Over the past two weeks, I have seen some fantastic videos and posts on Facebook about the truth behind mental health and mental illnesses. Much of this has stemmed from Buzzfeed’s Mental Health Week (posts and videos here), which has encouraged individuals around the world to break free of society’s silence and speak without fear of the stigmas that surround disorders like anxiety, ADHD, and depression.
While I don’t often talk about mental health in person or in word, I felt like I should stop hiding and do my own part to speak up and move beyond the stigma that mental illnesses are “flaws” in someone’s character. The truth is that thousands of people, especially students on college campuses, face the reality of mental illnesses every single day. With this in mind, I decided to start a short series about living life (on and off campus) with a mental illness. After a lot of thought, I decided to start the Dear Anxiety Series by opening up about my own life and mental illnesses with a letter to the disorder that started it all: anxiety.
Sometimes, I wonder why you chose me to be your constant companion. Why my mind is always racing with fear. Why phantom chest pains keep me awake at night, why I can never shake the sickening sense that I’m worthless, inadequate, a failure. I can’t help but wonder….
You’d think it would be simple, right? We’ve been friends for so long– I can’t help that I’m a panic driven perfectionist. I should be able to control the fear after all these years. And yet, dear Anxiety, you still manage to overpower the joys of my accomplishments and make me wonder if there are any triumphs in my life at all.
Sometimes I wonder why people don’t understand that my life with you is a maddening game of “what if”. They always tell me not to worry, as if I can snap my fingers and make you vanish. But I can’t–not when you’re around, constantly whispering those two little words….
What if…. What if…. What if….
You’re my talkative roommate. Sure, I can silence your cries with medication, but what if I’m too scared to face the silence? I know you’re always waiting at the door of my mind, waiting for your friends to join the party. I wish everyone would realize that I can shut the door on Depression, Panic and Paranoia, Anorexia, OCD, Self Harm– all your many loud and noisy friends–but I can’t lock them out forever.
That’s the truth, Anxiety. We are friends forever, even if others can’t see you standing next to me. I never have to wonder or question if you’re there, because I know you’re inside. Waiting. You’re always waiting to rise to the surface and leave me paralyzed by my own nightmarish thoughts.
Sometimes I wonder, dear Anxiety. Then I realize that these mental musings are just another form of “what if”.
What if I didn’t have you, Anxiety? Would I leave my room without a pang in my stomach? Would I speak without stuttering and listen without ripping every word into a million illogical meanings? Would I be allowed to be myself without facing shame and stigma? The questions are infinite, flowing into that all too familiar mantra of….
What if…. What if…. What if….
In the end, I can’t escape you. We’re like the best of friends–inseparable, always playing our irrational games of worst-case-scenario and imagined failure. Even when I try to imagine a life alone, I find myself finding you, dear Anxiety. I’m afraid that we’re indistinguishable, in the end.
Still, a part of me refuses to accept defeat. After all, even the closest of friends are different….
Yes, sometimes I wonder and ask questions; however, I am not you, dearest Anxiety. I am my own person, even if I continue to ask the question of “what if”. I am the one in control, so stop trying to control and conquer me. Stop inviting too many friends over without my permission. Stop trying to convince me that I’m worthless and that I’m incapable of achieving my dreams….
Yet once again, I can’t help but wonder…. Anxiety, what if you actually listened to me?
There we are: an unsigned letter to my anxiety, because I was too anxious about posting this to come up with an actual ending. Now it’s your turn. What would you say if you wrote a letter to mental illness?
If you liked this post, you might be interested in reading my letter to perfectionists: Your GPA Does Not Define You.