One of my favourite developments in the main stream media over the past few years, aside from feminism and a continued obsession with cats falling over, has been the opening up of a new conversation about mental health. Especially mental health in young women.
There’s been a subtle but powerful loosening of the screws on that box we call ‘THINGS YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT EVER, EVER, EVER’. A shift in the boundaries of what we share and what we keep hidden, a slow diminishing of shame and fear around something that should never have been shameful, and was only made fearful because it was kept hidden. From Lena Dunham’s beautiful writing on her fight with OCD to Emma Stone talking about her experiences with panic attacks, the oppressive and universally accepted rule that feeling sad or crazy was just something you kept to yourself is being beautifully overthrown.
In my own experience suffering with any kind of mental illness or oddity, I was given too much advice, and not enough stories. I had a whole closet full of advice. I had to build a storage centre in my bedroom to try and house all my newly gifted advice. But as well-meaning and hopeful as all my advice givers were, the trouble with most advice is that what works for one person is almost definitely not guaranteed to work for another. ‘Exercise will save your life!’ – ‘You just need to push through it’ – ‘I promise you, drink this tea, and everything will be cured!’ – I tried it all, I drank the tea, and nothing changed.
Finding advice that works for you is like finding a pair of jeans that miraculously fit four best friends, it happens a lot in movies and rarely in real life.
But what did help me, more than the tea, more than any therapist, more than any pill – was hearing other people’s stories. I spent a long time thinking I was the only person in the world who could possibly be going through the kinds of things I was going through. Convinced I was the only person so weak that they couldn’t even manage a trip to the grocery store, the only girl so odd that she couldn’t hang out with people her own age. I was surrounded by people who were ‘doing it’, who were cracking life, while I was slowly unravelling and falling further and further apart. It’s not that there weren’t stories out there, it was just that none of them really seemed to apply to me. They were the stories of older women and older men, people who’d fought their way through the forest of mental illness and emerged, years later, victorious on the other side. They talked about rehabs and years spent in recovery and none of it seemed to apply to my methods of coping, which mostly included watching The Good Wife and painting my nails five times a day.
For me, hearing people like Lena, people like Zoella, talking openly and honestly about going through experiences so similar to mine they could have been taken from my diary, felt like the biggest gift on earth. Not only were these stories comforting in being so relatable, they also created a tiny door in my brain titled ‘it’s not just you’. They led to conversations with my family, conversations with my friends, conversations online, that would never have been possible without these seemingly small stories acting as a catalyst.
If you’re someone that fears anxiety has become a ‘trend’, that this new conversation is trivialising a deeply serious issue, I have one thing and one thing only to say – perhaps anxiety has become trendy because anxiety is a trend. Because it’s something that more people that we would ever like to admit suffer with every day, something that tears apart more lives than you can imagine.
I WANT anxiety to become a trend. I want it to become more trendy than avocados. I want it to become so trendy that it gets it’s own clothing line and homeware range. If we can make anxiety trendy. If we can talk about it, yell about it, shout about it from the rooftops – we can take away some of it’s power, and hundreds of thousands of people who would have been suffering in silence can feel the full warm hug of knowing they aren’t alone.
Talking about these issues publicly doesn’t diminish their seriousness. It doesn’t stop the fact that anxiety and depression are diseases that are probably only going to be properly healed by a doctor or a therapist. But it does diminish the shame and loneliness. It does diminish the isolation. It does diminish a little bit of the fear.