I may have mentioned it before, but I have depression and anxiety. Luckily, I am largely high-functioning and my symptoms are usually not severe thanks to medication. However, that does not mean I’m “cured.” In fact, I believe I’m “high-functioning” because of my anxiety: I have to keep busy to keep my mind off looming thoughts. The way I explain it to people it that although I may not be struggling my mental illnesses it at a certain point in time, it’s still there.
Recently, someone I know started a mental health blog and said a few things that rubbed me the wrong way. I’m sure they mean well and a lot of their content is relatable, so I will not point fingers. This is a reaction to start a conversation rather than strong criticism.
Several phrases along the lines of “your mental illness does not define you” in particular upset me. Even on my “good days,” my depression and anxiety are still there. While feelings of anxiety are perfectly common in most everyone, the medical anxiety disorder is so much more than just worrying. Anxiety disorder is more or less a persistent physiological, psychological, physical and emotional state of stress. That is pretty much the bones of what I experience, but my personal anxiety ticks come in many different shapes and sizes depending on the situation.
Anxiety rules most of my chains of thought and motives my actions, whether I like it or not, so yes, it actually does define me. It may not be a part of me I particular enjoy, but I’m not ashamed of it. Removing yourself from your mental illness can be dangerous and unhealthy. There is a huge stigma around mental health, particularly in men, and not acknowledging your symptoms or being in denial might only make them worse. Rather, we should encourage people to know the signs of anxiety and depression and give tools to coexist with them. Do not try to separate a person from their mental illness but rather accept them along with it.
At the moment, there is no hard and fast cure for depression or anxiety, just ways to treat it. That means these mental illnesses will likely be with you for the rest of your life in one way or another. For people with anxiety and depression, even on good days, symptoms can still be largely present. People should not be shamed into silence because it’s convenient to people who don’t understand, rather, should be encouraged to be open about how their mental illness may affect their work, academic and personal lives. I know I gained a lot from being more open about my depression with my professors, supervisors and friends and I encourage everyone with mental illnesses to make yourself visible because you deserve to be supported.
Photo by Mario Calvo.