“Today you are you—that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!”
~ Dr. Seuss
In the movie, A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe plays a schizophrenic genius who manages his disease by acknowledging his hallucinations as present, but not real.
His mental strength allowed him to live a brilliant life, with a mental illness, and without medication. His life is an example of how people can beat mental illness.
No one is born anxious. There may be genetic leanings, or generational trauma that affected someone’s childhood, but that is just it—it is experience that leads to mental illness. And experience that brings us back. Diseases of the mind are curable. It isn’t easy, in fact, it’s a heinous fight. But if you understand that your mental health is worth it, you will fight. And you can win. I won.
I’ve suffered from anxiety my whole life. The year after I graduated from college I washed 36 Seroquel down with Jack Daniels as a final resort to making it stop, and I fantasized about whatever comes after this life.
I chose to overdose because I thought it would be just like going to sleep forever—I was wrong. It was the most terrifying experience feeling myself wake up as my body processed all the poison I put into it. I remember not being able to breathe as I crawled in agony to the bathroom. It must have taken me 45 minutes to move three feet. But I survived my suicide attempt, and when I woke up the next morning it was my 23rd birthday and I got a Starbucks and went to work. Like it never happened.
That’s the thing though. We don’t talk about mental illness because it is uncomfortable for the audience and shameful for the individual. However, the statistics merit an uncomfortable conversation, and further destigmatization of mental illness. More middle schoolers, ages 12-14, are dying from suicide than car accidents. Over 41,000 adults in America have committed suicide so far in 2016, and unlike me they didn’t survive. Twenty veterans commit suicide every day.
These statistics are just for the United States, but mental illness is a global issue; in Japanese there is literally a verb for “dying at your desk.” You know what they say about language? Words are created for specific purposes. That means enough Japanese people were dying at their desks that it merited the creation of its own verb. It’s time we looked more closely at this issue.
What do we do?
Do we get on more drugs? I’ll speak for myself, I don’t have anxiety because of a Xanax deficiency. For me the cure wasn’t more sun or a vacation. I needed a fundamental rewiring of how I saw myself. I needed to love myself, so I could stop being so f*cking dependent. People could send me to bed for a day with just an off look or comment. So, for my sanity, happiness, and survival I had to learn to love myself.
Self-love is my shield, and yours too. So, for someone who has never loved themselves before, how did I start? One way I started loving myself was by acknowledging the wounds of my past, and negative self-view. I felt kind of stupid at first: looking at myself in the mirror and saying, “Kathleen. I love you. You are kind, and hilarious, and full of grace and promise. Kick ass today.”
It was one of those fake it until you make it kind of things. Although all these things about myself are true, I couldn’t admit them to myself because I had to heal from years of playing the mantra of “You suck, you’re unloveable, just let them grab your pussy…” F*ck that shit.
I had to make amends with myself. I kissed the scars on my wrists and said, “Kathleen, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the years of begging for scraps of love and attention, or some small sign I was valuable when who I really wanted time and attention from was myself. I’m sorry for believing the lies that I wasn’t valuable, worthy of love and belonging, a brilliant, woman, and glowing from my soul. I’m sorry.
I also had to learn that standing up for myself is an act of self-love. It could be something as simple as saying no to things I couldn’t do, like cover someone’s shift at work or give away my last piece of chocolate (my office snack game is dope). It was also more intense, like having a serious conversation with my parents about childhood trauma. The truth is, my anxiety is not my parents fault. But family dynamics can be triggering, and greatly affect how we view ourselves. We are still learning how to love one another effectively. But we’re learning.
Beneath the surface of mental illness is a cocktail of suffocated frustration and hurt, and if these emotions are strangled for too long they will force you to release them with the strength of an earthquake. Armor up and go within. Find the frustration, anger and hurt and douse them with love.
Twenty months into my journey of self love, through meditation and introspection I’ve learned this: the antidote to anxiety is love, patience, and grit. We’re human beings—we’re resilient as hell. Truly, there is no need to fear. If you find yourself suffering, from depression or anxiety, please seek help. But the opinion of this survivor is the following: f*cking love yourself. You have to.
Author: Kathleen Hannah
Photo: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May