One plus one might always equal two, but people and mental health can’t be measured like math, so it frustrates me when people who have absolutely no experience with mental illness act like it can be—like we are all the same or should all be the same.
One of my daughter’s school teachers recently made a bunch of inaccurate assumptions about her and her mental health, then gave his own son as an example of how he is thriving under the same circumstances. I’ve had others who have done the same thing. They expect everyone to be exactly the same—a “1+1=2 for me or this person I know so 1+1=2 for you and this person you know” type of thing. But that simply isn’t the case when it comes to mental health.
Just because medication works great for one person doesn’t mean it will work great for someone else. Just because one person gets a lot out of therapy doesn’t mean this other person will. Just because one person thrives under pressure doesn’t mean everyone will, can or even should be expected to.
The reasons for mental illness are also varied. This same teacher made the assumption that stress from this one extracurricular activity is what is causing my daughter’s mental health struggles right now and that she just shouldn’t do it again next year. In fact, my daughter really enjoys the activity and is having fun doing it right now. Her mental illness is genetic. There is a lot of mental illness on my side and her dad’s side. She has a genetic predisposition towards it. And just because she enjoys this activity doesn’t mean it’s going to cure her. There are other things that do help her, though, so it’s important that she has the ability to do those things.
This is why I keep blogging about mental health and mental illness, why I feel so strongly that I need to keep trying to educate people. Despite how far our understanding and acceptance of mental illness has come in recent years there are still way too many people who have such an archaic belief and understanding of it. Rather than trying to put everyone is a small, tiny, tight, too-cramped box, let’s open our minds and try to be more loving and understanding.
Something people may not realize is how tiring it can be for those of us with anxiety, who are also introverts, to be around a group of people. It’s not that we don’t want to be around people (though admittedly sometimes we don’t), but it takes a lot out of us.
I thought about this last week when I was at band rehearsal. I recently joined a community band, and I’m loving it! Playing the flute is something that has brought me so much joy through the years. As I’ve gotten better at identifying my own symptoms of anxiety or oncoming panic attacks and have been able to think about what I can do to help I’ve played my flute more. Even if it’s just for five or ten minutes it is something that has helped calm or stop panic attacks or has helped lessen anxiety.
I have wanted to play in a group for so long, but even if the opportunity came up I was never at a place in my life where I would have been able to join. Luckily, I’m at that place now. We have had three rehearsals so far, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. I really do love being with this group, but sometimes it’s hard being around a bunch of people. Last week was particularly hard. Part of it was probably that I’m feeling insecure. Even though I have played my flute through the years, I have mostly played easy, melodic pieces because that’s what I love, that’s what I connect with. I haven’t challenged myself much, and now we are playing pieces that I could have easily gotten in high school, but I’m really struggling with now. Several of the other flute players are much younger, but more recently out of high school and haven’t lost the ability, so I feel rather embarrassed at my skill level right now. Add on top of that other stresses of life, and I was absolutely exhausted after coming home from rehearsal last week. I actually broke down in tears when my husband asked how rehearsal was. I felt kind of stupid because I truly enjoy playing and being in a band again. But just being around so many people spiked my anxiety and took so much out of me.
I guess what I want people to know is that it’s perfectly normal for those of us with anxiety to get exhausted being around other people, even when we’re not expected to talk with them. I also think it goes back to the fact that anxiety can sometimes come off as snobbish or standoffish. But that’s not it. It’s just that it is so hard for us, and it can be extremely tiring and take a lot out of us. So be patient. Realize it’s not you. It’s the horrible anxiety that we have to live with. And we’re trying.
Walking through that door makes the blue a little lighter. She holds space as I gently spill. We sit, we talk - we water, dig and bury. Nurturing a shoot. Aiding it in light - to find its path through thorns - Malan Wilkinson