I’ve suffered with anxiety for years, and for the most part, I’ve been able to manage it well. I’m well aware that many people live with anxiety and are able to understand my sometimes strange antics and habits. After years of studying human behavior, I myself am also able to understand why people do what they do.
With graduation imminent, I am really wanting to learn how to do more “grown-up shit” on my own. I recently purchased a book called “Manskills: How to Avoid Embarrassing Yourself and Impress Everyone Else”, which contains instructions for essential skills not taught in school. I realize the title “Manskills” might sound a bit patriarchal-normative, but knowing how to set a campfire or change a tire are skills that everyone should have.
I was visiting my parents this past weekend and before I left, I wanted to get a haircut. I had planned to use my dad’s hair clippers and do it myself, but my dad insisted that I let him help. I, being almost 23 years old, insisted on doing it myself, as I need and want to stop being reliant on my parents. I figured “how hard can it be?” and that it was nothing that I couldn’t learn from reading my book or watching an instructional video on YouTube.
Like a typical dad, he allowed me to do it on my own, and figured I’d learn my lesson after I failed to cut my hair successfully. Me, being my usual stubborn self, insisted that I could do it perfectly fine on my own.
Needless to say, I managed to fuck up my hair. Luckily, I stopped cutting it in time before it got too bad.
After my parents had a good laugh at my expense, my dad asked me a bunch of serious questions.
“Are you okay, Alex?” my dad asked. “Do you think you need take medication?”
“Why would I need to take medication, Dad?” I responded. “I’ve been able to manage my anxiety.”
“You cut your hair out of impulse,” my dad said. “You should’ve just asked for help.”
I wouldn’t say I decided to try cutting my own hair out of impulse, but moreso out of intuition. As an ENTJ-type, I’ve always been one to try to figure stuff out on my own. Using a hair clipper was one of those things I thought I could figure out on my own.
“If you think you need to see a therapist, think about it now, while you’re still covered by our insurance,” my dad said.
My mother, who could tell I was mortified by what I had done, offered to treat me to a haircut.
We had gone to my favorite place in my hometown get my haircut. As we were sitting in the lobby, I told my mother, “Dad says it may be in my best interest to see a therapist.”
“Do you agree?,” my mother asked.
“I don’t know, maybe,” I said. “I mean, I like to think I’ve been adjusting well since the robbery.”
“Haven’t you been talking to someone about it?” she asked.
“Yes, but she’s a counselor, not a therapist or a psychologist,” I said. “She can’t officially diagnose me with a subsequent mental illness.”
My mom then clenched her teeth then turned her head toward me, giving me a look that basically said “Alex, why the fuck would you talk about mental illness in public?”
“Mom, literally, one in five people suffer from some form of mental illness,” I said. “Everyone needs to be comfortable having these conversations. It needs to be destigmatized.”
To be honest, I’m fairly certain that my mother was the one I learned a lot of my behaviors from. Ever since I could remember, she would sometimes begin driving away from the house and then run back inside to make sure she unplugged the iron or turned of the oven. When we would go grocery shopping, we would walk up to the store, but then she would run back to make sure she left the brake on and the door locked. I repeat a lot of her behaviors to this day, as I feel I’ve been conditioned to believe that disaster can take place at any given moment.
I was then called up to get my hair cut. Luckily, the stylist was able to fix my hair to the point where my big mistake wasn’t noticeable.
I went back to my apartment in Denton after, but throughout the day, a question continuously rang through my head; “Why are we so uncomfortable talking about mental health?”
There are so many memes and internet humor pieces that address it with a semi-humorous spin, so obviously, a lot of people can relate, but nobody seems to want to have a serious conversation about it.
Mass media is doing an okay job of representing illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, PTSD, etc., however, there is always room for much needed improvement. For example, television and film usually illustrate women with mental illness as batshit insane, while men with mental illness are portrayed as “mysterious” or “geniuses”.
Also, news outlet tend to paint (white) people who commit mass shootings as being mentally ill, and people whose cases aren’t as severe may fear being likened to shooters and terrorists. This is often a case of media bias, in which if a white person commits a mass shooting, they are described as being “depressed” or “bipolar” or “anxious”, whereas if a person of color does the same, they are labeled as a terrorist. I’ll probably write a piece on media bias at a later time, but this phenomenon does play a significant role in the stigmatization of mental illness.
When I speak to friends who came to America from foreign countries, they said one of the biggest differences between their culture and that of America is the fact that Americans seem to be less happy because they’re always working. Work overload is proven to lead to depression and anxiety, however, most workplaces in America only allow their employers two weeks of paid vacations. The idea of calling out of work to take a “mental health day” is often frowned upon, however, is sometimes necessary when continuously working on a 40-hour-per-week basis.
I can’t count how many time I’ve refreshed my email with a sigh of relief, thankful that I hadn’t received anything work, school, or finance related.
The reason a lot of people opt not to call in for mental health reasons, or choose not to use their vacation days, is because they fear falling behind at work. Or, they fear that another employee may outshine them while they are away.
In a Michael Moore documentary I recently watched, called “Where to Invade Next”, the aforementioned director visits multiple countries with the sole purpose of learning about what America “gets wrong.” In several European countries, workers are given seven weeks total of paid vacation, plus, it is illegal for employers to email employees after work. Some companies servers block employers from sending emails to their employees within a certain time frame.
With mental illness coming to light in mass media and in the form of internet memes, I believe that America is slowly but surely understanding that this is something that affects a lot of people.
There is no shame in taking medication, seeing a licensed professional, or simply taking a few days off from work for the sake of your mental health.