“I suffer from an anxiety disorder and have been depressed at different points in my life. Anxiety is a debilitating, all-pervasive condition.
“Having anxiety means that I worry constantly and excessively for no apparent reason. It means that I fear social situations and thus might act in a way that is humiliating. I blame myself for things that may not be my fault, and I constantly feel guilty about things I had no control over. I have actual physical reactions in many situations; my heart rate increases, my breathing becomes shallow, and I can’t form sentences properly. I analyse everything I do or say to the extent that I drift away from conversations and interactions for minutes at a time. I do not feel worthy of anything, and I struggle with feelings of inferiority.
“From my anxiety has come my depression, and I consider the periods when I was depressed to be the darkest periods in my life.
“Being depressed is remarkably difficult and disempowering; which I only realised when I was no longer depressed. I grew to dislike my job, and going to work everyday took immense effort. My anxiety got worse, and I couldn’t get through a day without running to the loo in an effort to calm myself and avert an anxiety episode. I loved running, but I couldn’t run anymore. I tried to run and failed more often than I succeeded. I loved to read, but I stopped reading. I had no energy for anything. I beat myself up constantly for not doing the things that mattered to me. I became indifferent to my own self. I felt as hollow as a person could possibly feel. If life had ended then, I would have welcomed it.
“I didn’t know if I would recover, but I am grateful that I did.
“It is so important to acknowledge mental illnesses and the suffering experienced by people who have mental health difficulties. People with mental health problems are stigmatized in various parts of the world. We are called “mad” or “crazy”. We are told we are overreacting. We are expected to simply “get over it” because it is an invisible illness; because you can’t always see it, it cannot be real. Directly or indirectly, we are expected not to talk about it in the same way that we would about physical illnesses, and we are not given the same treatment as those with a physical illness, although it is frequently as debilitating.
“My experiences have taught me that even seeking help for it is considered to be a sign of weakness. There are so many harmful myths about mental health and the people who experience problems with it – that they arise because one has a weak mind, that they cannot be treated, that they lead to violent behaviour, and that they affect productivity at the workplace.
“I felt forced to hide my anxiety and depression, which made me feel hopeless and unworthy of help. Living with mental health difficulties is significantly more difficult when one feels like it’s their own fault.
“We must work to eradicate these myths and provide better support for those who suffer from anxiety and depression, or any mental illness, rather than letting them, us, suffer internally and often in silence.”
“It is my hope that we extend compassion and acceptance to people struggling with mental health difficulties, and encourage discussion around this integral component of human health and well-being.”
Photo credit: Harriet Evans and Oxford Skin Deep
Photo editing: Harriet Evans