Mental health has been and is still taken very lightly in our country. Any ailment related to the brain is considered to be incurable and inexplicable. Mental diseases are such taboo in our society that even common illnesses like Anxiety and Depression are portrayed in a bad light. The worse thing? Patients with psychological diseases are written off as mad, even by people closest to them which further secludes them and worsens the condition.
This article is a part of a series that I’m going to do on ‘Mental Health’ and the measures you can take as a responsible individual to better understand it. These articles will not only help you to better comprehend your friends that might be suffering from these kinds of diseases but also avoid any such problems yourself.
1. We don’t do it on Purpose
It’s not like we wake up in the morning and decide that today we’ll eat some pastry and lose our shit in front of 50 of our classmates or co-workers. It doesn’t work like that. Just like other physiological diseases, Anxiety is something which once started reinforces itself with no direction or trigger required from the conscious mind. The adrenaline surge continues to build up in the body elevating the heartbeat and breathing rate without any involvement of our so-called decision centre: Pre-frontal Cortex. The victim or the patient can’t do anything to stop it just like you can’t do anything to stop your heart from beating. It’s a physiological process, not psychological.
2. It’s Not a Switch
Yep. Just like you can’t will a fever, cold, or even a tumor out of existence, we can’t stop Anxiety by just thinking it doesn’t exist. As I said, the process is as physiological as your blood flowing through the veins. So just like you can’t will your lungs to stop breathing you can’t stop your brain to stop freaking out, especially when it can’t find out what the problem is.
In case of a fever, your conscious mind realizes what the problem is. Hence it accepts the fact that taking rest and medicine will improve your condition and there’s no need to press the matter. However during an Anxiety Attack, the brain can’t find out what is wrong with the body. Consequently, the survival instinct kicks in and the mind starts freaking out more and more; in turn making the patient believe he has lost control of his own body. And your wise-ass comments don’t help at all.
3. No, we are not Depressed
That’s a whole another ball game. Though the causes and many symptoms of Clinical Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder are quite similar and discernible, there is a technical difference between the two. People suffering from depression have a sense of impending doom for they are sure that their future is bleak. Hence according to them, there is no point in doing anything as the consequences will be the same. This can occur due to trauma or chemical changes in the brain, but at the end of the day, depression is a ‘depressive’ state for our mind.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is identified with the belief that something terrible might happen. This ‘might’ is the culprit in this case which causes the flight-and-fight feeling, which in turn leads to an increase in heartbeat and respiration rate. Anxiety hence is stimulating or rather an over-stimulating ailment for the brain. That is why uppers or stimulants like coffee, can worsen Anxiety. Both of these diseases are bad but very different. Good news is that both of them are curable and the negative thoughts go away as soon as the patient starts the medical or behavioral therapy.
4. Stop telling us to Chill
It’s not that we don’t want to; we can’t. And I mean we physically can’t. In the initial stages of an attack, Anxiety can be ‘distracted’ before it becomes physical. However, once the body gets involved, and the Adrenal Glands piqued by the brain start producing Adrenaline to get us ready for a threat that doesn’t exist, it is almost impossible to calm down the body through our own volition.
Believe me; if we could, we would. Saying ‘Calm Down Dude’ 30 times doesn’t help, so stop saying it. If you really want to help try to understand the situation and not mock it. Also, please don’t gather a crowd to watch the ‘freak’. That I assure you doesn’t help in calming any person.
5. No, We’re not Mad
First of fall, being crazy and having a psychological disease are two different things. Secondly, Anxiety is not even a mental disease. Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder are psychological diseases whereas Anxiety is physiological. Generalized Anxiety, of course, starts with the brain and at the end affects it (mainly the Hormone production and regulation). But at the end of the day, components of Anxiety disorder like increased Adrenaline which results in elevation of heartbeat and respiration rate are not in control of the conscious mind.
Just like Sugar patients take Insulin to regulate the amount of Glucose in their system, Anxiety patients take SSRIs to adjust the amount of Serotonin in their system. The difference is that the taboo and stigma attached to mental diseases and the lack of control the patient suffers during an Anxiety Attack, leads insensitive people to think that he has gone mad. So next time you call a person with Anxiety mad, try to understand that they are as mad as a person with a fever. Or better yet, just shut your mouth.
6. It’s Normal & Common
Anxiety is a normal process of the brain which motivates us to perform daily tasks of life like eating, drinking, and resting, through the release of a hormone called Serotonin. If there is a lack of this hormone in the body, the person naturally doesn’t get the motivation to do anything. Believe it or not, Anxiety is very common especially in the youngsters today who are buried under pressure to excel academically and otherwise. Not to mention the married people going through a midlife crisis every other day and hiding their problems behind diverted anger.
The Millennials are termed by the previous generations as the lucky ones. I don’t agree. We are not fortunate or unfortunate; we just face different circumstances. In the 1950s or 60s, clean water was a luxury. Hence walking 7 kilometres to fetch water proved to be a challenge and a Serotonin builder for the people of those times. However, the easy availability of these things in this era has made the daily difficulties of life more psychological than physiological.
7. We can be Confident & Anxious at the Same Time
Contrary to popular dumb beliefs, a person who has Anxiety -or any other physical or mental ailment for that matter- can be intelligent and logical in practical life. These things are not mutually exclusive. Just like pneumonia doesn’t hinder your rational thinking process, Anxiety also doesn’t. It only hampers it, or in other words, makes it difficult to concentrate.
Think about that last bout of fever you had, when your body temperature hit 103 Fahrenheit, and you couldn’t think straight. Did you suddenly become dumb? No, right? In the same way, a person suffering from Anxiety is neither retarded nor do the medications make them slow. Infact if anything people with ADHD or Chronic Migraines have abnormally fast brains, and have to take medicines to make their minds more normal. So the joke is really on the so-called ‘normal’ guys.
8. Your Wise-ass Insights don’t Help!
Neither does your expert opinion by the way. We know that some of the normal people believe they have a full-fledged PhD in both Psychology and Medicine. However, we don’t want your help. We have our own doctors and trust me we don’t want to put our lives in your hands.
An important thing I have learned in life is that you should weigh in your statements and judge if uttering them would even help in a particular case. In this one, the narrow-minded and conservative point of view about mental health, and dumb advice like ‘Just ignore it dude’, ‘there’s no such thing as anxiety’, and ‘You should try to behave like a normal being’ doesn’t help. So if you can’t help make anything better, try not to make it worse. In return we won’t douse you in cold water when you are down with a fever. Deal?
P.S. – I am not a medical professional and am in now way pretending to be. The opinions described in this article are personal. You can disagree with me and refute my statements. You can even -through a comment or personal mail- inform me if I have made a mistake in putting forth my point, given that yours is logical and/or backed by scientific proof. If you want something changed or just want to speak with me, you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
P.P.S. – If anyone out there is suffering from Anxiety or any such ailment, he/she can contact me personally. I know it’s difficult to understand why suddenly our brain is going haywire but I assure you it’s perfectly natural. I am also attaching links to some good sites that can help you in understanding Anxiety better.