“Just because you don’t understand, it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.”
– Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book
The configuration of the mind is extremely hard to decipher. How do you explain to someone why you’re feeling the way you do? Why you suddenly feel an urge to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, curl up in a ball and cry your chest out? Why your eyes start to shift, your hand uncontrollably shaking, your heart pounding, your chest tightening and you start to feel like you’re suffocating, making you want to just drop to the ground or run far away? Do you tell them that a chemical imbalance occurs in your brain flooding it with cortisol and norepinephrine thus making you feel depressed or anxious?
How do you define this physical and mental experience to someone who never had to go through it? How do you articulate what you feel when you, yourself, can’t even understand how and why you feel this way? This to me is the great divide that people with mental health issues experience and why understanding and proper treatment is hard to come by for a lot of people.
Being told things like:
“It’s all in your head.”
“There are people who are worse off than you.”
“What do you have to be sad about?”
“Why are you panicking? You’re doing this to yourself.”
“You know, you are not the only one right?”
…is something someone who suffers from mental health issues is all too familiar with. And no matter how often you tell yourself that the people who say these remarks mean well, you cannot help but feel just a little bit worse. You already know these things; you have scolded yourself thousands of times over.
Hearing these and other similar remarks induce a particular kind of fatigue and defeat; it feels as if something or someone is cornering you and you start to feel guilty for feeling the way you do, yet it is something you cannot help; and because you cannot control yourself, you end up punishing yourself even more. It is a vicious cycle and it needs to stop.
As someone who, herself, has suffered from various mental health issues for almost half her lifetime, speaking about mental health is not necessarily the easiest task.
I have come to realize that no amount of self-awareness can ever prepare me to divulge the most vulnerable part of my personhood. However, I do have a few realizations that I would like to share.
Growing up with clinical depression and anxiety, I saw how the world (a.k.a. my friends and family) reacted to the changes that occurred in me; let’s just say, they were not well-received. They simply could not grasp the idea; they do not understand it thus they do not accept it. Just because this is how they feel, however, I believe that doesn’t make my own experience any less real. Although I know they do not mean to make me feel this way, I’ve always felt like I was such a burden to them. I constantly harassed myself for being the way that I was and for feeling the way that I felt, so I kept everything in and isolated myself as if I were slowly sinking into a black hole. This led me to think of unhealthy thoughts. This reaction was my (incredibly terrible) attempt at making sure I will no longer be a burden. Despite all of this though, I am still here. I’ve decided not to rob myself of my own freedom to live.
Somewhere along the line–maybe through maturity, experience, help from professionals, or a combination of all three–I finally accepted that I could not be in control of everything in the world, and that includes my own health sometimes. My experience with my illnesses does not rob me of my dignity, of who I am, and of my freedom; it does not make me any less of a person, but rather, it simply is something I have to brave through.
I now understand that my experiences are not subject to anybody else’s judgment and that I am equally important as any healthy individual out there. I have accepted that not everybody–most people even–will not be able to understand, sympathize, nor know what to say when they find out about my condition. And that’s okay.
One thing is certain–simply being aware of these things has made me shift my perspective.
Am I cured? Do I have the sudden ability to turn myself into Mary Poppins and take a spoonful of sugar to make the depression and anxiety go down? No, absolutely not. I still have my extreme episodes, my attacks; I still have to take medication and see doctors, except now I have achieved a level of acceptance which has allowed me to practice my freedom to seek help and to further care for my well-being.
It’s okay not to be okay all the time. We need to allow ourselves to feel, heal, and recuperate.
You should know that it is your right to be able to seek help and live a fulfilled life. Unfortunately, not everybody could afford the best care for their disabilities, which is why it is our global mission to reach out to people around the world and to lend a helping hand.
I have always believed that the strongest people are those who fight and win battles the rest of the world know nothing about. Even an act as minuscule as kindness could mean the entire world; small acts could lead people toward finding that the battles they have are indeed worth the struggle.
On that note, let me end with a simple reminder for you, for everyone: please be kind.
H.H. The Dalai Lama once said, “Compassion is the radicalism of our time.” We are not obligated to know or understand every single detail of another person’s struggle nor are we capable of doing so, but we are equipped with the ability to be kind. So to anybody who has had to go through any kind of mental illness, let me remind you that you deserve to be able to seek help and to get better. You deserve to be heard and celebrated.
You deserve all the love in the world.
Sometimes, the most comforting thing to hear from another person is “me too”, because it reminds you that you’re not alone in your journey. So I’d like to say, me too. It is tough and the process is jarring, but that’s okay. You may not know me, but we are in this together. We are a global family.
Belated happy Mental Health day!
October 17, 2018
Written by Johanna Lyn Gatdula, a volunteer at the WYA Asia Pacific Office