I struggle with anxiety and depression. I would like to be able to say that with the same lightness and social acceptance as “I’m suffering from a cold.” No one judges a cold because everyone gets them. Yet mental conditions, which can also happen to everyone whether temporarily or more lasting, are severely stigmatized.
My closest friends and family have told me I’m one of the strongest people they know. I’m proud of that. I’m a little afraid that if they know about my conditions, they won’t look at me that way anymore. But I’ve realized that having these conditions doesn’t make me weak, hiding from them does. Not talking about them does. Talking about them is giving myself the power to make a change and help others. So when mental health issues do come up in conversations, I talk about them casually and from my own experience.
If you’ve never suffered from a mental health condition, lucky you! You probably want to know how you can help a friend who is battling a condition. The honest answer is that I don’t know. Ask them. Sometimes I want to be left alone. Sometimes I want to be alone together. Sometimes I want a hug. It’s always different, but if you ask me in the moment how you can help, I will tell you what I need.
A public panic attack is pretty much the worst, but sometimes I have a severe panic attack on the street (writing this and thinking about it has my heart pounding and my breath shortening). The first thing I do when I feel it coming is find an alcove or non-busy doorway to scrunch myself up in. Then the hyperventilating starts. I try to stay low to the ground until I can get back in control so if I pass out, I don’t fall. Luckily, this is NYC and mostly, people pass you by. Sometimes people stop and stay with me, talking to me and offering help. They ask questions that help me get the shitty energy out by venting or they help me focus on something else. Most of the time, I have to pull myself together.
Some ways I cope are:
Focus on my breath, count each one
Put on my Songs for Survival Spotify playlist
Visualize my calmest memory
Text my therapist
Whisper a reassuring mantra to myself
Call my sister
If I’m home:
Aromatherapy – citrus or lavender are favorites
Focus on candlelight
Make some calming tea
Scream into a pillow
Draw a simple repetitive pattern
Lie in the cool, empty bathtub
Call my sister
Different things work for different people. And sometimes certain methods don’t work at all. But please don’t be afraid to communicate what you need and seek help. You’ll get through it. You will get through it.