Yesterday I shared this post on my business page with the video of Benjamin Habib who suffered a panic attack this week while he was being interviewed on a segment for ABC news. Rather than hide, he courageously wrote about it on his blog and yesterday it very rapidly went viral across social media. I felt so much empathy for him, and admired his courage in speaking so openly and bravely about it. I highly recommend reading the posts I have linked to above.
As I’ve written about many times, I suffer from anxiety. There is a whole section on it in this blog in fact. I’ve been fortunate to never have had a public panic attack like Benjamin, but it’s not to say it will never happen either. I speak in public for a living, and I have been on TV and radio talking about my work, so I guess it’s a definite possibility.
One of the biggest things that has happened while embracing me in all of my glory, has been writing about living with anxiety, depression and food addiction. It was hard to begin with, but I felt a huge sense of relief and liberation in talking about it openly and vulnerably. When I first started this blog, I didn’t share it on my personal Facebook page as for some reason I didn’t mind the whole world knowing, but I felt more awkward about friends seeing that side of me. Eventually I did share and it was one of the most incredibly powerful experiences of my life. Thankfully I have learnt to embrace vulnerability and I have written a lot of posts about this too, so I won’t go into it too much here.
As I’ve mentioned many many times I am a huge fan of Brene Brown, and along with courage and vulnerability she researches and writes about shame. I always disregarded it and put it on the back burner as something I didn’t need to consider but on reflection I feel that we all have shame on some level to overcome. While we have come a very long way in our openness with mental illness, we still have a long way to go. As my regular readers know I have huge admiration for people such as Stephen Fry, Oprah Winfrey, Carrie Fisher, Jessica Rowe and Garry McDonald who have bravely and publicly spoken about life with mental illnesses.
I now openly and publicly talk about living with anxiety, depression and food addiction, but I realised that until recently on some level I still had small levels of shame lurking in the background.
When I’m delivering mental health training, I always draw comparisons between mental illnesses and the physical ones we are usually more familiar with. I commonly use broken limbs, epilepsy and diabetes as great examples of conditions we know and discuss openly. We would never tell an epileptic or a diabetic not to take meds to keep them safe and alive would we? Likewise we should manage our mental illnesses in ways that are medically safe, which can include everything from therapy to medication and self help approaches. When it comes to broken bones, we take care of our bodies, follow doctors instructions for rest and pain management, and friends and family step up with help and support. I always advocate that we should do the same when someone we know experiences a mental illness. Would you think to pop over to a friend a do a load of washing or make a dinner when they come out of hospital? A lot of us do. How many of us think of doing the same when a friend has a mental illness and is perhaps in the early stages or having a bump in the road, which happens to all of us. It’s high time we started. The way that mental illness presents is just as physical and crippling as the physical conditions we are more familiar, and lets be honest, more comfortable with.
One of the things I love so much about my work in the mental health field, is that those of us with lived experience are usually the ones educating others, dispelling myths and busting stigma every single day. For me it’s my way of paying it forward. If I can help one person to understand their condition, get help early and/or provide help and support to another, then my heart is full and happy.
While I love every minute of it, it’s definitely not easy work. I love it with all of my heart, and at times it can really take it’s toll, but if I learn to take my own advice and walk my talk in terms of self care and have healthy boundaries in place, all is well.
My greatest wish is that anyone living with a mental illness learns that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Just like any other condition, mental illnesses are real medical conditions.
There is help, there is hope.