Tomorrow is RUOK Day here in Australia. Today’s post wasn’t going to touch on mental illness but i feel like I’m surrounded by it at the moment so it feels like I should write something about it.
Someone close to me experienced anxiety for the first time in their life recently & I felt it was an eye opening experience for the both of us. Person X (an easy way to reference this person without giving them away) had up until recently gone through life without experiencing a mental illness. Sometimes I would think how lucky X was, to not have first hand experience of being mentally unwell. I would occasionally feel a little jealous of X, because of my familiarity with mental illness. I’ve had diagnosed depression three seperate times & am sure I had it in my late teens although it went undiagnosed. This coming November will see the third anniversary of my diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
So when X was given an anxiety diagnosis I knew I’d be able to offer support. I watched the mind of X (yes, writing that makes me think of an old school spy movie, but I’m committed to using it now so I’ll chuckle to myself & keep writing) loop over & over in the anxious way I know intimately. A thought would occur & despite reassurances from me or others it would loop over & over on a constant thread of what if.
“But what if this happens? Or what about that scenario. Won’t this other thing then take place?” Over & over & over the same things were repeated, making me wonder sometimes if I was being heard at all.
It felt a little like I was having an out of body experience. I watched X run through their anxiety & think to myself ‘this is what I do.’ My mind will latch onto a thought, an often ridiculous, impossible or sometimes catastrophic scenario & loop it over & over in my mind, seemingly unable to stop. I would sometimes feel tired from repeating my words to X & knew in those moments X had felt the same tiredness from conversations with me.
Or I’d be reassuring X to try to stop the anxiety & knew that X had been in this exact same position, offering reassurance & support to me while feeling the fruitlessness of their words washing over me & having little effect. This must be why X has expressed the desire to flick a switch & turn anxiety off.
There have been people other than X talk over their anxiety with me this year & other years & I’ve done my best to offer support, letting them know I’m here for them when they want to talk. Or sit with them when they need to get angry or just to offer a shoulder to cry on. If I can offer them just a tiny bit of support, to let them know that they are loved, then I hope that it helps them in some way.
So what is the point of this blog post? I’ve touched on living with anxiety in previous blog posts & I will again in the future. It’s a constant on my life & touches everything thing I do. Increasingly it’s impact is smaller on my life, due in large part to my daily anxiety medication & frequent GP & psychologist visits. I’m learning to use my experience with anxiety for good; the above photo forms part of my small but growing body of work trying to photograph the world as seen by me through the lens of an anxiety attack.
If you’re one of the lucky ones to have not had a mental illness you can still be supportive to those who have. You don’t have to have experienced something to be empathetic. But if you feel you would like to learn more, there are countless places online to learn. Beyond Blue is a great place to start, Sane Australia is another. Spend a few minutes getting to know the signs of someone who might be experiencing an anxiety or panic attack. Learn how to ask someone if they need help. Or to tell them that you’d be happy to sit with them so they can talk to you. Learning these things will benefit you & possibly allow you to see signs of someone’s undiagnosed mental illness. Do it with compassion & love. You’ll be a better person for it.