raise your hand if you've ever been personally victimised by anxiety
i should begin with a disclaimer that this piece contains a certain amount of self-diagnosis which, usually, i condemn above all else but that, after earning a psych degree as the culmination of 4 years of studying the diagnosis criteria for just about every neurological condition under the sun, i feel confident in doing.
next up is a confession that, at one point, i would’ve been embarrassed by - but that, now, i realise is a pivotal concern in this nation’s understanding & handling of mental health. until probably this year, i really honestly thought that everyone’s mind worked the way mine does. i genuinely believed that everyone on this planet is as permanently anxious, agitated, and generally uneasy as i am. that it was just normal for your mind to go at 187,000mph all the time, every minute of every day. that it was just human nature to be unable to finish thinking about one worry without getting distracted by another one. i just thought i couldn’t handle it when everyone could. that i was just weak.
the problem with tackling mental health issues is that the desire for diagnosis is a polarising binary. some are relieved, overjoyed, set free by a diagnosis. to finally understand that what they feel, how they act, has a concrete explanation that isn’t their fault - isn’t just them being bad or stupid or weak - can be the ultimate liberation. to others, it’s a death sentence. and understandably so. the stigma we, as a supposedly civilised & apex culture, attach to neurological issues is beyond comprehension. as a result, a horrifying proportion of sufferers never seek out a diagnosis and, consequently, will never be provided with support.
the NHS, for all its best efforts, will inevitably go down the same route as the USA - medicate first, ask questions later. because it’s easier. it’s cheaper. it’s more time-efficient. despite the magnitude of empirical research that demonstrates the overwhelming success of schema-altering therapies such as CBT, during my time as a psych undergrad - hoping to go on to study clinical psych for my doctorate - we were repeatedly told how unwise a choice it was. glasgow’s clinical course had, i believe, 20 places - and was one of only a handful in the UK, never mind scotland. simultaneously, however, I graduated after 4 years with more knowledge of mental health & the brain than foundation doctors have after double that time. because mental health is not the priority. i could tell you more about neurological conditions than a non-specialist GP could - and yet they have the power to prescribe drugs.
arriving at my point after a slightly diverted route, the crux of the matter is that i could go into a doctor’s office tomorrow and blag myself a prescription for benzodiazepines, SSRIs, or beta blockers. but, while i am fully fully aware that - for a huge proportion of people - medication is life-affirming, the issue is that i don’t want my life to change. as much as it bothers me that i’m pretty much constantly on edge, restless, and worried - not to mention the compulsive skin-picking (RIP cuticles - more on that another time) that my anxiety drives - i also know that my overdrive mind fuels my creativity, my determination, my passion. as frustrating and debilitating as it can be some days, i cherish my mind above all else. so, for me, the key is learning to manage it, rather than suppress it. learning to identify, compartmentalise, analyse behaviours - whether they're unrealistic and/or unhelpful, learning the patterns, changing the outcome.
this has turned into a longer diatribe than i was anticipating, so i’ll write a separate piece on my strategies for trying to be a normal human person later this week. hint: less sitting panic-stricken alone in my bedroom, more heavy weights and sweating.
it’s important for me to clarify, lastly, that if you think you have anxiety, or any other kind of mental health issue, you should go & talk to your GP, regardless of how worthwhile you think it’ll be. not understanding your own mind, and what it’s doing to you, can be a terrifying & lonely reality. which, incidentally, is why the representation and stigmatisation of neurological conditions in society/the media will fuel another rant for another day.
and, so importantly, reach out to people. the act of speaking to even just one other person who can sympathise, empathise, or inform, can be the difference between unbridled tormented anguish and redeeming relief.
our brains are terrifying things. be kind to each other, be kind to yourself. do no harm, take no shit.