Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Panic Attacks Aren't Funny

My friend recently related to me a story in which she had a panic attack while trying to drive a manual car. As a fellow anxiety-ridden member of society, I could relate because while learning to drive stick a couple weeks ago, the vehicle stalled out while I was pulling into traffic and was lengthwise across the entire road, not moving, and I was inside, close to vomiting, tears forming in my eyes, on the brink of a panic attack, when a kind friend hopped in the driver seat and got me across the road.

Now the difference between our two situations is large. While I was saved from my panic attack, allowed to calm down, and then helped to learn what I did wrong and calmly taught how to drive correctly, she was recorded, and then mocked for the fact she was hysterical trying to figure out how to drive this car.

This instance is telling of a large problem that pervades society. Mental illnesses are frequently treated like a joke. As a consequence, symptoms that signal someones needing help are treated like a joke. The end result? Being harassed by a video of yourself in hysterics because you can't drive a stick shift and you're scared that it keeps stalling out.

There is a large amount of stigma that surrounds mental health problems. As a society, many people don't want to talk about anxiety, depression, bipolarity, OCD, or the hundreds of other illnesses that one could have. They want the people who have these problems to "just get over it" to "quit being so sad all the time" to not be themselves. To be "normal". But we are normal. Normality for me is occasionally crying because I took too much soda and people might think I'm selfish or gluttonous. Normal for me is crying because something isn't perfect no matter how many times I try. Normal for me is having a long span of good days followed by some really horrid days. That's life. I have depression and anxiety. I am normal for me.

Just because people with mental health problems aren't someone else's idea of normal doesn't mean that they deserve to be treated as a joke. I've mentioned before how harmful it is to invalidate symptoms of major mental health issues. I should have been treated for anxiety ages ago. Instead,  I just got on medication five months ago. And these symptoms can take all forms.

For example. I sleep a lot. In fact, I went through a period of two months last year where I barely left my bed. Now I go to bed at 230 pm, wake up at 6 pm, eat dinner and am back in bed by midnight so I can sleep until 830 pm. Most people read this as lazy. My boyfriend, my doctor, and a therapist I saw once continue to be worried about the fact that my depression makes me incapable of doing anything that doesn't require a pillow and blanket.

Then there's the whole anxiety thing. Anxiety comes in many forms. In fact it is diagnosed in many different forms as well. Panic attacks look different on everyone. For me I become nauseous, obsessive, jumpy, and hysterically tearful at the worst. On the mild end I just zone out, and become nauseous. My friend gets hysterical in the way that she is laughing and crying at the same time and doesn't know what to do. Panic attacks are paralyzing. They are terrifying. And when the people you are around are mocking you for it, they are the most embarrassing thing in the world.

By mocking those who suffer from serious mental health issues, you are contributing to their fear of seeking help. When I went to the doctor's office to be officially diagnosed I was so embarrassed that I couldn't control myself that I almost walked out of the clinic after checking in. I was there because I had such horrid suicidal thoughts that I checked myself into a hospital and they told me the best course of action was medication to level me out. But still, all I could think of was what people were going to say about the new "crazy" version of me.

All my life people called me spoiled, bratty, dramatic, a cry-baby, weird, and psycho. For problems that I couldn't control. And that's why, at 22 years old, I still couldn't quite manage to take myself to the doctors office to get help for depression and anxiety so bad I was losing control of my entire life.

Here's what my probably disconnected thinking train wreck post is all meaning to say. You cannot mock people for their mental health problems. Mocking people with mental health problems only perpetuates the stigma that surrounds mental health issues in general. Do not be that one person that prevents someone from getting help because you have to be funny, because you have to draw attention to someone else's embarrassment, because you are too ignorant to recognize when someone clearly needs help.

Gain awareness. End the stigma. Think about someone besides yourself.


Post a Comment