I remember the day I almost lost my job. It was right around the time I almost lost my mind.
As I walked down the street in the dim morning light, my breath puffing icily around my face in the cold February air, a sense of despair made it hard to breathe. It wasn’t a new feeling. It hit me often on my way to work. As I sat down to my desk that morning, I tried to talk myself into getting through the day.
Me: Just 7 hours and 59 minutes to go.
Also me: Do you know how much bullshit can happen in 7 hours and 59 minutes?
Me: Well, we’ll be fine.
Also me: Oh, you think so? What if you get a suicide call today? Or that lady who cursed you out last week?
Also me: *considers the possibility; panic intensifies*
Well it turns out “Also Me,” the nickname I’ve given my anxiety, was right. My very first call of that day was a complete disaster. I held myself together long enough to wrap up the call before rushing to the bathroom to cry. I stood there, my breath hitching in my chest, my heart racing. The conversation happening in my head was frantic.
Me: That was awful!
Also me: You think?! They’re going to fire you for this one.
Me: Yes, and then I’ll be jobless, and my savings will run out when I can’t find another job and I’ll become a burden to everyone and…
My panicked blubbering was interrupted by a supervisor who talked me down and encouraged me back to my desk. I hoped that call would be my last bad one, but after my third meltdown in two weeks, I knew I had to do something. I’d been working in that call centre for four years and was a tenured and exemplary employee, and now I had been in the manager’s office three times in two weeks. I requested time off. I figured I was just stressed. After a week at home, I prepped myself to go back to work, but panic gripped my chest. I called in sick and made a doctor’s appointment. He mentioned anxiety during that first visit. Within the next month, I’d got a confirmed diagnosis plus a side serving of depression and PTSD.
I hadn’t known. For years, I had been living with three undiagnosed mental health disorders. I finally had an explanation for why my chest felt like it was closing whenever I felt even remotely stressed, and sometimes for no reason at all. I now understood why getting out of bed sometimes felt impossible and nothing felt inspiring. I had a reason for why I’d jump out of my skin at the slightest noise or shut down completely even when I wanted to be present.
Getting an explanation and taking time off work didn’t make it all go away. In fact, it got worse before it got better. During my time off, there were weeks I didn’t leave my apartment at all. I’d spend days in bed, getting up only to use the bathroom, but I hardly slept. I went days without showering because the idea of going through the process was exhausting. I’d eat everything in sight or nothing at all. I either wrote obsessively, typing at my laptop for hours without sleeping, or I had no desire to write anything. The panic attacks were frequent and often without cause. On my 25th birthday, one of my closest friends had to undress me and put me to bed, not because I got drunk, but because I was too depressed to do it on my own.
But I hid it all. My struggles with my mental health were my biggest secret. I showed up to meetings, showered, immaculately dressed and with a smile on my face. I made deadlines. I launched a website. I attended social gatherings and socialized. Then I’d go home, strip down, and curl up in a ball in bed, unable to function properly for days afterwards. Lather, rinse repeat.
I think there are many who can relate. We are losing it behind closed doors but holding it together publicly because we think that’s what we’re expected to do. Our mental health is in shambles but we feel that we have to keep our struggles a secret because we think we’re weird. That secrecy only makes us feel more alone. It convinces us that we are the only ones suffering the way we are. And the idea that the universe has singled you out to suffer this particular way is horrifying. We all want to be special in good ways. Nobody wants to be the person whose brand of special comes labelled “undesirable.”
Something my therapist said to me broke me out of that cycle. I often told her I felt like an alien. I was always concerned with how far out my reactions to things seemed to be. I knew I lived in a world of irrationality, but I always worried by irrationality was different, strange. It’s a weird thing to worry about, I know, but anxiety and depression don’t give a damn about your expectations.
Every time I explained these feelings to my therapist, she’d say, “Don’t worry, that’s normal. You’re not special.” The first time she said it, she said, “I should rephrase that,” but I told her not to. I liked it. When it comes to my mental health, I am not special. Other people feel this, react like this, cope in this way. I am not unhinged in any way that others haven’t been. For a person living with trauma and battling an anxiety disorder, I am normal. I am not special.
This is why campaigns like #BellLetsTalk are so important. Because we need to talk. Opening up these discussions show us that there are others who are going through much of the same struggles we are. That our symptoms aren’t unique to us.
I can’t tell you an easy fix. If there is one, I haven’t found it. I am still struggling. There are still days that panic grips my chest and getting out of bed feels so hard. I am back at work still taking it one day at a time. But I can tell you this, you aren’t alone and you aren’t special. If you are suffering with anxiety, depression, PTSD, or any other mental health issue, you are not the only one, I promise.
If you need help, please talk to someone. Reach out to people you trust. See your doctor. Find a therapist. Do whatever you need to do to take care of your mental health.