In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are inviting different guest bloggers each week in the month of May to write about their perspectives on mental health. Today’s guest blog post comes from Lisa Scott whose post highlights the importance of gratitude and the power of speaking out about mental health issues. Be sure to check out Lisa’s awesome anxiety blog, The Worry Games. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing with us at rtor.org. -Veronique Hoebeke, Associate Editor
As the final guest blogger on rtor.org for Mental Health Awareness Month 2016, I wanted to be sure to end things on a positive note. So I decided to make the focus of this post gratitude.
Anybody who has read my anxiety blog knows that I feel a great sense of gratitude to my anxiety disorder for making me the person that I am. But today I want to move beyond that and focus on the gratitude and sense of good fortune I feel for having my anxiety disorder at this particular time in history.
Having had an anxiety disorder for the last 25 years, I suppose I might be looked at as an anxiety “old-timer”. Further proof of this is that when I am blogging, I frequently find myself using the phrase “Back when my anxiety disorder first broke out…” much in the same vein as our grandparents telling us about treacherous hikes to school in 6 feet of snow. But it really is a “whole new world” of mental health that is out there now.
It is a little amazing to look back over the last 25 years and realize the massive improvements that have been made. Get ready, here I go… Back when my anxiety disorder first broke out, it was an entirely different climate. The only person I had ever known or heard of that had an anxiety disorder was a patient at the doctor’s office that I worked at who used to run into the office once a month, clutching her chest and yelling that she needed her meds refilled because she was having another “panic attack”. I confess, I thought she was just being overly dramatic and somewhat of an attention seeker. I’m sure I rolled my eyes to myself a time or twenty when she came in. Don’t worry. Karma took care of me in the form of my own raging panic disorder a few years later. But at the time, that was all I knew of anxiety disorders.
Things were just different back then. Anxiety disorders just weren’t talked about. Nobody wanted to be thought of as “crazy”. That was the attitude back then…at least in my world. You were either normal or you weren’t. Mental health issues of any kind had a much bigger stigma 25 years ago then they do now and I have a great appreciation for how far we have come in such a short time. I take that back even farther in time and think of what it would have been like for me if I had been born centuries ago and had developed my anxiety disorder. I would probably have been labelled “hysterical” and been removed from my home and had the little rights I had as a woman stripped of me. In the early Renaissance, I may have been accused of being a witch and tortured. In Victorian times, if my panic attacks were bad enough I would have been taken away and I would have been subjected to whatever treatment was ordered for me…possibly a lobotomy.
It saddens me to know that these people who lived years ago probably just needed some rest and emotional support were subjected to such horrible treatment. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to all of a sudden have your life in turmoil due to extreme anxiety symptoms that you have no understanding as to the cause, and then to be subjected to those kind of horrors by doctors and officials and ostracized by your family and friends…it must have been extremely traumatic for people who were already in such an overly sensitized state to be subjected to such things.
Even though I went through my own personal hell in my early anxiety days, and I felt alone and hopeless, I honestly can feel no sympathy for myself or my situation when I compare it to what those before me went through. I feel nothing but fortunate and extremely thankful and lucky.
It is true that I felt I was unable to share my anxiety story with the world and be open about my problems. It is true that I thought if I told my boss I needed time off to figure all this out that I would be fired or looked at like I was ridiculous for even suggesting such a thing. It’s true that I was embarrassed and didn’t want people to label me or think I was a crazy person. But honestly, even though I didn’t know it at the time, compared to what those before me went through–I had a walk in the park.
I had my freedom. And I had books. I had many, many wonderful self-help books that were written by people with anxiety, and by professionals. I can’t express enough how much those kinds of books helped me. I also had choices. I had the choice of seeking professional help or not seeking professional help. I always encourage people to seek professional help for their anxiety disorder, but it is their choice to make. I had the choice of whether or not to take medication to help improve my symptoms. I chose not to, but at least I was given that choice. And I also had this wonderful new thing that was starting to really take off…the Internet.
The internet is what I think really kicked the mental health revolution into full swing. This is where those of us with not just anxiety disorders, but ALL mental health issues, connected to each other and found our voices. We didn’t just find our voices–we found our tribe, and the tribe just continues to grow and grow. It doesn’t matter what our “official” mental health diagnoses are. We feel like we are all on the same team. With the internet, we have found someplace we feel we belong–with people who are like us and who understand us. We finally have found a place and a way to use our voices.
Over the last 25 years we have figured out that there are more of “us” out there in the world that we ever could have possibly realized and that we are just as “normal” and deserving of respect as everybody else. We realized that we don’t have to put up with the stigma. We realized that we deserve better. And most importantly, we realized that when we put our voices together, we are very loud. We know we don’t have to be part of the painfully slow, gradual progression towards better treatment of people with mental health issues. We can kick this movement into high gear and start demanding it NOW. We don’t get to take all of the credit for this though…or even most of the credit. For the large part, we are simply taking advantage of the momentum that started to grow about 75 years ago by the mental health professionals and people living with mental illness that came before us.
I am so grateful to those who walked this path before I did and made it easier for me to walk. I am especially thankful to be reaping the benefits of the work done by pioneers of the modern-thinking mental health movement, such as Dr. Claire Weekes. Fifty years ago, she was out there trying to sell the idea that anxiety is a very “normal” thing that very “normal” people go through and while I don’t know how appreciated she was in her lifetime, those of us that are here fifty years later can certainly see how brilliant she was and what she did to carve out the beginnings of this path that we are all on now. And now it is our turn to carry the torch and clear our portion of this road for the generations to come.
I think it is our responsibility to stay focused on what is truly important, and that is making the next generation stronger and prouder and more secure in who they are regardless of any mental health diagnoses they may have…and like me…maybe BECAUSE of any mental health diagnoses they might have.
I think we have a responsibility to work to create a climate where we don’t encourage people to treat those of us with mental health disorders as though we are “delicate” or “special”, but rather to treat us as though we are just like everybody else. Because we ARE everybody else. If you look at the staggering numbers of people living with a mental health diagnosis, I think it is pretty clear that mental illness is a normal part of the human existence and always has been, and it should be accepted and talked about and integrated into our “normal, day-to-day” culture and society. Not in a way that handicaps us by treating us as though we are thin-skinned and in need of having lower expectations placed on us, but in a way that encourages us and gives us the resources to help ourselves and receive help from others when we need it, and allows us to use our strengths and special personality traits to do our part in this world and feel “welcome” and needed in it. Regardless of the severity of our mental illness, we are ALL valuable members of society. From those of us who are living with a mental health diagnoses that we hide from the world, to those of us living with a diagnosis so severe that we need to be long-term in-patients,we are all human beings, we are all valuable and we all have something to offer this world.
I understand that we have a long way to go. But I honestly feel like all of us in the mental health community are in this together and we won’t stop, and it is my true hope that the generations that come after us will not stop, until every person living with a mental health disorder feels valued and respected and has treatment available to them. We are a generation with courage, strength, and spirit in our own unique ways, and I feel as though we are doing our predecessors proud. Every day, more and more of us are finding the strength to stand up and say “This is who I am, and I am proud to be me.” As an anxiety blogger, I am so proud to be able to do my small part in keeping this momentum going and I feel extreme gratitude to be a part of the amazing online mental health community that offers support and help to so many.
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