May is a time to raise awareness of those living with mental health issues and to help reduce the stigma surrounding getting help. Nearly 450 million people worldwide are currently living with a mental illness, yet nearly two thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek treatment.
I was one of those people for a very long time. I have struggled with anxiety since I was a toddler and I still struggle with anxiety and panic attacks to this day. I had convinced my family, friends and even myself that I had taught myself how to control my anxiety but in reality all I had done was learned how to hide it. Others felt more comfortable and when people found out about my anxiety they would complement me that they “had no idea, you seem so normal”. Inside I still had the same overwhelming anxiety, I just pretended I was fine, I was “normal”. I avoided my big triggers whenever possible but that meant sacrificing the fun I could have had. I learned how to power through and break down later in private. I learned how to politely avoid social situations. I didn’t live the life I wanted I lived the life that felt safest.
My husband witnessed one of my panic attacks for the first time on our honeymoon and it terrified him. He didn’t know what was happening because I hadn’t prepared him for that or told him what to do in that situation. My panic attacks feel like I’m dying. My heart starts beating so hard it feels like it will burst, I feel like I can’t catch my breath which adds to the panic and starts the hyperventilating. My skin feels like it’s on fire and my mind becomes a chaotic mush. There are no racing thoughts for me during a panic attack, the exact opposite actually. My brain shuts down and fight or flight takes over. It’s hard to put calming practices into place when your brain shuts down so it just continues to spiral until I pass out from hyperventilating or someone snaps me out of it. The warning I should have given my husband is to never touch me when I’m in that state. If I feel trapped I will fight and scream and it makes everything worse.
After that experience my wise husband who had never experienced anxiety or panic attacks in his life convinced me to talk to our doctor about it. I tried some daily medication but it didn’t work well for what I wanted out of life. We got the panic attacks under control with a strong situational medication that I haven’t needed to take in a few years now but I keep on hand just in case. I have seen a few therapists over the years during especially difficult times in my life but never found someone that could help me with the general day to day anxiety. I am still looking and utilizing free recourses to keep trying out therapists until I find the right one for me.
I’m not cured and likely never will be. I’m still good at hiding it and most people aren’t aware of my constant anxiety but I have hope of some day knowing what it’s like to live a day without crippling fear and worry. I once thought that getting help from a therapist or doctors made me weak or somehow meant that I had failed to manage my own feelings but that isn’t true at all. Getting help makes you strong. Standing up and taking charge to live a better life with a happier you is success! You wouldn’t fell shame or embarrassment for seeing a doctor for a broken leg, and it’s no different. Mental illness is a medical condition and should be treated as one.
NAMI is a non-profit organization that offers support and education programs for families and individuals living with mental health conditions. NAMI recognizes that the key concepts of recovery, resiliency and support are essential to improving the wellness and quality of life of all persons affected by mental illness. Find your local NAMI location at nami.org/findsupport or call their helpline at 800-950-NAMI.
For 2021’s Mental Health Awareness Month NAMI will continue to amplify the message of “You Are Not Alone.” They plan to use this time to focus on the healing value of connecting in safe ways, prioritizing mental health and acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay.
They state on their website “Together, we can realize our shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives — a nation where no one feels alone in their struggle.”
Help spread the word through awareness, support and advocacy activities. Share awareness information, by using #MHAM throughout May.