When I sat down to write my book, Emerald (my main character) started off depressed and on drugs. Part of this was a reflection of what I was going through at the time. I was miserable after the loss of my brother, leaving my job as a reporter and a few shake ups in my personal relationships and I wanted to write about someone who felt as hopeless as I did. Another part of it was that I wanted to craft, however complicated it ended up being, a character that was really human – even if she is a witch.
As time went on, and I began to feel better, I decided to tone her character down. No longer on drugs but still plagued with a criminal history and anxiety. Emerald is by no means shy. In fact, in my story her Aunt Nora has a hard time keeping Emerald indoors. This might seem like a bit of a contradiction, but I did it on purpose. People are complicated, and don’t fit into neat little categories and since high school, and maybe even before then, I’ve been an extrovert dealing with mental health issues.
I can’t speak for anyone else who has mental health struggles, but for me one of the most frustrating things has been the assumption that because I’m outspoken and friendly, I can’t possibly have anxiety. I’ve been called out in a big group of friends for not wanting to participate in harmless games, been called a bitch for retreating during activities that were triggering to me and the dreaded “It’s all in your head” which I’m pretty sure everyone who has battled mental health issues has heard (and been infuriated by.)
I travel for work, I don’t mean like three hour drives every day, I mean overseas travel – so this is another point of confusion for people as well. How can I possibly be anxious about say, driving to an unknown place, when I’ve taken airplanes to Europe alone? Well I don’t have an answer for you honestly, because my anxiety has no rhyme or reason. Sure it stems from stuff that’s happened to me, but does it always make sense? Nope. I can chat up a bunch of people at a party and make a ton of friends one week, and be too scared to ask a clerk at CVS where the cold medicine is the next. That’s just how my brain works. I don’t even understand it, so I don’t expect anyone else to but I also don’t expect people to tell me how I should feel because of how they perceive me. You haven’t a clue what goes on inside the mind of someone with anxiety (unless of course you have it yourself and even then it’s different for everyone), the struggles we go through just to go out of the house sometimes. I am active, hardworking and outgoing despite my mental health issues, because I fight against them – and somewhere deep down that outgoing person is the real me. But anxiety is a very, very real part of me too.
I’ve lost a lot of friends because of my anxiety. The assumption that I don’t care about them because I don’t visit, or because I can’t make it to events sometimes has been a hard one to cope with. Partially because I don’t feel I should have to share something like that if I don’t want to (and I’m a stubborn mule), and partially because I know even if I do it probably won’t help. In fact, telling people about my anxiety is usually met with the “Really?” side eye approach.
And I get it. I can’t make someone understand it, especially if they don’t take the time to read up on it before making assumptions. Or you know just talk to me and take my word for it. On the flip side, a lot of my friends have been awesome and super understanding about it, which I’m grateful for, because I know not everyone is as lucky. It’s helped me narrow down my friends and as sad as that is, it happens and is sometimes necessary if you want to live a happy well adjusted life. Keeping people around who refuse to learn about the things that make you you isn’t worth it.
I also have weird reactions to things, or weird for most people I suppose. I see everything through a lens of “How much can I fuck this up?” so sometimes my approach to confrontation, to a phone call, to any social interaction is laced with so much doubt it’s muddled, awkward and ass backwards. Going from social butterfly to this is usually a giant Jack and Jill tumble from hell but it is very possible to be confident in certain areas of your life and a total mess in others. Being a writer I’m surrounded by people who also struggle with anxiety, depression, BP and more, but again most writers I know are introverts, which makes me this sort of freak-party-girl-nerd-hybrid that no one knows what to do with.
It sucks having people question you when you open up about personal issues. I know I shouldn’t let it, but when someone responds skeptically to the news that I have anxiety, it makes me question myself. Maybe I am making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe they’re right. It’s bad enough dealing with mental issues on a daily basis, but to have to convince people it’s a real thing when you’re suffering, that’s even worse. I get it that it’s hard to understand something you’ve never experienced, but please don’t dismiss it. It’s the worst possible reaction you can have, and can actually make your loved one feel worse. If they had a visible sickness, something you could understand because it makes them physically ill (which btw it does that too), it would be I guess easier for you to accept that they didn’t go to your birthday party. But I promise you that even if you can’t see the physical wounds of anxiety and depression, they still hurt just as much.
For more information on anxiety and depression please visit The Anxiety and Depression Association of America online.