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Not That You Asked

Sharing Our Stories

Brain Fork

If you are reading this post and your first instinct is to cringe or feel embarrassed for me, don’t. That reaction says more about you than it does about me, and you may want to ask yourself why you feel those things. Feel how you want to feel—it’s your right—but know that I am not ashamed.

There is no shame in admitting that you have or struggle with mental health issues. There are no good mental health issues or bad mental health issues, there is just mental health. Some of us, like me, deal with depression and anxiety. Some of us look like we struggle with mental health issues (whatever that looks like), and some of us look normal (whatever that looks like). We all have good days, and we all have bad days. We all cope in our own ways. Some of us choose to keep our stories to ourselves, and some of us choose to share our stories with others.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.”

Brené Brown

I am not ashamed to talk about my struggles with mental health. I talk about them so that if there is someone out there who needs to know that they are not alone, they know that I am here. I talk about my struggles so that someone reading or hearing about my life may begin to feel less shame about their own struggles. I talk about my struggles so that if you are someone who suspects that someone you care about may be struggling, that you may feel empowered to reach out.

If you are struggling, talk to someone you trust. Ask for help. Schedule that therapy appointment if you are able to. If you encounter an obstacle like a doctor who doesn’t acknowledge the validity of therapy or one who is quick to prescribe medications without evaluating your needs first, go elsewhere. There are hotlines, websites, chats, and even apps. Talk to someone, anyone, even if it is just to say that you are not okay. If someone asks you if you’re okay, answer them honestly.

If you think that someone you know or care about is struggling, let them know that you are there for them, no questions asked. Let them know that you’ll help however you are able to help.

Do not invalidate them by telling them that they seem fine or that things could be worse.

Do not tell them about that time you “went through the same thing.” It is not a competition.

Do not tell them to “get over it.” If you wouldn’t say it to a person with [insert physical illness here], don’t say it to a person struggling with mental health issues.

Do not tell them that they just need to exercise, use essential oils, or go [insert exclusionary diet here]. Do not tell them that they should be happy, smile more, or be positive. Do not tell them that they need to pray, meditate, or lighten up. Trust me, WE HAVE TRIED.

Listen. Be kind. Don’t judge. Ask them what they need. Ask how you can help.

This post has been shared in honor of World Mental Health Day.

Not OK

An edited version of this post appeared on The Mighty on September 29, 2016.

Anxiety is an asshole

Yesterday on our way to work, I told Ryan that my therapist asked how I was dealing with the possibility of his death. I hadn’t intended to broach that subject with him; it’s morbid and pessimistic. He, however, brings it up regularly. I’m the optimist, he’s the pessimist.

If you follow me on social media, or if you caught the last post here, you know that Ryan needs a kidney transplant. At first the timeline for his transplant seemed like it would be in a year or two. That timeline soon became six months and now it needs to happen as soon as possible. It’s a lot to try to comprehend and prepare for.

Ryan asked why my therapist had brought up that topic and if she was concerned about him. I laughed and emphasized that she’s concerned about me. She’s concerned about how I will handle it and about how I’ll deal with it on top of everything else that’s going on in my life. She wants me to be prepared for the possibility. She also knows that I’m worried that I’ll get to the point that I somewhat jokingly call “losing my shit.” That is the point where I know that everything has become too much and that I need to ask for more help in the form of medications or in-patient programs. Those are the things that I am trying so, so hard to avoid.

Anxiety is an asshole, or, more precisely, panic disorder with agoraphobia, is an asshole.

Ryan looked at me and said reassuringly, “You’re fine. You’re doing OK. You haven’t lost your shit.”

I paused, then said, “No, actually, I am not OK.” He said it again, confirming what he thought to be true. I replied, “No, I’m not, and your saying that I am isn’t helping. Saying that I’m OK doesn’t actually make me OK. It doesn’t make it better.”

He looked at me, puzzled, and said, “But you seem OK. You seem fine. You’re … you.”

That’s what I do. I can compartmentalize with the best of them. I can be outwardly OK while my inner monologue is a mix of primal screams and a repeating chorus of how not enough I think I am. Some days I am certain that I’m going to be found out, that someone is going to notice that my crazy is showing. Someone is going to tell me that I am, in fact, not capable of handling this or anything, that I possess a character flaw that guarantees that I will lose my shit at any moment. I am equally worried that someone will judge me for not being not-OK enough, for not falling apart as much or as quickly as I should be.

I can even fail at having enough anxiety. What the actual fuck, anxiety? GTFO.

So, when you ask me if I’m OK, I might say that I am. And, for that moment and for that interaction, I am. It’s not a lie, but it’s not the entire truth.

If you ask me if I’m OK, and I say that I’m not, know that I trust you enough to know that about me. Know that I trust you enough to understand that while I might not be OK, I’m OKish. Know that I trust you enough to not judge me for my not-OK-ness. Know that I trust you to not judge my problems as “not real problems” or to not tell me that “things could be worse.” (Fuck you, judgment police.) Know that I don’t need your pity but that I do need you to know that I’m doing the best that I can every single day.* Know that I’m doing my best even when my best is watching 10 episodes of Veronica Mars in a row because that’s all I can handle.

And that? That is absolutely enough. That is definitely OK.

*For the record, when I wrote that line about doing my best, I cried. Hard. Sometimes even I forget that I’m trying, and I judge myself harshly for it.