Bell Canada Let’s Talk: 2015 Edition

Hello! Guess what day it is? It is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, wherein for every text message sent, mobile call made, Tweet using #BellLetsTalk, and share of the Facebook image, Bell Canada will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives. Besides raising monies, it’s also a day to promote awareness and combat stigma.

As most of you know, mental health is a cause close to my heart. It’s a factor in the lives of people I love, mental illness affects creative types at a disproportionate rate—and as my much wiser boyfriend says,

We all have a mental health.

Whether or not there’s an active illness, taking care of one’s mental health is important for all of us.

As I’ve been made aware (often painfully so) in the past. I’ve always been pretty open about anxiety. And it’s the anxiety I want to talk about today, since it’s the one I live with.

So, Let’s Talk:

Anxiety is a tricky beast. It is defined as “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.” Which tells us some things, but not all of the things.

Anxiety comes in many flavours

Let’s line up ten people with anxiety. While there may be similarities between them, there may also be ten different types of anxiety. Kierkegaard over here has existential anxiety. Sally Student has crippling test anxiety, a diagnosable form of social phobia. Billy-Bob has Generalized Anxiety: persistent, disproportionate worrying and an inability to let go of worries.

I have social anxiety. Which means that I approach social interactions with the profound dread of doing something wrong, I become easily overwhelmed, and I constantly second-guess my ability to read social cues.

Anxiety does not hit with the same intensity all the time

This is a frustrating one. “Okay,” you say, “you have anxiety. Except—hey, last time, you talked to people just fine! Therefore, you are better! So why is this time such an issue?”

Beats me, and I wish I knew. The stimulus that provoked a strong response last week might be manageable this week, and next week, it could be worse again. Generally speaking, the more familiar anxiety-sufferers are with a situation/person, the easier it is—except for those times when it’s not.

“But you’re so social and outgoing!”

*pause*

Laughing-man

I’m a writer. I can also act when needed. So joking around on panels, being gregarious on podcasts, bantering with visitors at the museum—I might be super familiar and comfortable with the situation, but there is also a really, really good chance that I’m faking it.

The better you know me, the more likely it is you’ve seen me in the grip of a meltdown.

The play’s the thing

Going along with the acting metaphor—anxiety hates uncertainty. Hates it. I do not do well with ambiguity at all. So, what’s the answer to that?

Scripts.

This is why it’s actually sometimes easier to be thrown into a group of people I don’t know well. There is a script for such situations. Ask about their jobs, family, hobbies. Make small talk about a Topic Of Common Interest. It’s a formalized, ritualized way of interacting. Anxiety doesn’t mind that, because it can predict what’s coming next.

(This is also why I’m a boss at tours and presentations, by the way—I don’t just have a script, I wrote the f****** script).

Eep.

So…for whatever reason, we’ve hit a point where the anxiety becomes greater than the person’s ability to contain it. What happens then?

Honestly, depends on the person. Some people lash out. Some people have panic attacks. I withdraw. It’s awful and I hate it. Imagine a really heavy, cold blanket slowly draping over you. You can feel yourself going numb, getting weighed down, slowed down, but you can’t do anything to stop it. The voice goes flat. Emotional affect dampens. It’s like when your computer overheats and triggers an automatic shut-down. Whatever the response is—it’s no one’s fault.

But as it’s not fun for anyone, prevention is the key: heading off the anxiety before it hits that point. There are many ways to do this. Exercises from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy were developed for people with borderline personality disorder, but they can work well for anxiety, too. Since sensory overstimulation can be a thing with me, I sometimes take my best sense (my ears, yo) and selectively flood that—music is a godsend when my brain is spinning too quickly.

Kind of like writing, though: there’s no One True Way, you just have to experiment until you find what works for you.

There are many ways up the mountain...

There are many ways up the mountain…

Labels

To close things off, let’s talk about labels. Sometimes, labels can feel helpful. It is awfully comforting to be able to put a name to the feelings and experiences you’re having—and being able to name it gives you some power over it. At a basic level, it certainly helps you find other people who are going/have gone through the same thing.

The thing to remember with labels, though, is that they are a starting point, not an ending. So, you can name this creeping dread “anxiety.” Fantastic, now you can more easily find resources to help, and maybe talk yourself down better (“This is not my thinking—this is anxiety”). It becomes tricky when the label becomes the be-all and end-all; when it becomes intrinsic to your self-conception. You are not a label. Whatever you have, you are not it.

And so…

 As always, I’m glad we talked. Yes, it can be difficult, and awkward, but opening the dialogue is hugely important: for ending stigma, and for helping others find the support and help that they need.

Links Round-Up:   

Kids Help Phone: http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/teens/home/splash.aspx

Canadian Mental Health Association: http://www.cmha.ca/mental-health/find-help/

Centre for Suicide Prevention: http://suicideinfo.ca/

Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/help

American Crisis Hotlines: http://suicidehotlines.com/national.html

British Mental Health Infoline: http://www.mind.org.uk/help/advice_lines

Mental Health Council of Australia Helplines: http://www.mhca.org.au/index.php/help

New Zealand Ministry of Health: http://www.health.govt.nz/yourhealth-topics/health-care-services/mental-health-services

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand Resource Finder: http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/resourcefinder/listings/resource/73/support-groups/#content-222

Be well,

KT

What I’m Listening to This Week

This week, it’s “Fac ut ardeat cor meum” from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Once this movement starts, it doesn’t stop—I’ve actually heard it run faster than the version below. “Make me feel as thou hast felt,” runs a loose translation. In essence, this piece is a plea: and done well, it is hugely emotional.

Baroque music pleases me because of how precisely constructed it is. Again, done well, all the parts fit together like clockwork. Here, that’s particularly noticeable with the runs of three quarter notes at 0:18 (the “ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” bit)—the soprano is rising higher, the countertenor steady underneath, and then they come together so perfectly.

 

Posted on January 28, 2015, in Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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