Thoughts on “Bell Let’s Talk” Day: Coming out of the Mental Illness Closet

I love Bell Let’s Talk Day. I started to take an interest in it a couple of years ago, when I knew my mental health had declined, but I didn’t yet have an accurate name for what was happening to me, and I felt like what was going on in my head was a shameful secret. Whenever Bell Let’s Talk Day rolled around, it was truly exciting for me to see, for one day at least, people talking so openly about mental health and mental illness. I felt so inspired by what I saw being shared on social media: support for people struggling with mental illness, and people sharing their own mental health challenges. It made me feel so much less isolated in what I was experiencing.

Last year, on Bell Let’s Talk Day, I remember tweeting “…because someone you know is suffering in silence.” I wasn’t yet ready to admit that I was one of those someones. But I guess this year I am.

So here are my nitty-gritty details. Last June, I started seeing a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with “Generalized Anxiety Disorder and specific phobias.” I’ve revealed this information to only a handful of people. I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it’s because of the stigma that society so often imposes on people with mental illnesses – that I’m afraid people will see me differently, as less intelligent or less competent. Or that I’ll make them nervous, that they’ll be watching me, waiting for a sign that I’m about to have some sort of meltdown.

I think the truth, sometimes, is that I’ve imposed a sense of stigma on myself (“self-stigmatization” they call it). That I often see myself as less intelligent and less competent because of my condition. I’ve always valued my usual ability to be rational and logical, and anxiety disorders are neither of these things.

My anxiety tells me that seeing a mouse in my living room (a little mouse who was way more scared of me than I was of him) means that there are mice everywhere in the house, and that there will be no way I can sleep or relax until someone can prove to me that there are none left.

My anxiety tells me that I need to constantly plan and prepare for the possibility of moving to a new place, because our landlord of six years might someday out of the blue announce that she doesn’t want to rent our house to us anymore (even though she’s demonstrated plenty of times that she’s very happy having us as tenants).

My anxiety tells me that someday my husband is going to get fed up with my crap and leave me (even though he constantly shows me in words and actions that he loves me and he isn’t going anywhere).

My anxiety tells me (on my bad days) that I’m stupid, foolish, and pathetic.

My thinking brain knows none of these things make sense rationally, but I can’t seem to stop these insidious thoughts from invading my head, and sometimes taking over my life (along with a variety of physical symptoms like headaches, back pain, sleep problems, fatigue, etc., etc.). And sometimes I feel like a lesser person because of it.

But reaching out for help last year (starting with a visit to my family doctor) has made such a difference in my life (which I talked a bit about in my first blog post). I’m already making pretty good progress thanks to my psychiatrist, my meds, “acceptance and commitment” therapy, and a support group that I attend. I’m starting to understand that the irrational thoughts in my head aren’t there because I’m weird or stupid – they’re there because my brain is just different from the brain of someone who doesn’t have anxiety disorders. And something else I’ve learned in these past months is that there really is hope for me, hope I didn’t really have before – the hope that I can actually overcome my anxiety disorders. That’s something I hadn’t thought possible in the past, when I was mostly struggling in silence.

I’ve heard some critics and cynics over the years knocking Bell Let’s Talk Day, saying it’s all about corporate advertising, or that it’s allegedly turned into a day when people are pressured on social media into sharing more than they want to (a supposed pressure that I obviously always managed to resist!)

But it’s tough to criticize the millions of dollars Bell has donated to mental health causes over the years (money that should be coming from our governments but isn’t). And beyond that, I know that Bell Let’s Talk Day has had a direct positive effect on some of the millions of individual Canadians that live with mental illness. I know because (without trying to sound dramatic) it changed my life. Not all at once, not in one day – but it planted a seed, a seed that maybe I could actually talk about some of the stuff in my head out loud to someone. It took a little while for that seed to grow, and to reach the point where I was ready to take action, to start my healing journey. But once I started, I felt for the first time in a long time like I was truly headed in the right direction, and that it’ll just be a matter of time before I get to my destination: a fuller, happier life, no longer in thrall to my anxiety disorders.

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