A despairing, and yet, most frequent conversation I have been having these days, in my head, (and with everyone else around, it seems) is about anxiety. My anxiety, their anxiety, our cumulative societal anxiety. And it seems no matter what differences we all experience; be it in our daily lives and habits, or income, health, and family issues, is that we are all somehow STRUGGLING. Is this something new? Or have various generations before ours always felt this pull? Whichever side of the political spectrum you are on, it currently feels very stressful, (although I argue MUCH MORE for some than others). But what do we all do about it? There is the option of medicating, with everything available from anti-depressants, to mood stimulators, to anti-anxiety pills, and much more. We have a generation that is currently growing up medicated, from early youth. I feel my generation was the first to become medicated by early adulthood, and the generation before mine, the baby boomers, were the first to seek medication in late adulthood. I am certainly no scientist or doctor, and would never claim to be, I speak purely from personal experience, and what I casually have come across on social media, and in the news…But it seems the point is, is any of it actually working?
To quote the late and great George Carlin, (who was also quoting someone else): “The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness…” And it goes on to address nearly every issue (large and small) that we see rampantly destroying our society, and not just in the U.S., but the world too. This post is by no means an anti-Pharma rant, and I believe in the power of medicine, especially its necessity for certain real, psychological issues. But is it always used properly? Or is it just the quick fix? And are the people who really need it, getting it? Are the stigma’s of mental health finally being lost by the wayside, or are the souls that really need help, being lost in an upsetting new trend? Fashionable anxiety? Why don’t Dr.’s always ask you about your food habits? Or your sleep habits? Or if you have attended counseling in the past to address your concerns? I know they are supposed to, and definitely used to, but when was the last time yours did? Once again, I remind you, I am not anti-medicine in the slightest, in fact, that is my point, it is something to be taken VERY seriously. But for now let’s get back to the anxiety.
Growing up, I would describe myself as an ‘anxious’ child. But it was the early 80’s, so not only did my parents not notice, but it wasn’t even a thing back then. ESPECIALLY not in the uber conservative christian world I was raised in. Jesus was supposed to be all you needed! Talk about confusing and emotionally debilitating for a child. Now on top of having anxiety, I instantly felt guilty for my anxiety, because obviously I wasn’t loving Jesus enough, or correctly, or…and there went another spiral. I remember silently praying in church for Jesus to take my anxiety away (although I didn’t even know the term at the time), and I even felt guilty and anxious for doing that! My anxiousness continued through middle school and high school, and hit an all-time high in my late teens and early 20’s in the beginning of living on my own. A friend who was temporarily living with me at the time, also had anxiety, (I’m about to stereo-type, think Woody Allen-esque, and in this case, it was totally true) but being a Jew from Long Island, NY, she was very familiar with the lingo, and had a whole large family willing to support and embrace her issues with the subject. I learned a lot from her on how to cope, and that my panic attacks were actually quite normal for someone with anxiety. I was NOT in fact possessed by the devil or going crazy, which were both things I was genuinely concerned about. I also figured out, (without my Dr. even asking about my habits) that the 96oz. of Diet Mountain Dew, and the pack and half of Marlboro lights, and mostly fast-food diet, that I was inhaling EVERYDAY, was also absolutely awful for my mental state. This may seem obvious now, but I was 20 at the time, and you would think a medical professional could’ve helped impart this immensely important information.
This new knowledge helped me cope tremendously, and as the years progressed, my anxiety lessened. Even when I made the giant leap of moving across the country to NYC, with my best friend, right out of college, I was able to hold steady. Until about 2 years in and I started breaking out in mysterious hives ALL OVER my body. Once again, I was ill-equipped to confront what was really causing my mystery symptoms. It ended up being a combination of my old-friend anxiety, AND some icky environmental pollutants. I digress. The point is through knowledge, and self-awareness, I have been better able to manage my anxiety over the years. Better than with what the medication I was briefly on, and counseling, had done. However, that may not be true for everyone. And there have been times in the present, that I wish counseling were a far more affordable option for people in all walks, including myself. Also, some of the people I know that suffer from severe anxiety, eat a REALLY healthy diet, get as good of sleep as you can get (with small children), they exercise regularly, rarely drink, and don’t smoke(cigarettes or weed). I was thrilled for them, when after struggling for years, they found a Dr., and medication that could actually help them. Watching my own bigLittle, he’s almost 9, and I wonder if his anxious symptoms are nature or nurture? And if nurture, was it mine? Or society’s influence? Then it gets really bad, because now I have anxiety ABOUT his and my anxiety.
I feel terrible about the cycle. I feel even worse about how harshly I judge myself ,and sometimes others, who suffer the same fate. Then I wonder, how I can have such empathy for certain cases of people’s anxiety and not others? I don’t consciously say to myself: “Oh well, they have tons of money and a great job, what do they have to be anxious about?” Or, “she must just be making that up because she’s bored at home, or just really insecure.” See how terrible I can be?? But I assure you, these are not my ACTUAL thoughts. I, of all people, know how un-tamable the anxiety beast can be! And I would feel hurt, and likely pissed off, if someone thought that about my anxiety. In fact, I have been! I did finally admit to my Mother, in the end of high school, that I felt I may be depressed (I still hadn’t learned the term for ANXIETY). She responded incredulously, “Depressed?!?! I wish I had the LUXURY of being DEPRESSED!” I recoiled in shame and embarrassment and have carried that with me, somewhere inside, ever since. I would NEVER want to do that to anybody, and would certainly NEVER do that to my own child.
So far, in my case, I’ve found my anxiety can be very well controlled, if I am steadfast at knowing and guarding fiercely against my triggers. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, treating myself, taking a weekly de-tox bath, not over-scheduling (this one is HUGE for me), saying NO, when that is my first instinct about something, cancelling if I wasn’t strong enough to say NO the first time,…and now even I’m already bored from that completely predictable line of self-help dribble. The funny thing is, IT WORKS, every single thing I mentioned, and a few more. But, it is not EASY. It is NOT a quick fix. And it takes much soul-searching, personal responsibility, AND accountability, for my choices. I’m not perfect at it, by any stretch, and when I become slack-minded about all of those things, I suffer. On the flip-side, when did it become more appealing to casually try serious prescription drugs that might make your ass leak, and “may possibly cause suicidal thoughts,” before any of these other options?? (I will state again, that many people suffer from true brain chemical misfiring that REQUIRE the help of a pharmaceutical drug.)
We are finally seeing a positive embracing from society, of people ‘coming out’ with their mental health issues. Overall, our society is making great strides in ridding ourselves of the negative stigma that used to accompany that type of admission. However, the problem I see more than ever, is that all of the self-help, self-love, and self-care, that many people could benefit from, in addition to, alongside of, or instead of medication, carries a stigma of its own. When was the last time you didn’t feel racked with guilt about taking a nap? Or took your time savoring a healthy AND delicious meal with your family? ENJOYED your exercise, if you were even able to fit it into your packed schedule?? Consciously chose NOT to check work emails from home? Said NO to at least 1 of 3 favors/tasks asked of you, that you already knew were going to strain you? And the list goes on…Somehow, in our society, especially in the U.S., all of the habits I just mentioned carry an air of weakness or laziness with them. And yet…how much better could we all feel if even 2 of those practices became ritual in our lives? I guess this is where I struggle in my own judgments of others, because at times, I feel judged for trying to go this route myself. And that is also where I lose patience with friends and acquaintances who carry on, and on, about their stress and anxiety, without having tried to alter a single habit in their life that may alleviate said issues. Most of the time, it is my belief, we do it to ourselves. We are so willing to pop a pill, over any of the alternatives, especially taking personal responsibility for our own choices.
I ask you earnestly, if you EVER feel hopeless, alone, or remotely suicidal, please seek professional help, please do so immediately, and never hesitate out of fear of judgement, or lack of support. I assure you, you are never alone.
You only get one life, and it is so delicate, please take care of YOU
And for the rest of us, can we please just TRY a few months of naps, fresh/clean food, exercise, more hugs, and less phones??