As I write this, it's 3:20 on a Friday afternoon. I should be standing at the school gates seeing off the children but, instead, I'm sitting cross-legged on my sofa in My Little Pony pyjamas. The reason for this is my anxiety. Well, more specifically, my anxiety medication. It's done some weird things to me over the past 24 hours, leaving me fuzzy-headed, nauseous, unable to talk (even to Rich) and too scared to leave my bed until 2pm today. And this got me thinking.
There is nothing glamorous or romantic about my situation right now. To be totally blunt with you, I have a blood-stained tissue on the sofa next to me as a result of my awful dermatillomania, and cold pizza sits in a box on the kitchen counter. I'm wearing no make up, my hair is unbrushed and my pyjamas are already starting to smell a bit funky. Does that sound cool to you?
Although I really, really appreciate the media, and social, attention that anxiety is receiving lately, it's starting to go a little overboard. I once believed that there was no such thing as too much exposure. Yes, there was a bandwagon of sorts but at least we were talking about it, right? Unfortunately, I now feel like it's gone too far and, judging by my conversations on Twitter this afternoon, I'm not the only one.
Please don't get me wrong here. Of course there are many, many people with anxiety. There are clear indications that it is more prominent in creative minds, which could explain why so many bloggers seem to have it. I understand that the internet is a safe place where people can express themselves in a way they wouldn't be able to in real life, which contributes to the prevalence of anxiety online. I have no problem with the amount of anxiety in social media. My problem is with the attitude.
Let's get this out of the way first- Anxiety (or any other mental health illness, for that matter) is not something to be ashamed of. In no way am I suggesting you hide it, play it down or otherwise minimise the effects of the condition on peoples' lives. But neither is it a badge of honour. I see people almost boasting about it on Twitter and this has serious implications.
Speaking from my own experience, and that of others on Twitter, rather than feel encouraged by this sudden wave of anxiety, sufferers retreat even further for fear of being tarnished with the "bandwagon" brush. They worry that they won't be taken seriously and that it belittles their condition. And who can blame them? When yet another blogger pops up to announce their problems with anxiety, I think a lot of people feel a certain amount of disbelief, even subconsciously. I know I do and that makes me feel like a terrible person. I have anxiety myself and I still have that initial doubt when someone else admits they have it. This is the climate that is being facilitated by the glamourisation of anxiety.
I have suffered from anxiety as far back as I can remember. When I joined school aged 4, I suffered from mutism so it goes back at least 22 years. My dermatillomania started 15 years ago, and when you're constantly ripping your skin off to the point of gushing blood, being physically unable to stop until it "feels right", I think it's safe to say you definitely do have the condition. Yet I've only recently started feeling comfortable discussing it. Why? Because over the past few months, I've received a formal diagnosis for both, as well as long-term medication and counselling. It's awful, and I hate it, but now I feel like I can prove my mental health problems. I can sit on my high horse, safe in the knowledge of my prescription, and look down on those who claim to have the conditions.
This is not how I want to feel and it is not the way mental health problems should be approached. Awareness and publicity is fantastic. The more the better, I say. But why are we glamourising it? Why are we making it cool? The latest thing is to wear a red button as a symbol of your anxiety. That literally turns it into a fashion statement. Some anorexia sufferers wear red bracelets as a sign of solidarity. Can anybody imagine some cool teen idol promoting that, supported by an eating disorder charity? And yet it's exactly the same thing. Why is it not ok for eating disorders but celebrated for anxiety?
Please, if you have problems, get help. Talk to someone, speak to your doctor, look into counselling. By all means share your experiences and help others. But if you can objectively consider your words and think that perhaps you're exaggerating, perhaps you're just trying to fit in, perhaps you want people to think you're brave, find other ways to do that. It's not a fashion statement. It's not cool. It's not glamorous. It's a life-debilitating condition that affects more people than just the sufferer.