Strutting Against Stigma (with humor and humility)
By Krista Mills
If allowed, mental illness can and will take hold of your fragile mind and refuse to let go, like a dog with a bone. It will lead you into isolation, force you to question your self–worth and make you experience inexplicable levels of fear and emotional turmoil. By writing this article I am in no way disputing the detrimental impact of anxiety disorders because lived experience has shown me just how damaging it can be. Instead what I am trying to say is that we need to take some of the power back from our anxiety by laughing at some of the humorous situations that we may find ourselves in because of it. Yes, I may have undoubtedly lost so much of myself, as a person, to mental illness, but I refuse to lose my spirit, too.
We all know the drill when it comes to anxiety. Our body will shake uncontrollably, our heart will race, our vision will become blurry, and it is all down to that little gem known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. Now I obviously got drunk before becoming ill (way too many times, in fact), and I miss being able to laugh uncontrollably with friends and strut my stuff to Single Ladies with makeup running down my face. So, regarding the anxiety evoked blurred vision and dizziness, imagine trying to drag yourself from your bedroom to the bathroom after a few too many Sambuca shots (barf). You have that ‘white sheet’ covering your pupils and you are unable to focus on anything due to the mass of blurred colours forming before you. Your arms will be stretched out in front of you as you try your hardest to navigate your way to the toilet without face planting the bath or whacking your hip on the corner of the sink while the room is spinning. This is the best way to explain the physical effects of panic. And as I have already explained, hazy vision welcomes embarrassing accidents.
During a recent shopping trip my anxiety was understandably at its peak. My initial thought was ‘Oh, god, I’m going to pass out’, which then caused me to leap forward in order to grab hold of my brother’s arm. However, what I had failed to notice was that Matthew had moved a few steps behind me and, through panic, I spun round to find him and ended up landing in some elderly gentleman’s trolley. The shame! Luckily the gentleman was very understanding but Matthew, my darling brother, nearly coughed up a lung laughing and has refused to allow me to forget it ever since.
Now how about the times in which we have fallen over after one too many drinks? We have all been there. Heels too high, dress too long, or even that epic trip we have all done while trying to show off our best Beyoncé moves in front of a potential crush. I still cringe when I think about the time in which I was leaving a nightclub with two of my friends, not paying any attention as to where I was going, like you do when drunk, and somehow managed to slip in a puddle of stale beer and skid along the floor on my side. I ended up with a bruised back, bruised hips and a bruised ego. Well this loss of coordination can also be anxiety related – something that became apparent during pre-graduation celebrations at Matthew’s home, last July.
My anxiety had reached new highs as the guests had started to arrive, reminding me that in a few short hours I would be walking the stage in front of a few hundred people (no biggie). I took a sip of my Shloer and ended up missing my mouth numerous times, while my vision and speech became so deformed that I lost the ability to string a sentence together and had to ask my brother to read my cards out to me. After another round of pictures had been taken I hastily stepped back to take my seat and move away from the group, but somehow ended up sitting tilted on the corner of the chair. Consequently I was left in a very unladylike position, legs in the air while wearing a very short dress and, thankfully tights, but all in full view of friends seated to the left and opposite me. At the time the ground opening up and swallowing me would not have been enough to hide my shame and embarrassment, but when I look back on it now I cannot help but laugh.
Now these are just a few examples, but do you see my point? We all laugh when having made a fool out of ourselves while drunk so why not when anxious? I do not care what anyone says; the morning after a night out will always be spent reminiscing about the events of the night prior, cringing at pictures, drunken statuses and thinking “Why did I even do that?” So I propose that we all keep a ‘Clutzy Cathy’ journal, a means of recording the times in which we have made ourselves laugh while at the peak of our anxiety. I do genuinely believe that doing so will enable us to have another coping strategy in place when the black dog hits. I mean who does not enjoy a good belly laugh?