There is nothing quite like feeling like no one truly understands you and living in a society that promotes that attitude is even worse. I've been active on social media for years and for those of you who are also on social media, I think you'll know what I'm getting at in saying that it often brings out the worst in people. Everyone is so much more horrible and nasty if they feel they have an ounce of anonymity. Even if you can see their account name, they still don't have to say these things face to face in person. Social graces go out the window. People choose to target complete strangers online and project their own insecurities or frustrations onto them and it's awful. BUT- there is also the flip side. People on social media also only tend to post their triumphs. Life can look perfect. But we all need to realize how deceiving that is. The number of times I've been told "Wow! I wish I had your life!" is excessive and honestly, reading these comments pains me because I look at them and think "If only you knew." I don't truly believe that people would honestly want to trade lives with me just to be able to own horses and ride like I do. They just see the equine part of my life which looks good even during bad parts... Because, at least I have horses, right?
So, I wanted to talk a bit about living with anxiety and depression. These seemingly "invisible" illnesses. No matter how awkward, out of place or borderline panicky I feel, I've realized that I'm pretty good at hiding it. More often than not, even people who know me exceptionally well do not pick up on this internalized panic. I spend my days worrying. Constantly. Whilst driving, I worry that I'm going to get t-boned when I make a turn, despite there being no cars present. I worry about family members getting into car accidents, having heart attacks and leaving me behind in this life. I worry about people close to me deciding they want nothing to do with me and leaving me behind. I worry that my friends hate me. That it's all an act they put on because they feel bad for me, that I'm simply a burden to them. I worry about my horses, getting injured or dying, knowing that I could not cope with that. I worry constantly. Every minute of the day, my body is on high alert. Muscles tensed. Heart racing. Sometimes, I don't even have an exact reason. I just feel on the verge of panicking... And people hardly ever notice. Don't get me wrong, it's not their fault. I hide it well because I DON'T want them to know. I fear talking about it, not because I don't want to, but because I don't know how to explain it and feel uncomfortable talking about it. Speaking about it out loud often times gives me more anxiety. So, people remain in the dark about how I'm truly feeling, often times the only tell is how much I fidget. Which is also constantly.
Now, aside from the worries, I can hardly ever focus on one activity at a time. I always feel like I have SO much to do, even on days that I don't really have all that much to do. I plan out a schedule and get stressed if I fall behind. I feel like everyone needs a piece of me and when I have set times for shifts and appointments but things to do before and/or after, it is extremely bothersome to me. Even when watching TV, I almost always need to be doing something else on top of that. My mind cannot stop. I'm constantly having random, intrusive thoughts popping into my head and often times, when I try to stop them, it just gets worse. It's like my brain is an intersection where all traffic lights are broken and there's cars coming in from every which way, narrowly missing each other as they pass by. It's a mess. It is anxiety.
Often times, depression and anxiety go hand in hand. So, lucky for me (not), I also struggle with depression on and off. More often than not, it's seasonal and I find myself far more depressed in the fall and (especially) winter months. So, here I am, falling into the lethargy and emptiness that seems to accompany depression. And it's about 10 times worse when you spend all the energy you do have fidgeting and being stressed about things that most people don't even think about. I often feel like everyone needs a piece of me. Like it's my job to ensure their happiness. They don't put this pressure onto me, it's all on myself but with the other goings on in my family life and others close to me, my struggles are the least of worry. It's my duty to be the good kid. The one on a straight path and the one who knows what they want. The one that people don't have to worry about. I strive to fit into that cookie cutter and be that person because I don't want to be a burden. And, you have to understand, that my anxiety and depression issues (no matter how I may have made them sound) do not hold a candle to the substance abuse issues that I have to cope with in other people close to me.
Like anxiety and depression, addiction is a mental illness and largely misunderstood and condemned by society. This is not my story to tell fully, but it is a piece of my life so I just want to talk about the lack of support for all mental health problems but ESPECIALLY addiction and the ongoing fentanyl crisis. Until someone you love falls into substance abuse, you may never quite get it. They may have made a poor decision to take a certain drug, but no one wants to be an addict and they often know exactly what mistakes they've made and where they've gone wrong to get to where they are. No one wants to be an addict. No one strives to be one, but often times by the time they notice they're dependent on a substance, it's too late to just "decide" not to take it. Detoxing from addictive substance is brutal and couple that with the stigma behind addiction and lack of societal support services to adequately assist people in getting off these drugs, it must feel impossible to some. Addiction rewires the brain. It can turn someone you love into a ghost of who they might've been before. Make them say and do things they otherwise wouldn't have said or done. And it can make anyone close to them, even those not prone to anxiety, fear things constantly. My social media doesn't showcase the fear I feel checking on a person who might have finally gotten something laced with fentanyl. It doesn't sound the pounding in my heart when they're sleeping, worrying that they might not actually be breathing. It doesn't detail the heartbreak of hoping and hoping that the person you love will get better, get clean only to feel let down time and time again. It's an exhausting life dealing with all of these things. It sometimes feels like running on a highway, trying to keep up with speeding cars. I can't possibly keep up. So, often, I elect to shove these problems to the back of my mind and ignore them. And so many people do this, but I can't stress it enough in saying it's not healthy.
Sometimes, after dealing with my internal battle along with external forces, mustering up the energy to drive to the barn feels damn near impossible for me. But once I get there, I'm always happier. Anxieties fade. I don't worry as much. My mind slows down some. So, people often do not see this side of me unless they read or watch the few posts and videos where I've specifically talked about it. It's not even like I'm actively hiding anything, it's just that people take everything at face value and make judgments of my entire life based off of the select few posts they do see. So, I don't really know what I'm trying to say other than please don't idealize the lives of others. It only serves to give you an inaccurate outlook on like and it will only make you feel worse about your own situation. Despite my struggles with mental health and other difficult situations in my life, I do know that I have it better than a lot of other people and that I'm fortunate.
These societal pressures that encourage us to only post happy things on social media, to hide our struggles in fear of being judged or viewed as "attention seeking" simply aren't healthy. They encourage people to bottle up emotions and hide problems when they should be seeking help. They make people feel guilty for having mental illnesses, feel like outcasts in society. They stigmatize these problems and make them out to be some made up thing that's "all in your head" which, yes, it is in your head (hence "mental" illness) but cognition affects everything. What's going on with you psychologically influences every aspect of your day to day life. You aren't weird, damaged or attention seeking for struggling with mental health. Just like with any physical ailment, it's something that needs attention may it be through therapy, familial support or medication.
By normalizing mental health issues, we can make mental health services more accessible. Generally, health care here in Canada is quite good but as someone who just got put on a newer anti-depressant, I have to jump through some hoops or pay $100/monthly for this medication. So, instead of starting it last week like I was supposed to, I'm trying to find the paper work to convince Blue Cross that this is something that I need. For those trying to get off the opiates that are so frequently laced with fentanyl (aka the reason behind many fentanyl related deaths), suboxone can be up to $25/per day if you don't have the right health plan. How are we supposed to combat mental disorders and the addiction crisis when a lot of the support is too expensive for the average person or simply too hard to access? It's devastating, to me, that even those who want to seek help may be unable to get it depending on where they live, what sort of healthcare they have and how much money they have.
I'm not really sure what this blog post was supposed to be, it's a bit all over the place but I want to encourage you all to be more open about this and talk to someone if you're struggling. My inbox is always open. Don't be afraid to reach out. We are all fighting our own battle and no one should feel alone. I hope that one day soon, I can have my guest blogger write about their battle with addiction and how they overcame it.