Imagine that every conversation of your life was like getting up on stage, naked, at the Met, in front of 3,000 people.
It is a feeling I get when I feel like I can’t do something. Something bigger than me is standing in the way. It feels almost literal, like walls are built up brick by brick. Some people might be deathly afraid of spiders or snakes or heights. I’m deathly afraid of other people. Just think of your worst fear and having to live with it all the time. Forever. The threshold of when I begin to feel it has changed as I got older, but it’s the same feeling. I feel as though I’m constantly being watched. The problem is that I’ve come to like being with other people too. That’d be like being afraid of spiders but having a tarantula as a pet, by choice. I know this must seem confusing but I’ve lived with it for 19 years and even I don’t understand it.
My first day of kindergarten, I walked into the classroom and stayed directly to the left of the door underneath the light switch. I didn’t move from that spot during school for about 7 months. It was like I was superglued to the floor. The only way I could describe the feeling is by saying it felt like I was walking in somewhere where I KNEW I was going to die. I feel really bad even saying that because who am I to say that it felt like dying. But what I’ve come to realize is that thinking that your feelings don’t mean anything just makes it worse. I didn’t speak, eat, or use the bathroom at all in school.
It took 7 months before anyone was able to figure out what to do. I don’t think it would be fair to blame anyone in particular. The school thought that I was doing it on purpose and that I wanted the attention. My parents took me to four special doctors. The first one told my parents not to feed me, so we didn’t stay with him very long (he also happened to be deaf). The second one also told my parents that I was defiant, had Generalized Anxiety, maybe a little bit of Autism, and also that I would stay that way for the rest of my life. The third guy didn’t help much but about 4 weeks into me seeing him, something happened and he lost his voice. Kind of ironic, isn’t it…
We finally found one doctor who was able to help. He diagnosed me with a severe form of Social Anxiety called Selective Mutism. It was a relatively new diagnosis at the time and their wasn’t much research about it. Therapy was based on slowly, but forcefully exposing me to what I was scared of. The first time I spoke to another kid in school was in the middle of first grade. Progress was slow and there were plenty of reversals. A little later on I was then diagnosed with Social Anxiety. Middle school and high school were even worse in some ways because I knew what was happening. It’s easier not to know things sometimes.
Only until recently have I found it 2.0. It’s kind of like movie reels spinning in my head about this thing and that thing that happened. The movies just keep going and going, faster and faster. Sometimes I can get stuck watching, and I know I need to stop, but I don’t know how. That’s the most frustrating part. Getting angry and upset about the things that happened in the past, the stuff I missed out on doesn't help. It still happens though. Someone told me it’s like getting stuck in quicksand. It’s something that you can’t control, and when you try to control it, it gets worse. The frustration is the worst part, because I’m so close to letting go of it, but so far from being able to.
There were plenty of times that I thought it really would just be better to crash into the tree on the side of the road while I was driving around that corner with the music playing when I felt like no one, not even me, understood. But the path of least resistance is never the easiest. There was one time I came close to jumping out of the car on the Tappan-Zee Bridge when I was with my mom on the way to the doctor. Another time I tried to choke myself with one of those outdoor red wire dog leashes. I never came close to anything bad happening. And I don’t really think I ever wanted anything to actually happen. I would get really depressed about just missing out on so much because of my anxiety. At the time I just felt so far behind everyone else. I didn’t really have any friends. I never went to a party or had a girlfriend or a first kiss. My mind would just go from one thing to another nonstop and I just wanted all of it to end.
Only until my senior year of high school did I kind of allow myself to be a real person. I was able to get close to some really great people who I felt comfortable around and that when I was with them, for some of the first times in my life, I really felt alive. As if I was present in the world and the world was present in me. I couldn’t really put this into words for you to understand but it made my feelings about the past that much worse because I realized for the first time that I was only really living my life after 18 years. It has just become a game that I have had to learn to play against.
Even now in 2015 stories like these still happen and people can’t get access to good mental health care. Kids, parents, teens, college kids, adults. It’s still a thing that people don’t talk about. My question for you is Why?
We as a society are so sympathetic to any part of the body breaking down except the brain. When people have mental issues why is it always considered something that is a choice. Like someone could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough, because that couldn’t be further from the truth.
49.5% of American youth will have had a diagnosable mental illness at some point before they are 18 and much of these people never seek treatment*. Even people with the most severe disorders don’t even receive treatment because they don’t know treatment exists or they’re afraid or embarrassed to. If you don’t believe the stigma, think about this. Think about how many people post on Twitter or Facebook about every single little thing that happens, every time they eat or leave the house. People don’t second guess posting about suffering from a cold, the flu, a broken arm, a migraine. Have you ever seen someone post about not being able to get out of bed because they were depressed? My guess is no. But don’t they all deserve attention? It’s just this societal sheet that everyone puts on mental health issues so no one talks about them.
I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to even talk about this. But I figured that being a person that can talk about it and isn’t, is me just buying into the stigma. And where would we be as a society if everyone who ever spoke out about different issues never did. Progress is slow and has to start with people who care enough to say something. I’m hopeful about the future because without hope and striving for progress, what else do we have?
* "Speak Up For Kids Mental Health Report." Speak Up For Kids. Child Mind Institute, 2015. Web. <http://www.speakupforkids.org/report.html>.