less beautiful fractions of humanity. This attitude however keeps wounds from healing properly, says Nika Gottlieb
The idea that something could be wrong with my mind was, and still is, difficult to accept. During my youth, my older brother became extremely depressed. It started shortly after he began his freshman year of college, during which there were multiple suicides on campus. Like every college student, he was no stranger to the anxiety we all experience at healthy levels.
When his anxiety tipped into depression I watched him lose himself, recover, and find himself again.I felt his incomprehensible pain from afar. I felt perturbed by the senselessness of the way he kept on living with a sort of emptiness; he seemed unreachable even though he was right in front of me. When he recovered, I decided that nothing like this would happen to my family again on my account.
I hadn’t yet come to understand that a mental illness wasn’t something I could will myself out of. The failure of this promise rang unbearably in my head when I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder two months ago.
My first reaction was one of disappointment in myself. This was in part a result of the thought that I was bringing more pain to my loved ones. It was also caused by my belief that the ‘broken’ person I had become was at odds with the motivated person I so desperately wanted to be again. I felt confused and depersonalized, but I eventually took responsibility for what I saw as a personal failure. I thus internalized my anxiety and became even more lost and fearful.
That I felt so repentant for what was happening to me speaks to a larger societal problem: even though we have long since validated mental illnesses medically, implicit stigma is still prevalent, resulting in a scarcity of compassion. Even without the stigma, the volatility and silence of the suffering is difficult to unravel let alone explain. There is usually no powerful imagery for others to connect to and no seemingly appropriate response; my hair is not falling out, my arm is not in a cast, and my body is not strapped down to a wheelchair.
I find our society’s obsession with perfection infuriating. We are taught to run when others reveal to us the less beautiful fractions of humanity; many who choose to speak out about their mental illness are deemed attention-seeking and burdensome. This is the attitude that keeps wounds from healing properly.
When one rips oneself open to show you what’s inside, you ought not observe the wound with disdain for the unknowable. Wounds do not make us weak, so we should not be made to feel that way when we stumble. We will all stumble so we must accept that it will take time for some of us to “shake it off”.
My message with this piece is not a political one. I included personal details about my experience because I feel that I speak for many when I ask everyone to believe me. Believe that we don’t want to worry as much as we do. Believe that we don’t want to be afraid of living. Believe that the people we were are still here and are clawing at our insides, begging to return to life. As long as we treat those who come forward with their pain, with our own dubious apathy, their self-doubt will continue to turn into hopelessness, and hopelessness into lives lost in vain.
I’m on the path to recovery right now because my loved ones continue to remind me that the I am not my illness. None of us chose to lose ourselves, so we ask you not for your pity, but for your patience. A lot of us aren’t there yet, but we’re on our way. And we’re coming back blazing.