it’s okay to ask for help
If I have learned anything over the last few months, it’s that asking for help is hard. For me, it’s akin to admitting failure. I don’t mind so much if it’s a little thing, like please open this can for me because I have scrawny little arms and no patience. But when it comes to the big things? Forget it. I would rather run myself into the ground than admit I’m having trouble.
And trouble is something that I have definitely been having lately. It started with difficulty breathing at work, a feeling that my clothes were too tight and constricting my airways. Soon it blossomed into full-blown panic attacks; ones that left me with my hand on the receiver ready to dial an ambulance, and convinced that I had finally cracked.
I’m not a stranger to panic attacks. You can’t be as neurotic and excitable as me without them; and you just have to take one look at my family to see that nature definitely plays a large part in my case. But I had never felt like this before.
I have always been a very ‘mind over matter’ kind of gal. I believed that we are all able to, with enough hard work, think ourselves happy (and in my case, calm). So when I started to feel like this a few months ago I broke out the relaxation tapes, began doing yoga regularly, spent lots of time outside, started making lots of healthy home-cooked meals and got the perfect amount of sleep every night.
And it worked. For a while.
But soon, while I continued all of those things, the panic started again and got worse and worse. I spent all of relaxation twitching and actually getting more worked up, and yoga was a tortured mess of worried thoughts.
And of course I blamed myself for not being able to snap out of it. I mean, nothing screams failure like not being able to control your own mind. Every day I promised myself that I would try harder and be better. I said yes to everything people asked me to do, and went to every social gathering, to prove to myself that it wasn’t affecting my life even though I was miserable every time I left the house.
And then a few weekends ago I broke down. It was panic attack after panic attack and I just lay in bed feeling like the world was falling down around me. And as I lay there, freaking out and struggling for breath, I realised that I just couldn’t do it by myself anymore.
And that I needed to ask for help.
Now I’m an open kind of person who wears my heart on my sleeve. I trust in medical professionals and will always now, after my experience with anorexia, choose mental health over my pride. But even I had a lot of trouble finally making the appointment and telling someone. I can see now why so many people don’t ask for help until sometimes, it is too late.
My biggest issue with asking for help was embarrassment. There are ad campaigns and increasing awareness about a whole range of psychological disorders (though there is still little to no awareness about psychotic disorders – but that’s an article for another day) and yet, there is still stigma. There is this idea that the person just isn’t trying hard enough. That they need to start appreciating life and stop feeling sorry for themselves or, in my case, stop making ‘mountains out of molehills’. And nothing has more stigma than medication for mental disorders It is seen as a cop-out; a way of hiding from problems rather than facing them head-on.
Being that I write for Lip, I have decided to tell people about my decision to start a year long process of medication and therapy. I can’t exactly write articles saying that there is nothing to be embarrassed about if I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone. So I did tell people, and yes, I did encounter a lot of negative responses, most along the lines of that I’m lazy and that medication is just a placebo.
But rather than getting angry, I have decided to start using my experience to educate people. Sometimes mind over matter just does not work. Sometimes bombarding yourself with positive thinking just does not work. If it were really that simple, we wouldn’t have such a high rate of depression and anxiety. Nobody wants to feel that way and you can bet that when someone does begin to, they are going to try their absolute hardest to beat it. But the human brain is a complicated thing and doesn’t always do what we want it to. And when that happens, we should be encouraging people to seek help, rather than expecting them to battle it out alone.
Stigma is never going to be challenged if we give in to our embarrassment and hide our problems away like they’re something to be ashamed of. We need to tell the world that is okay to seek help and to try and change our lives in a positive way. So many of us do go through these rough patches, and yet instead of talking about it together, we hide it away and while doing so, keep that sense of shame alive. The more people that speak up about their experiences, the less stigmatised these issues will be.
While I do still feel a small bit of shame writing this, underneath it all there is an enormous sense of pride. Because asking for help takes a lot of bravery, and admitting that you just can’t do it by yourself anymore takes even more so.
(Image credit: 1.)