I’ve suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder for my entire life, although I was only diagnosed with the mental health issues at 22. Prior to that, it was like I had a grey cloud over my head most of the time, because there was always something I was ruminating over – be it the end of the world, my grades at school, whether a friend hated me or not, etc.
The thing is, these are normal things to concern yourself with (except maybe the end of the world, I guess). But for someone with anxiety, simple worries turn into crippling, all-consuming fears. They literally stop you from functioning in a healthy way. You stop enjoying life. I remember one sports carnival day when I was 15, where I was so scared that at any minute the sky was going to open up and the Apocalypse would occur that I felt on the verge of tears constantly, even though I was having this supposedly amazing time with my mates. Sounds funny, right? Well it is in hindsight, but in the moment it was so traumatic, I still find recalling it uncomfortable.
Not that my friends would have known I was so upset – I may have always suffered from anxiety, but I’ve also forever been the kind of person who squashes that shit down and pastes a happy smile on my face. I’m very good at pretending I’m fine. It’s actually something I’m working on with my psychologist these days – I’m so good at bottling up how I really feel, that I’m not being honest with people in my life, most of the time. I’m essentially lying to everyone, because while I might be laughing and joking constantly, when I’m anxious I’m rarely engaging in anything with my full attention – because my mind is elsewhere, worried about shit.
These days I’m much more in control of my anxiety. I take my medication regularly, I see my psychologist once every few weeks, and I practice mindfulness when I do get overwhelmed. PS: I use Headspace and really rate the app, the 10 minute sessions are totally do-able on the train to work.
But there can still be times that it gets on top of me, and because I struggle to open up, people in my life can think everything is cool when actually, I’m struggling big time.
It’s R U OK? Day today, a day we take to check in on our mates and hopefully, prevent suicides – or even just pull a friend out of a dark mental place. But while checking in on friends who show signs of depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness is important – there will be friends that hide their shit so well, you might think they’re fine.
I’m here to say, as one of those people, that not everyone who seems fine IS fine. Here’s how you can reach out to someone who acts like everything’s cool.
GO TO BREKKIE TOGETHER
One-on-one time over a meal is a great way to get someone who seems fine to open up. Generally when we catch up with mates solo, we deep dive into each other’s lives – and naturally, things that are bothering us tend to come up, if we have a close enough relationship with that person. I’m more likely to start opening up over a more intimate chat like this, than I am if someone just texts me to ask if I’m doing OK, or checks in in passing.
FOLLOW UP ON STUFF
When I went through a breakup earlier in the year, everyone rallied around me for the first week or so. This is natural – when someone goes through a tough time, we as mates come through during the crisis moment. But often, people who seem ‘fine’ will seem like they bounce back after a couple of weeks – they haven’t. They’re just experts at covering up emotions. So check in on those mates one month, two months, even three months down the track. Chances are they’re still having a tough time.
“How are you going” will usually be met with a “good, you?” from someone who acts like they’re always fine. But if you dig deeper and ask specifics, they might be more likely to admit they’re struggling. For example, during that breakup period, if someone had asked me how I was, I’d say “great!”. But if someone asked how I was going with the BREAKUP, I probably would have been more honest.
As needy as all of this sounds, the fact of the matter is that mental illness is a prickly bitch – sure, everyone WANTS to reach out, but often they just can’t. That’s the truth. And it’s up to us (when we are in a good headspace) to help our friends out and do the work for them.
This R U OK? Day, check in on your friends who are open about their struggles. But also, try and tee something up with a mate who seems 10/10. You never know what they’re going through.
If you’re struggling with your mental health or you’re worried about a friend, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or the Kid’s Help Line on 1800 55 1800.