Mental Health Awareness Week: IT’S IMPORTANT

Apparently I’ve basically missed Mental Health Awareness Week, which is something I wish I’d heard about earlier because it’s something I feel very positive about. It’s been a while since I’ve written much, so now feels as good as any a time to talk a little bit about mental illness and how it’s affected me.

You’re probably asking, how many more personal posts do I have in me? And I’d reply with a winky face, because I could talk about myself for yonks.

I believe mental health awareness is extremely important, what with the social stigma that’s really only starting to be fought off in the last few years. Growing up in high school, depression was only whispered about amongst friends and frowned upon by those who didn’t understand the burden. It was only in my last few months of high school and after that I learned how many of my own friends had struggled with depression and anxiety. It was only then that many friends learnt about my own struggles.

Depression and I have an on again-off again kind of relationship. As anyone who’s made it to the other side knows, the darkness never really leaves you the same. Relapses aren’t uncommon, and particularly dark weeks are something you welcome grudgingly and without much surprise. I just today really dragged myself out of a particularly bad week, in which I had enough trouble making myself even brush my teeth (what is the point of having clean teeth if my friends will all end up leaving me anyway??) Trust me, I very much need to be clean most of the time, so you know it’s bad when I struggle with hygiene!

However, don’t let that leave you without hope if you’re in the midst of your own depression! It can definitely become brighter, and life can come back full force. It’s different for everyone, and nothing is impossible. I can say full well that I know how it feels to get out of that dark fog.

I’m mostly out of my depression by now, now that I’ve hit adulthood and escaped the town that exacerbated my negative emotions so much. I do hugely struggle with thanatophobia (fear of my own death) and a growing sense of agoraphobia (if i go outside I am more likely to die) which are mental health issues that still aren’t in a spotlight so much nowadays.  Phobias can be extremely harmful to the way someone lives and functions — I’m in a constant state of alertness whenever I leave the house out of pure fear that something will kill me. My survival instincts are kicking in 24/7, and it’s less fun than it sounds having adrenaline constantly pumping through you.

I’m not saying this to get sympathy, because I know what most people think, everyone’s scared of death. It’s hard to explain that my fear of death isn’t transient, but always hanging over my shoulders. I have micro panic attacks when the bus goes around a particularly sharp corner, when I hear a plane go by overhead, when I hear someone’s voice through a megaphone, if I hear an alarm or a siren. It’s a fact of life for me, and I’m mostly used to it — but I think there are many people who’ve been told what I said before:

Everyone’s scared of death.

Hoo boy, if only that phrase worked to cure us. I know of others who struggle with this phobia, and it’s something that I believe needs to become more understood. Thantophobia first hit me when I was 7. I was a 7 year old child lying awake in terror that if I closed my eyes to sleep I would stop breathing. And really, that’s what started everything.

This itself is a tangent — I meant to speak on my depression more than my anxieties. Because really, many teenagers suffer from depression before anybody’s willing to explain to them what it is. There’s the stereotype of moody, lazy teenagers — but really, many of them are depressed: exhausted, stressed, can’t see the reason to get out of bed and live. I understand this because I lived it.

The dialogue for mental illnesses needs to be open and understanding, so that we stop seriously harming our youth before they’ve even left school. If you’re taught young that help is there, aren’t you more likely to seek it if eventually that darkness grabs a hold of you? Aren’t you more likely to recognize depression when it grips your heart and pulls you down? I truly wish, for my sake and my friends’, that we’d been educated on depression, anxiety, and other illnesses back in primary school. Sure, it’s a dark topic for some so young — but remember that I couldn’t sleep at that age because I couldn’t stop picturing how dying might feel.

Education and awareness of mental health is so important, and it could save so many lives. It’s never too early to be open and honest with a child, because it’s never too early for mental illness to show up. Show support openly for anyone with mental and invisible illnesses, because you never know who around you could be afflicted and needs to know their friends, family, colleagues care.

And know that I am at least always here to talk — though I may be a stranger to some. Flick me a tweet at @Wanderlustin & I’m always around to help anyone out, because I’ve been there, and I know how it feels. I know not everyone is comfortable talking, but I want to be an open and honest voice for any who need it.

And always important to remember: you can’t ever know how mental illness feels unless you experience it. Don’t judge, just try to understand and have compassion.

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