Content Warning: Anxiety, Panic/Panic Attacks, Depression
Until I moved to the U.S., the extent of my mental health knowledge came from British YouTubers making silly videos in their bedrooms. I would never otherwise encounter the term “mental health”. No one around me talked about it. Whenever I asked, my parents would just shrug their shoulders. “We don’t know”, they would say. My friends were in the same boat as me. Looking back on it now, I can’t blame any of them. We were all victims of that mental health culture—or lack thereof.
So, when I got my first panic attack in the middle of an English class, I was told it was just a sign of healthy anxiety. That was the beginning. Soon after, my depressive states were dismissed as just a lack of motivation, and my suicidal tendencies were selfish thoughts. I barely knew what those words meant, yet it had been hammered into me that they were not to be spoken of. In my household, they were too negative or too taboo, and above all, they were just “excuses”.
I carried a lot of shame with me whenever I felt mentally drained or whenever I fell into another depressive episode. In my culture, mental health is a privilege, a first-world problem, and something that people made up, so they could make more money off you feeling bad. Therapy was for those committed to mental institutions, not your run-of-the-mill 9-to-5 office workers or high school students.
“There are people going through worse things than you” was my motto for years. It was reinforced by the people around me, and I felt guilty for even thinking that my mental health struggles were worth bringing up. But when I moved to the U.S., things changed.
To my surprise, many of my new friends had therapists, and they were very much not committed to a mental institution. They took mental health breaks and knew when to stop when the stress was too much. All my life, I had been taught that to persevere was to continuously push through the pain and the tears and the stress, without realizing how toxic that work mindset truly is. I had never considered that taking a break could and should be a part of that.
My outlook on mental health certainly did not switch overnight. It took a couple of years, and even now, I’m still learning. I take breaks now. I talk things out with people. I try my best to give myself days off where I can just do something that makes me happy and not feel bad about not being productive.
Do I still feel bad? Of course, I do. Nothing can erase the years of thinking that mental health is a privilege to worry about. There are a lot of things in my life that remind me of it. But I know better, and progress is enough to keep me looking forward.
I’m not quite at the place, yet, where I feel safe enough to reach out to a therapist, but I’m getting there. Shame is years of calluses building up on you until you realize you can let go of that cliff you’re hanging off of, and that you can take a seat to rest your feet.
Don’t be afraid to take that weight off your back. We can carry it together.