I want to talk about mental health.
Now, I know that this is a travel blog and that my last three posts have barely been about travel, but my mental health is very much an undercurrent of why I travel and why I chose to move halfway across the world. My mental health and all of it’s various states of disarray, is why I have chosen to do (and not do) just about everything in my life.
I promise I will get back to my lighthearted posts about my adventures soon. Just…not today.
There seems to be a stigma surrounding mental health and how we talk about it.
In a world where the pressure is constantly upon us to “hustle” and succeed, a world where we are consistently thrown conflicting ideas about the art of making it and getting your fifteen minutes of fame, the thought of having a declining mental wellness often comes with a great deal of shame. When you’re told that you have to never give up or falter in order to become successful, the days (or weeks or months) when you can’t even get out of bed in the morning feel like moments of personal weakness and failure.
When starting the dialogue about mental health, there is so much ground to cover. There is, of course, the need to erase the correlation between crime and mental illness and how when negative colloquialisms like “psycho” are thrown around it greatly deepens the stigma. However, what I want to get into right now- though I’d love to get more into the above one day- is the shame that surrounds dealing with mental health.
As I mentioned in my last post, I have dealt with anxiety and depression my entire life. Despite this, I did not start prioritizing my mental health until recently.
Up until a few months ago, I’ve spent the majority of my adult life avoiding my problems instead of dealing with them in order to prove something to the world and to myself. When I did deal with them, it seemed to make my problems worse because realizing how severe my anxiety and depression were encased me with so much shame. I felt as if I was a failure because, back then, I believed succumbing to my sadness meant that I was weak and not good enough and that if I let myself deal with it, I would never succeed.
I never really spoke about the worst of it, other than occasionally saying how anxious I was about something but never going into the details about how an anxiety attack felt like a heart attack or how my depressive episodes literally made the entire world look grey and my body feel heavy.
Of course, I realize now that my avoidance of my own pressing needs was really the only culprit holding me back from any sort of success.
Yet, I wasn’t the only one helping me learn to avoid it.
During the most traumatic year of my life, I was dating someone who pushed me away during a panic attack and told me to suck it up. There were a million people in the world who had it worse than me. I lay there and kept trying to breath on my own, the shame rising in my chest. I remember thinking: if I want to be loved, I have to pretend that I’m alright. After him and I broke up, I got very good at pretending.
I know I am not the only person who has dealt with shame while trying to deal with their mental health.
At one point last year, my shame had gotten to an all time high. I avoided my health for so long that finally, the anxiety and depression grew to epic proportions. It was like a monster knocking on my front door. I couldn’t avoid it anymore and because I was too ashamed to ask for help, I suddenly became a shitty employee, student, daughter, and friend.
Instead of avoiding the skeletons in my closet, I began avoiding the people around me because I was too ashamed to let them worry, too afraid that they’d just tell me to stop whining.
Here’s a pro-tip: if you know someone that is suffering from anxiety and depression or really any mental illness for that matter, don’t tell them to suck it up. Don’t feed them with some motivational line you read on a poster or tell them to smile. Instead, just listen. Be there for the people that you love and allow them to be there for you.
Now, I am not saying that since I have moved to Europe, I am suddenly free from all mental health issues. I can’t say that because it wouldn’t be true. Hell, last night I stayed up until 5 am working myself into a full blown panic attack over something so incredibly small.
What has changed since I’ve moved here, though, is that I’m not being quiet about my mental health problems anymore. For once in my life, I am making my mental health a priority and I am not ashamed.
I’ve realized that the shame surrounding mental illness makes those suffering from it feel even worse.
I know now that just because I am not a type-A personality who believes that the only way to win in life is to never stop hustling does not make me any less successful in life. No matter what you’ve been lead to believe, there is no true pathway or prototype for success.
Having a mental health issue does not mean you are a failure. Prioritizing your mental health does not make you a bad person.
This is why we need to start talking about mental health. Often and at length.
If we continue the conversation and the discourse about the issues that we face, we may truly begin to lift the stigma and the shame surrounding it.
Suggested Listening For This Post: How To Disappear Completely, Radiohead
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