Just because ‘it’ was all in my head didn’t mean it was any less real. As I later learned, anxiety is rooted in an observable imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Nonetheless, growing up, I was dismissed with the words that I was “being overly dramatic” or that “I was too sensitive,” even though the thoughts constantly racing through my brain told me otherwise. I felt like I was walking through life with a maladapted body composed of jello, ready to fall apart at any moment. Symptoms like a fast, heavy heartbeat, constricted throat, visibly shaking limbs, panic and unease dogged me well into high school.
I got pretty depressed at some points. I hated that no matter how hard I worked, it didn’t seem to get me anywhere. I would have to study twice as long as my peers just to understand a simple concept because my brain felt like mush. A lot of the time, I’d find myself working on homework and simply giving up halfway because I couldn’t concentrate or I thought like I wouldn’t succeed anyway, so there was no point in even trying to. In social situations, I felt detached from my friends, constantly thinking of what they thought of me and assuming the worst. Overall, I went into things already having planned out the end result. It took me hours to calm myself down to fall asleep. I didn’t know how to be. I couldn’t fathom what was wrong. I tried everything from art to exercise, but nothing seemed to work. Life was just too overwhelming. I was trapped in a this frenzy of voices, movement and problems that I couldn’t break out of. Physically, I was exhausted and it made me wallow. It wasn’t fair – why did I have to be cursed with this?
After finally telling my parents that I needed to get help from a doctor – my plan Z – I was introduced to the world of mental health. It was a scary place at first, filled with strange acronyms and medication. The magic pill to make it all go away. It really was my last resort, since I had tried therapy, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I was assigned a psychiatrist – my initial understanding that the difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist being that the psychiatrist was the one who gave out the drugs – and she put the idea of taking medication in a whole new light. Mental health is technically physical, because it deals with the brain, arguably the most vital muscle in the body. Chemicals, such as serotonin, helped the thought process. Having anxiety meant there was an imbalance of serotonin in the brain, but the pills were SSRIs – serotonin reuptake inhibitors – that would balance out the chemical. She compared it to a person having diabetes, who had to take insulin to have their body function properly.
I realized the reason why the whole ordeal of not accepting my mental health state was because of stigma. We like to think that not having problems is the norm, so we feel pressured to act like such around others. When we ask “how are you?” the most socially acceptable response would be to say “fine.” Since we care so much about what other people think, we belittle mental health because we don’t want to be seen as “different.” The thing is, The National Institute of Mental Health reported that 1 in 4 adults – approximately 57.7 million Americans – experience a mental health disorder in a given year. American Journal of Public Health found that America’s leading cause of death by injury is suicide, surpassing car accidents. Dealing with mental illness is far from being outlandish, and we need to come together as a supportive culture, rather than one that tries to suppress feelings. If we do, we can save lives, and make a whole lot of them better.