I am 24 years old and I live with depression and anxiety, specifically social anxiety. I can remember being in elementary school, probably around 12 years old, and feeling such a deep melancholy inside. I would also get so anxious that I would become physically ill. This is when I began showing signs of Dermatophagia (the compulsion to gnaw, chew and eat your skin) and mild Trichotillomania (impulse control disorder where you pull at/out your own hair). In high school it got worse and I became even more self-destructive. My fingers were constantly bleeding from all my anxious chewing. Looking back I never knew it for what it is. I think at that age symptoms get brushed off as hormones or “part of growing up.” But there is a big difference.
I am currently not being treated medicinally for my mental health issues. It’s a deeply personal choice I’ve made. Up until a year and a half ago, I didn’t acknowledge my own struggles. I had been in a relationship with someone that lived with chronic depression. I had become so focused on making sure that he was okay, that I neglected to acknowledge how bad my own mental health had gotten. I’ve watched people I love go through the process of finding medication that works for them and I’ve witnessed the toll it can take. As someone that has a negative relationship with pills already, I prefer not to take them.
Although meds are important to many individuals and can be necessary, the treatment path is just not for me. I have a routine that I follow including dietary changes, therapy work and a great deal of personalized self-care to ensure that I stay as healthy as possible. I think the important thing to remember is that treatment varies widely from person to person. Just because one thing works for someone, doesn’t mean it works for another.
Most of the time I am experiencing some sort of symptoms. Pressure in my chest, the feeling that I can’t take a full breath, nervous sweating and cramps, a heaviness that doesn’t seem to go away. I also have specific triggers that will send me into a spiral and it’s taken a lot of time and growth to recognize what those triggers are in order to avoid them. Saying “no” has become my new best friend.
When it comes to relationships, it can be hard. I think on the one hand, I’ve become a very empathetic and understanding friend and partner but on the other, it can be tiring and difficult trying to navigate relationships when mental illnesses are involved. I think it takes a great deal of work and self-awareness to learn how you function, how that functioning impacts others and how your loved ones react to your ups and downs. It’s necessary to surround yourself with understanding people.
Society can be harsh. The stigma around mental illness is still going strong despite how much progress we’ve made the last few years. People need to realize that mental illness really is a physical illness. Sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance, sometimes it shows with an increased heart rate and muscle tightening and stomach issues. Just because it takes place in the mind does not make it a choice. This is why medication can be so vital by balancing out those bodily reactions. I also want people to know that judging the severity of someone’s illness based on how they treat it is ignorant and irresponsible. Judging another’s illness at all is not okay. To those seeking treatment, keep fighting until you find something that works. Do your research, find what you are comfortable with, and never be ashamed of your choices.
Although I do not believe it is the responsibility of someone struggling to educate those that are not, there are ways that we can aid in normalizing the discussions around mental illness. Talking about it openly is a good start! Social media can be a great outlet for this but it is vital to acknowledge that some people are stuck in their ways of thinking and trying to get them to understand what it is like can be extremely harmful to your mental wellbeing. Even talking openly about your illness can be tiring, but it is appreciated by those that have not found their voice yet. We have to fight for those that are struggling in silence. In the end, educating yourself on things that you do not understand can go a long way.
My experience with mental illness, both directly and indirectly, has shaped who I am completely. I feel like I’ve been forced to grow up in ways that some of my counterparts have not. Although it’s been tough, I am stronger for it. I will forever be grateful for the obstacles I’ve fought through. My heart, my mind and my soul have never been stronger.
#dontcallmecrazy. My name is Britt Powers and I have #socialanxiety, but it does not have me.
- Britt Powers, 2018