Exhaustion.

There is one overwhelmingly negative aspect to having a mental illness. This is obviously aside from the whole other range of negative things such as the multitude of symptoms of a mental illness, side effects that come from medication and ridiculously emotional therapy sessions. But I digress…

The very worst thing about mental illness is that it is exhausting.

The energy that it takes every day. The energy it takes to survive. The feelings of sadness and worry and that feeling that’s worse than sadness that you can’t quite explain that physically drain you. That anxiety that keeps you on edge and then sends you crashing down from the most euphoric high. The racing heart. The sweaty palms. The brain that can’t stop overthinking everything. The need to control everything and plan and go over every detail again and again. It quite literally takes the life from you.

But the most exhausting part? 

Pretending.

Pretending that none of this is going on. Pretending that your heart isn’t beating a million miles an hour and that you aren’t sweating through another shirt. Pretending that you aren’t thinking about something you said three weeks ago. Pretending that being surrounded by strangers and acquaintances and friends doesn’t terrify you still.  Pretending that you didn’t break down again last night. Pretending that you weren’t on the edge of hurting yourself for the first time in months.

The most exhausting part of mental illness is the mask you put on every single fucking day to hide your real self from the world, and really, to hide from yourself.

It’s a mask made up of so many different elements. It’s the makeup that covers up the sleepless nights because of the nightmares and panic attacks. The smile permanently pasted on your face to hide the fear of not being liked or wanted or loved.

It’s the mask that makes playing pretends so much easier. And for a little while I can trick my own brain into thinking everything is okay.

Playing pretend used to be fun. And now it is a part of my life.

But why should it be? Why do I need to present a perfect, happy, smiling face day in and out? Is it because I’ve been convinced by society that I need to hide things I am ashamed of? But what should I be ashamed of?

I am sick. I have a condition that affects the way my brain works. It might always be there but it does not have to define me. I don’t want to feel ashamed. I don’t want to play pretend. I don’t want to hide behind a mask that has been there for as long as I can remember. I want to feel okay about my mental illness and realise how strong and resilient and fearless it has made me, because if I can get through the darkest moments what is stopping me from getting through everything else? I want everyone else to understand that is okay not to hide and not to pretend and most of all its okay not to be okay.

Most of all I don’t want to be exhausted anymore. Because honestly, I am sick and tired of it.

 

On the bookshelf: a book review.

Now I’m not generally one to want to write a whole blog post about just one book but when you find one that you love so much I think it is necessary to sing praise from the rooftops.

So what is this amazing book you may ask? It’s called We’re All Mad Here: The No-Nonsense Guide to Living with Social Anxiety by the OUTSTANDING Claire Eastham.

*For all of those who don’t want to read about me rave about a book all about social anxiety feel free to tune out now. Good, you’re gone? Back to my post*

Alright so I know this isn’t the kind of book that will appeal to everyone but since almost 11 per cent of Australians experience social anxiety in their lifetime, chances are you know someone going through it and therefore this book is relevant to you. In fact, the book has a whole section dedicated to loved ones so even if you don’t suffer from this mental illness you’ll still be able to get something out of it.

Basically We’re All Mad Here is a guide to dealing with social anxiety and is broken down into easy to read sections. The sections discuss a lot of things like: what social anxiety actually is, treatment options, how to deal with it at school/university, how to deal with it at work, how to deal with it in other triggering situations (like on social media, on dates and at parties) and a section for loved ones. It mixes Claire’s (the author) own experience through childhood, early adulthood, breakdown and subsequent diagnosis and coping mechanisms with a few great exercises and tips.

Claire is honestly hilarious. I read the first page and wanted to be her best friend. It also felt like someone was actually talking directly to me like I was their friend rather than a book filled with lots of boring science mumbo-jumbo. I really want to praise her for making the book incredibly relatable and easy to read with her humour.

As well as some excellent advice like, JUST ACCEPT YOU HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS, the book also contains some really great quotes, great research and great resources.

Now lets cover the two teeny tiny negative parts (that aren’t really all that negative). Basically, this book is a beginners guide to dealing with social anxiety. Inside Claire writes that when she was first diagnosed ALL she wanted was a book like this that offered up a simple explanation of social anxiety as well as achievable coping mechanisms. So yeah, it’s basic and if you’ve already gone through your own diagnosis then you probably know a lot of the details in the book.

BUT WHO REALLY CARES.

It isn’t necessarily a book for someone who knows all about their condition and has their own coping mechanisms. It is a great book for someone who thinks they may have social anxiety or who has just been diagnosed or even for a loved one of someone suffering. Also I’ve known about my social anxiety for a while and I still found it relevant, relatable, funny, interesting and helpful.

The other teeny negative is that it has coping mechanisms that work for Claire but may not work for every Tom, Dick and Harry. However this is something that Claire makes clear at the start of book so I believe it counteracts the negative aspect.

And honestly, those are the only negative parts and I actually explained why they aren’t negatives at all so really it is a book full of amazing and heartfelt advice. I could not praise this book anymore. I would literally marry this book if I could (maybe that’s a little far, but you get how much I love it).

So in summary… Buy this book!!

Get it for yourself, a friend, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a parent, a sibling, WHOEVER. I can guarantee it will help someone in your life and if it doesn’t they will just laugh along because Claire is a bloody fabulous and relatable author.

Seriously, I honestly cannot recommend this book more. The advice is so practical and easy to understand its like social anxiety for dummies. By including her own personal experiences, Claire makes you feel like you aren’t in a battle that is honestly pretty terrifying. She also talks a lot about acceptance which I think is one of the most important things about recovering from a mental illness. So anyway, enough ranting from me and just buy the damn book.

-M x

PS – I also HIGHLY recommend Claire’s blog, for which the link is below. It just kept my love for her and her writing going. There are so many excellent and personal posts and more advice about mental illness. For Claire’s website ‘We’re All Mad Here’ click here. 

Have you also read this book? Or do you just have a book recommendation for me? Comment below! 🙂 

So, what’s it like living with social anxiety?

Did you know that 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety throughout their lifetime? Specifically, anxiety will affect 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men.

There are a number of different types of anxiety – generalised anxiety, social phobia, specific phobias, OCD, panic disorders and post traumatic stress disorders. The reasons that people experience anxiety are endless – family history, personality, traumatic events, ongoing stressful situations.. The list goes on.

So, what is it like living with anxiety? Or more specifically, social anxiety? Well I can’t speak for everyone with an anxiety disorder but this is how it’s like for me.

I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety in 2015. It wasn’t until I found a decent psychologist that it was actually found to be social anxiety – an anxiety disorder that specifically relates to a fear of most social situations. According to the psychologist I’ve had anxiety and depression for a number of years, dating back to when I started high school.

For me the anxiety developed as a result of a few things.

1. My personality and family history – I am a complete perfectionist. I always have been. I never really saw it as an issue until it was explained to me how closely linked it was with my anxiety.

2. Other mental health issues – my anxiety goes hand in hand with depression. Which, if you happen to experience either one or even both, is a bloody huge struggle.

3. Prolonged stressful environments – hello relationship breakdowns, being cheated on and simultaneous trust issues, having your parents move state. There is tonnes more things I could mention here, but that’d be a whole other blog post.

Back to the point of this post – what is it like living with social anxiety?

For me, this changes day to day. Sometimes my anxiety levels are so bad that I attempt to avoid every single social situation I can. This makes things like going to work, going to the supermarket or even talking to my housemate extremely difficult. And sometimes the anxiety is barely there.

My anxiety has definitely been tested at the moment. I’ve just moved to a new town, started a new job and had to learn what it’s like to be away from your main support network. It’s hard, especially when you are terrified of most social situations.

There can be bad days.

On the bad days I can have as many as 10 panic attacks in a day. This may not seem like a huge number, but for someone with anxiety it is pretty scary.

On the bad days my heart rate sits at an increased rate. I sweat a lot. I constantly fidget. I find it hard to concentrate on anything else except the negative thoughts going on in my head – things like: “don’t ask that question, they’ll think you are dumb,” or “why are people staring at me? Did I do something wrong?”

On the bad days I second guess everything. I worry about needing to get my work done but procrastinate because I can’t start anything as I’m terrified it will be wrong. I’m scared to ask questions to my managers or colleagues because I fear I’ll be judged.

On the bad days I can text love ones multiple times if they don’t reply. I need the constant reassurance from my boyfriend that he loves me and needs me. My mind races if the response to a text or an email is not instantaneous.

“Has something happened?”
“Why won’t they reply?”
“What did I do wrong?”

I essentially shut down and yet from the outside I seem fine. Unless you notice the fidgeting, the inability to sit still, the need to be doing something with my hands at all times. Despite the fear inside there is constantly a smile on the outside.

But then there can be good days.

The good days are managing to go have brunch with friends, go out for drinks. It is being able to socialise in general.

The good days are the days without panic attacks, sweaty hands, a heart that beats too quickly. It is the smile that I can believe. Being able to concentrate on work and not having an underlying fear that I am going to muck things up.

The good days are not second guessing everything or everyone. They are the days without the nagging voice inside my head, the questions going over and over again.

I definitely wouldn’t say that at the moment my weeks are an equal split between the good days and bad days – it is definitely more 70% bad, 30% good. But what I am trying to say is that it is possible to have both. People who have these debilitating mental illnesses can struggle to see out the other side (and I can say this honestly because I have been there). With the correct treatments and help there is the chance to get better and to somewhat function day to day.

The correct treatment for me may be different from someone else who deals with these challenges. I personally rely on both my amazing psychologist and antidepressants. I also have a strong support network, I journal, I exercise and I meditate. I have tried to find balance.

I think if you are someone who also experiences a mental illness it is important to remember it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it is a messy and scary storm. What helps is putting one foot in front of another and having tactics to deal with the bad day.

If you were troubled by this post or experiencing a personal crisis, you can call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636 or visit lifeline.org.au or beyondblue.com.au