Anxiety plays with your emotions in a host of conflicting ways. Your self esteem takes a major hit repeatedly as self doubt, and in my case some of my alternate personalities start chatting in my head. Their constant chatter is basically a laundry list of everything I ever felt bad about. It's every doubt I ever had and every "bad" thing I ever did. Sometimes they literally make things up. This running commentary in my head reinforces my normal doubts and creates a deep loneliness. I become petrified to be around people. What if they see my weaknesses? Maybe they can tell just looking at me what a piece of crap I really am? I become trapped in this limbo of wanting and needing love and support but unable to ask for it for fear of repercussions. Often these fears are unfounded and strongly relate back to the stigma of mental illness society holds in general. There is a deep shame we often feel for our all too human emotions.
Every Saturday I visit my parents house to do laundry and see my family. A few weeks ago I was feeling really down when I got there. I was still reeling from my recent job loss and my anxieties had ratcheted up into the stratosphere. Logically, I knew that my family was actually quite supportive when I walked into my parents house, but it was still hard for me. I could feel the tears threatening to fall. My heart beat was erratic and I didn't want to look at anyone. I felt like I would shatter into a million pieces if someone spoke to me or maybe even looked at me the wrong way. The others I have inside me were pushing and wiggling around each other trying to get a firmer hold on the "drivers seat" to my body. I was not in a good place. I tried desperately to maintain order in my head and bring myself back to a less panicked place. I failed. Those threatening tears began to fall and all I wanted was to hide and run away. I was embarrassed and felt shame along with all the sadness and anxiety running rampant throughout me.
My nearly sixteen year old niece lives with my parents and also suffers from anxiety and depression. She recognized in that moment that I needed a quiet place to pull myself together. Without judgement and with love and understanding she took me up to her room. She then sat me on her bed and began to put her many stuffed animal friends around me. I felt silly for a moment and rather like E.T. in the scene where he is hidden among stuffed animals with only his head showing. The idea of that classic movie scene and my resemblance to it made me smile. I remembered in that moment that I am not alone! I am certainly not the only person who hurts and sometimes feels crippled by their emotional/mental health.
That realization let me take a mental breath and begin the process of letting go of the nonsense. I don't need to feel shame for my "weaknesses". I need to feel proud that every day I face them. Everyday I fight and work to maintain. That requires incredible strength of will and an ability to persevere in the face of a monster that lives on the inside of me; a monster no on else can see or fight for me.
As my niece proved, I am not alone even though no one else can see my personal monsters. Others can recognize the symptoms of the fight and support you. Others can understand and act with compassion. We can help one another by standing up for each other and blasting those stigmatized views out of existence. Today I want to thank my niece and all those who have stood with me over the years.Today I want to thank everyone who has stood for anyone else who is suffering needlessly in silence. Today I want to say I support you! You are not alone!