A Little Big Perspective on Mental Health
Friday, August 7th, 2020
If I feel my eyes water several times throughout the day, I know it’s coming. I know I am physically feeling irritation and anxiety fill my body to its brim. I know I am moments away from overflowing. I become emotional and on edge, for reasons beyond my mind’s grasp. Even the slightest comment by a friend, family member or peer can set me off in ways that normally wouldn’t if I was in a better mood or headspace.
For the longest time, I constantly wondered why and how I feel this way sometimes. I fill up with anxiety, guilt and defeat physically manifesting in short, exasperated breaths, a damp and puffy face, and an audible cry that is loud and piercing. After an episode takes place, my mind runs in circles trying to pin-point the logical reason for why I felt that way, for why it even happened in the first place, but never finds the source.
For me, not knowing the reason behind my feelings makes it hard for me to talk about and understand my own mental health. One reason might also be because to the outside world, I am seen as a privileged, successful young adult. I just published a book. I just graduated from the University of Michigan. I am white. I don’t have student loan debt. I am fortunate enough to be starting a job in the next few weeks during an unprecedented time for our society and economy. My parents are still happily married and in good health. I have great friends that I get to spend time with daily, either in person or over the phone.
So yes, I live an abundant life that I am very grateful for. My physical reality is one I love and wouldn’t change. I think that is why talking about my feelings is so hard for me. I internalize my physical reality in my head, in my own way, and to someone who isn’t inside my head with me, I fear that my struggle might seem unjustified.
I often think about all of the great things going on in my physical reality when I feel sad or unhappy in an attempt to justify to my internal self that there is no logical reason for me to be upset. It doesn’t make sense that a young, smart, pretty girl who has everything going for her could be so sad, right?
That right there is my problem. No one ever told me that my feelings, inside or out, could be intrinsically different. That even on a day when the weather is perfect and all my favorite friends are in one place, I might still go home feeling unhappy or anxious or unsure. That while my feelings toward that day are positive and happy, the feelings I have coming home and retreating to myself could still be riddled with anxiety, depression and sadness.
The feelings I sit with on the inside of myself don’t sprout from a bad conversation or conflict, but rather a deeper feeling that develops overtime that is invisible to the human eye. It is hard for me to talk about, because I worry that it will come off as complaining, because I trick my mind into thinking I can’t be sad, thus invalidating my own emotional experience.
As human beings, we love logic. We love to understand why the grass is green, we yearn for information that will help us learn how to build a chair and even how to poach an egg. We want answers and we want them fast. We want to understand cause and effect relationships. We want to pinpoint the thing that made us upset, target it, and figure out a plan to protect ourselves from those negative feelings. Maybe we avoid the things that make us upset, because we don’t understand why they made us upset in the first place.
The explanation for my emotions often goes beyond logic. I have dealt with my anxiety and depression since I was a senior in high school, and while I thought for a long time I had a good grasp on controlling and taking care of my mental health, I recently had an experience that reminded me that as I constantly evolve as a human being, so does my mental health.
The episode I described above is my own version of a panic attack. My panic attacks feel like a tidal wave of emotion that pours out of me because I have trapped them inside for too long. When everything hits me, I feel like I am under 10-feet of water in a rip current, trying to find my bearings, trying to see the light beyond the surface, waiting for the wave to settle so my body can float up. There is nothing that I can do other than endure and wait for the waves to subside, for me to reach the surface.
Mental health is hard to talk about. This, we knew. I tell my story of struggle with the hope that it helps you realize that mental health can affect everyone, regardless of how put together life may be on the outside. As someone who likes to find an answer in everything, I have come to terms with the fact that our internal feelings don’t always have the answers we are looking for. But I would be lying to you if I said it was easy to come to grips with this. Mental health is not cut and dry, it is not right from wrong, it’s a spectrum, but Google could have told you that.
But Google can’t tell you what you’re feeling. That’s up to you to know. I encourage you to listen to your mind the next time you get upset. Sit with the mantras of your subconscious and decipher the messages they communicate to you. Sometimes it takes talking about these experiences with friends. Lean into the people that love you, there are a lot more out there than you think. These people can’t read your mind, so it’s important to be vulnerable, honest and true to yourself. It might not always make sense to the people you communicate it to, but the simple act of speaking my truth has helped me in ways I would have never imagined.
Our external reality and internal feelings might be polar opposite, and that is OK. But let’s talk about it because it is real and true for me, and might be for you, too. I love to understand my relationships. My relationships to books, TV Shows, friends, family, pets and even food help me to understand myself, my preferences and my unique psyche. My relationship to mental health is no different. I have found that this relationship is layered, like a lot of other complex things in life.
Dissecting these layers has helped me to separate the emotional from the physical, the internal from the external, and how they can work together to help me feel good, or detest each other and pull me under the current. Every day is a struggle, especially these days and I am working towards finding the right balance, and I understand the resources I have at my disposal to help me through hard times. I hope you talk to your friends and family, and seek out professional help if and when you need it. You might not understand your own emotional responses, but know you are valued and that every rainbow, indeed, needs a little rain. And rain sucks.
My book, Little Big Head, has helped me to understand the ways in which my choices have impacted my life’s journey. If you are interested in learning more about how the choices we make (little and big) can have a lasting impact on the way we feel about ourselves, the world around us, and those we love, please give it a read!
If you or someone you love is in crisis:
In all life threatening emergencies, call 911.