My life is easy. Why should I have anxiety? Why should I ever experience depression?
For years, I denied myself treatment because of that mentality. Mental health is such a taboo issue that as a society, we don’t even know what it is. I am a fourth generation Polish American and I was taught with an old world mentality that life is generally painful, and if I don’t develop a thick skin and deal with it, I won’t survive. I was taught that doctors were thieves who want to take your money and give you pills. My ancestors settled in America not even 100 years ago and built lives out of soil and sweat. What do I have to complain about?
I’m not a psychologist and my opinions don’t matter. But I just don’t believe mental illness is that simple. I was born with anxiety, and to put it simply— my brain is wired differently. My thoughts are rapid, senses heightened, and I’m convinced I would survive a zombie apocalypse. My anxiety makes me do things out of fear of being an unsuccessful human being, whatever that means to me. I imagine that this genetic trait is what helped my ancestors survive in an otherwise unforgiving world. They traveled across the world with seeds in their pocket to escape poverty, oppression, and genocide. Surely in my millennial bubble of technology, video games, and consumerism, I should be grateful.
Have you heard all of this before? I’ve heard it all— anxiety and depression are for the underprivileged and weak, and if you should experience them otherwise, you’re an entitled and ungrateful little shit. There’s a rise of mental illness because we’re raising our children to be spoiled and never grow up.
This way of thinking is very flawed— stay with me for a second! Sure, there will always be lazy people in every generation. I’m not going to make excuses and tolerate laziness. But we’re doing a great disservice to those who make a sincere effort. First— my very first thoughts on this earth involve my childhood anxieties revolving a lack of control on my own life. I can’t change my brain function without medical intervention. Treatment can mean a lot of things— therapy, medication, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and even getting treatments for physical ailments that can cause or increase anxiety levels. Second— I didn’t grow up in a generation where alcohol and tobacco use was widely accepted without guilt. I can’t use substances to control my attitude without some serious consequences that are no longer acceptable. (Not to mention that this seems like a slow and painful death.) Third— it’s 2018. The only time I don’t use my mind to accomplish basic tasks is when I’m cleaning my house. The world we live in— whether at work, school, at the grocery store, and even sitting on our couches— requires constant processing of information. Our brains work on overdrive. If you think meditation, yoga, and mindfulness is a yuppie cliche, then you must have a lot of time in your life that you spend NOT thinking. If I want to shut my brain off, I have to schedule it on my calendar, even if it’s a weekend.
We are told that mental illness is only a word we can say when speaking of extremities. Imagine if we thought that way about our physical health? Physical illness has a range from common colds and flus to cancer and disease. Yet, we don’t cringe or judge people when we talk about doctor appointments and antibiotics. However, the moment we use the phrase “mental health” it suddenly becomes a heavily debated topic. We shouldn’t deprive ourselves of any self care simply because other people’s lives are worse than ours. I know plenty of successful people who weren’t half as sheltered as I was. We shouldn’t associate mental illness with those who are so sick they can’t help themselves. When we start seeing each other— regular people we interact with every day— as people who will ultimately experience mental illness at varying levels throughout the duration of their life— we can accept this as part of our reality. Anxiety and depression is not a choice people make. These illnesses are inherited, taught to us, or come and go with circumstance. One thing we can choose is to be kind to one another.