Safe to say the response to my first post on mental health was pretty polarized.
For those who refuse to talk about mental health publicly—that was me at first. Privacy is essential to the dignity of a person and, when taken forcefully, strips us of elements that inherently make us human. But sometimes the line between what is internal and external becomes blurry for the better. This is exactly what is happening to the conversation about mental health.
For those who don’t know much about what mental health entails—you’re not alone. I really had no idea what it was at all until a few months ago. My understanding of it was limited to the words ‘anxiety’ ‘depression’ ‘psychiatrist’ and ‘therapist’—terms with a negative connotation making people think that mental health correlates with unhappiness, tremor, weakness, instability, and going off the rocker to a certain degree.
At first things got weird. I had no idea why. I spent hours on WebMD. I asked questions. Lots of them. A label was used to articulate the experience; I was in denial for a very long time. The label made me feel far from comforted to say the least. So I didn’t tell anyone, partly because I was still in denial, mostly cause I was afraid of what other people would think. I knew I was only slightly confused. But I also knew there was stigma—even here in the bay, home to one of the most progressive cities in America. So taking an extra long mental day off was something I first kept on the very down low.
I’ve been there—the fear of not knowing why or how it is possible that the world suddenly isn’t the way you saw it before, that the things you’re really into are no longer bearable, that the people you always connected with seem to be on some other wavelength that you have no interest in getting in on at all. I thought these were just growing pains.
I also know what it’s like to hear your heart pound at night and for your mind to be so deeply invested in keeping up some incessant chatter with itself that it obstructs any chance of getting to sleep. And for me this last one was like a pest that would not leave me alone: persistent and very much prevalent every night—a true nuisance; a real pain in my ass. That alone is enough to drive any one of us to a breaking point. Not a real surprise that my mental health took a hit.
I was once told that I don’t have insomnia, that trouble sleeping is just part of being a college student. While this is fair—college is a breeding ground for erratic sleeping patterns and stress-inducing thoughts—I have yet to meet another student who didn’t sleep for two weeks straight and called it normal.
So I took time off. I talked to people, thought about it a bunch, learned a lot. Then I came back to school, quietly. A tentative re-entry pushed for by me—which I can think of no better way to describe than by using the French word tâtonnement.
And now I’m ready to talk about it. I’d like to take a minute to give a shout-out to the incredible Victoria Garrick who not only made me face my fear of singing in public freshman year of high school, but who has also empowered me to use my voice and experience as a platform to subvert the stigma. It’s about damn time we do.
Mental health has less to do with happiness than we think; rather, it is more about comfort within the mind. When things are off relative to how you’ve always known them to be, especially in times of distress, take care of yourself. Let off some steam. Make time in your schedule for you. And don’t delay—small strange things can evolve and unravel faster than you have the ability to comprehend.
Mental health discomfort—as I prefer to call it—is a better term. I hate the words illness and disorder. It fuels the existing stigma and perpetuates the problem that I feel the need to address. This doesn’t come naturally to me. I come from Lebanon, a cosmopolitan yet conservative Middle Eastern culture where things like this are still very much taboo, driven by a string of common misconceptions that make for a version of truth that is consequently skewed. But confronting it feels right.
Here are my main takeaways from the whole thing. I call this The Great 8.
- Mental health discomfort exhibits itself in many different ways. There are general commonalities but it really is unique to every single person.
- Mental health discomfort is in no way a sign of weakness. Neither is talking about it.
- Coming to terms with a confusing time of your life takes maturity, understanding and courage.
- Let’s say you choose to disclose—or don’t, either way I respect it. For concerns regarding future relationships, consider this: why would you want to be with people who don’t like the way you are wired?
- And for career—why would you want to work for someone who doesn’t think you are capable?
- This is the generation and place—yay area (!!)—where people talk and people listen; where ideas are generated, things are innovated, and change is initiated. Talking about mental health, here and now, is the best way to go about this.
- It takes a village to subvert the stigma. Don’t make us do it alone.
- Everyone carries baggage. After all, what’s life without some issues?
Let me know what you think.