I have an anxiety disorder. A rather nasty one. This is something that I don’t talk about at great length usually, because it’s personal, and because it means telling a world full of strangers that I don’t function normally. But some rather brave bloggers have been sharing their stories lately, so I’ve been inspired. More agonizingly, some rather brave soldiers have been taking their lives because of the silence surrounding mental health, so I’ve been outraged. So, for the layman who maybe can’t really grasp the whole mental illness concept, here’s an introduction to four of the most common culprits you’re going to meet.
THE MENTAL ILLNESS FAMILY
When the major mental illnesses came into this world, it is theorized* that it was something akin to the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, except instead of Death, Pestilence, Famine, and War, there was Depression, Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive, and Post-Traumatic Stress.
|Depression thoughtfully insists you lay back down on the couch.|
Depression was the firstborn child of the mental health apocalypse. An over-achiever, Depression has put in the work, done his homework, and scores straight A’s in all he endeavours. Depression likes attention; he holds it by making sure that he’s present in every area of your life. If you’re roomies with depression, you know that he’s got influence over your social outtings, self esteem, and even your ability to feel. In fact, he’s so good at what he does, he can even make your body hurt. He’s that really bad boyfriend your mom told you to drop, except you never get to drop him and now he’s moved in with you, eaten all the Cheet-os, and refuses to get out of bed in the morning.
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD)
|OCD's motto: the more you double check, the more you double check.|
OCD is the youngest sibling. She is seen as being a little less capable than her brethren, because with a lot of hard work many people manage to shake off her agonizing grip—at least for a time. She is, however, the most cunning and manipulative of the family. OCD is so seductive, she can convince an otherwise completely sane man to go check that the iron is off twenty times, until he’s late for work. She can whisper in a woman’s ear and urge her to wash the whole load of dishes just one more time to be sure there’s no germs. She can wiggle one little finger and a totally healthy young man will spend the whole drive home convinced he’s going to hit a pedestrian…on the middle of the highway...when there’s no possible chance of this being true. OCD also has a neat little habit of donning a new disguise and heading out into the world under the name of Anorexia, Bulimia, and other nasty alter-egos.
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD)
|PTSD: the man of misery.|
PTSD, who often historically went by the nickname “Shell Shock”, is the black sheep of the family. PT is the Hsibling that no one likes to talk about; it is rumoured that he is the even-more-evil twin of Depression. Je’s such a hot mess, the rest of the family doesn’t really like to associate with him--unlike the rest of his family, he isn’t mentioned around the dinner table in even the most educated households. Truth be told, the other siblings may be jealous because PT takes the cake when it comes to getting terrible shit done. And like the devil himself, his greatest trick has been convincing the world he doesn’t exist. He likes most to hang around our soldiers, sexual assault victims, and the abused. He’s the kid who got kicked out of school because no one wanted to deal with him. This is one dangerous mofo; he’s like the ex that ignores the restraining order and forces you to move across country and change your name. Except he’ll find you, anyway. Bad news.
|Enjoying the party? Anxiety will fix that.|
Anxiety is the middle child. She feels overshadowed by her eldest sibling, Depression; and resents the attention spent on her youngest sibling, OCD. Consequently, Anxiety tends to sit, quietly and moodily in silence, until she suddenly throws a tantrum. The tantrums typically mean that her host will have a 10- to 60-minute blinding, sweaty, tunnel-visioned panic attack. The rest of the time, Anxiety is kinda lazy: she likes to keep her host on edge by constantly whispering vagaries, like, “Last time you did this you had a panic attack. Don’t bother trying it again,” and, “Everyone in this room hates you. Leave now before you do something stupid.” Once she’s got a hold on you, she needs to expend very little energy to keep you walking on eggshells. Anywhere you go, Anxiety goes with the flow: she can find something to panic over just about anywhere. With a lot of work, you may manage to keep her out of your head so that getting through your workday isn’t so hard anymore; but she’ll just change tactics, and you’ll find that something as simple as a coffee date with a friend is suddenly terrifying. Don’t even bother trying to travel, take a bus, talk to a stranger, get through an interview, drive on a highway, walk your dog at night time, or watch a scary movie. Her favourite time to visit is right before bed, and first thing in the morning. She’s that leechy friend in high school who starts wearing all the same clothes that you do, styling her hair the same way, and following you everywhere, until one day you realize you’ve become a permanently-connected duo.
SO, THOSE ARE THE KIDS.
Pretty nasty bunch, eh? What’s tragic is that 1 in 5 Canadians have a mental health disorder, and 25% of teen deaths are suicides. What’s important to know here is that the more we try to deny our affiliation with these supervillians, the easier it is for them to glom onto the vulnerable and drag them down. The more we pretend that anxiety, depression, or their siblings are a ‘personality flaw’ or a ‘choice’, the more we empower these monsters to run rampant. But you’ve heard the stats a hundred times before; hopefully this more intimate and animated introduction will help you to understand what we, those living with mental health disorders, feel. This is not like catching a cold or having a sick day; this is like having Annie Wilkes from Misery hovering over your bed, hobbling you from the inside-out. And our one best hope for stopping these jerk-offs is to stop pretending they don’t exist.
To those who may be in distress while reading this: please call someone for help. Here are numbers for Canada, and a number for the entire USA. If you live elsewhere or these aren’t helpful links, google search “Crisis Line + [YOUR CITY]”and if that still doesn’t work, call somewhere that isn’t your city. You can feel better. It can get better. I swear.