Mental Health Awareness Week

So it’s Mental Health Awareness Week until Sunday, and since I’ve been quite ‘off the radar’ I thought, what better time to come back than this week?

You see, the reason I’ve been AWOL is because I’ve been battling my anxiety for the past few months.

I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Probably even before then. I started self medicating from a young age. To spare you the messy details there was alcohol, smoking, drugs, self harm and suicidal ideation involved. But back then I had no idea that it was because of my anxiety, I just enjoyed the feeling of relief, those few moments when I managed to get out of my head.

Those moments were short lived, and so I started medicating more frequently, until I realised that I was going too far. Ok, I didn’t realise it by myself, I met someone who made me realise that self medication wasn’t the way to go.

So instead I immersed myself in meditation, spirituality, philosophy and learning. And that gave me temporary relief, but it was enough to get by. I still had no name for the emotions I was feeling.

It was only last year that I finally realised that what I was feeling wasn’t regular stress, but actual anxiety. I started having fainting spells because of all the stress and anxiety I was under, I stopped being able to sleep, my mind was making me see horrors in the dark. I became paranoid about the slightest thing. However, thankfully those moments would pass, and I would forget all about them. I figured that I was only experiencing the ‘normal’ amount of anxiety, and that once I did what had to be done, then the anxiety would go away. I still had no idea that what I had wasn’t ‘normal’ but an ‘extreme’.

Then from November till January I was under a lot of stress due to University work. I was constantly on the go. If I was on the bus I was working, when I got to work and I had nothing to do, I would be working on University things, or on work related to the student organization I was a member of. I was constantly on the go. And even though that gave me a lot of pleasure, I was constantly running on a high. It was as though I was running away from something. I lost touch with myself in the process.

After many restless nights, when the horror movies in my head became too much to handle, nights when I literally felt as though I was dying, I started to research. I realised that I definitely was not having a normal reaction to anxiety. It turned out I was having a normal reaction to anxiety, but it was my anxiety which was not normal.

I had a mental health issue.

But I didn’t accept it.

Yes, I could tell myself that I’m anxious, but I refused to seek help. I would handle it the way I always did. I started drinking again. I would tell myself that it helped me focus on my assignments, it was just a method to relax.

But the anxiety didn’t go away. Months started passing, and sometimes it would calm down, and I could sleep, and I wouldn’t keep checking over my shoulder to see if someone was following me.

But then it would just flare up again.

And finally, after about three nights in a row where I felt I was going to die, when my chest hurt and I would cry without control, and I finally admitted that yes, I needed help. I sent an email and made an appointment at the counselling unit the very next day.

Best decision of my life.

I’m still in therapy, but I already feel better. I still have anxiety, therapy doesn’t automatically take away the anxiety, take away that fear. But I’m starting to learn more about myself. I thought I was a very self aware person, but now I’m realising that the self medication was stopping me from being in touch with myself. And now I’m learning about myself, the good, the bad and the ugly. And I’m learning how to live with my anxiety, instead of expecting it to magically disappear.

So what’s my point? My point is that mental health is an important thing. One of the most important things we have. And it’s ok to have a mental health problem. It’s actually more common than you think. According to recent statistics, 1 in 4 of us have Anxiety, and 1 in 3 will have depression. So if you think of all the people you’ve met recently, you’ve definitely met someone who had anxiety, and another who had depression.

So during this week, please try find out as much as you can about mental health, particularly how you can help someone with a mental health problem. How to be there for someone. And if you have a mental health issue, then seek help. Find a friend you can confide in, or make an appointment at your nearest counselling unit. It’s actually not as scary as you think it is.

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