I sit on my seat by the window in a packed train fighting the wave of anxiety that is tirelessly trying to get to me. For those who do not know this about me, I suffer from an anxiety disorder. Oh, and also claustrophobia. (But not to worry, I also have a great sense of humour, so it balances it out.)
And when I say I sit by the window,… Well, the window actually takes up only about 40 % of the space next to me. The rest of my view is just something big, plastic and totally useless.
I look at the guy next to me who made it clear just a minute ago that he would not swap a seat. Perhaps that is why I don’t really feel like confessing I suffer mental issues, so I let him enjoy his blind victory and close my eyes in a hope that the tension in my heart will pass.
I try and to lean my seat back to get more space when I realise there is something behind it that does not let it move. I look around and see a lady travelling with a huge suitcase (although for a moment I was not sure if it wasn’t other way round) placed straight behind me.
“Excuse me, would you mind putting the suitcase up, please? I cannot lean my seat back,” I say kindly to her. “I am sorry, but it is too heavy, but I will try and find a place for it,” she answers unconvincingly. “Oh, that would be great, thank you,” I answer in a hope that the problem is solved.
However, the suitcase did not seem to be getting ready to move anytime soon. One hour into the journey, it was still lying comfortably behind my seat. And the lady was on the phone for ages so it was impossible to talk to her.
Long story short, I ended up talking to an attendant about my anxiety issues and not long after that was sitting in a complete different seat surrounded by space and air.
However, what made me think was why people are so afraid to mention they experience a mental problem. I am convinced that all of us suffer some kind of mental issue. I am also positive (so I was at the time) that if I would have told to the ‘important’ guy or to the suitcase lady about my anxiety issues, they would have not hesitated a minute and offer a help. Despite their not so helpful initial attitude.
Not to mention I have previously been in the situations where it was not possible to hide my anxiety (or whatever problem I had at the time) and I have never come across anything but help and kindness from other people. Regardless of whether I knew them or not.
Why is it then that there is something in me – in all of us – that makes us believe that admitting how we feel will have a negative outcome for us?
I am sure that this is a question for a professional psychologist to answer, that is why I am not even trying to explain it and rather say what in my opinion we can do to stop feeling this way and become more confident on talking.
The first thing we need to realise is that it takes time to rebuild our old thinking habits. We cannot expect to be 100% open if we have spent all our previous life being 100% closed. Getting more open and less afraid is a process that takes time and a lot of small steps.
When I take myself as an example, an old ‘Me’ would have never admitted to a train attendant I was having mental issues. An old ‘Me’ would have never admitted to the world I suffered with depression. It took a million small steps to get where I am now and I know it will take million more to get even further. But each, even the smallest step counts.
Another thing is to realise that it is not only you who suffers. That most people out there suffer some kind of mental problem. In fact, it is anxiety that makes up the highest percentage of mental issues people suffer from. When you feel depressed or anxious and you have a problem to say it (even though you really want to), try and realise the person you are with is very likely to suffer just as much as you do. This way you realise you are not so special and it immediately takes the spotlight off you.
I cannot count how many times I thought I would come forward with something “big” when sharing some tough period of my life and ended up being blown off by the story the other person said to me in the end. Now I know that no matter what I go through, there is always plenty of other people out there who feel the same or worse. Much worse, indeed.
The biggest problem with mental problems is that they are not visible. If you had no leg for instance, no one would ask you to climb up the Everest. However, when you suffer mental issue, no one can know unless you tell them.
Talking is the best way out. Talking makes your problem ‘visible’ and acceptable by others. When we talk, we feel better. When we talk, we connect with other people on a deeper level. When we talk, anxiety or depression gets released with our words coming out of our mouths.
Ok, but how do I start to talk?
Well, it depends on a situation, of course. If you are, for instance, talking to a stranger and suddenly start to feel anxious, first and foremost try and not freak out (bearing in mind what I described above). After all, you can see it as a chance to start and work on your confidence with talking. Also, do not feel like you need to tell the other person your whole mental health history. You can simply say: I would be more comfortable doing this… I suddenly feel anxious…. I feel a bit weird.. etc. It is enough to simply make the other person aware how you feel at that moment. No need to explain why.
If you start to feel anxious around a person you see regularly, the best you can do (for you both, but especially for yourself) is to make them aware about your mental issue. Having not to hide the emotions in front of someone you see on a regular basis will take an incredibly huge weight off your shoulders. If you are not sure how to start, you can try one of the example sentences above to help you get going. You never know how the other person will react and often it is their first reaction that sets the goal of the further conversation. Therefore do not spend too much time planning the conversation. Just choose the starter and then let the actual moment do its job.
And I promise you, every time you let it out, you won’t understand why you have ever been afraid….
Something I have to remind myself too, every now and then, but it works every single time.