Phase I: Awkward Looks from Strangers

Someone told me it had been nearly a month since I’d written anything. My first year of law school has made it difficult to write frequently, but I’m going to try and change that this month. If you read any of my posts, please make it this one.

I don’t really remember the first time I saw a bunch of dudes growing mustaches during November, but to be honest I never gave it much thought. That attitude changes today. What started as an excuse for me to join some law school friends in growing a mustache has evolved into a desire to try and embrace the spirit of this month. Mental health is one of the issues Movember brings attention to, an illness very real to me. Some of you know this, but most people don’t: I have General Anxiety Disorder and mild to severe depression. I want to everyone to know that in the grand scheme of things I’m all right. In many ways I’m one of the lucky ones: I have access to and can afford my medication and a counselor; I’m in an environment that I feel is understanding and supportive; with time, I’ve gotten a lot better at managing my symptoms and knowing their triggers; and, most importantly, my family has always supported and loved me, no matter what. But there are a lot of people out there who aren’t as fortunate as me because they live in poverty or areas with poor access to mental health care, or they live in an environment that stigmatizes mental health, or are discriminated against because of gender, sexual orientation, or race. Keep them in mind during this whole month. So, without further ado, I bring you phase one of the mustache journey: awkward looks from strangers.

I’ve known for about a week that I was going to write this post and I kept trying to recall the first time I knew that maybe there was something not right with me. I honestly cannot remember. I just know that I’ve always felt awkward around people and that there were times where I could be extremely withdrawn. I also remember always being a perfectionist: missing an answer on an exam would cause me to lose sleep, knowing I could be better at something would cause me to obsess over it. Don’t even get me started on all the times I’ve run home in the middle of the day because I thought I left the oven on or didn’t switch off the iron, even though I was 99.9% sure I did. Oh, and I suck at taking compliments because I don’t think I deserve them.

Some of you may be thinking, “This doesn’t seem like Alex at all.” You aren’t wrong at all to think that. The truth is, I do my best to mask my problems. My go-to tactics are sarcasm, speaking with a loud voice, and a lot of self-deprecation. And I think that’s where so many of the misconceptions about mental health come from. Me, like so many others, are so good at building walls around our problems that nobody could even consider that we have them. In some ways, it’s our own downfall. We create a public persona that we wish was how we actually were. Sometimes that difference between how we seem and who we actually are can only make matters worse; we deny ourselves self-affirmation, so we look to the very people we are so awkward around for it.

For me, the biggest challenge about having a mental illness is the knowledge that I’ll be fighting it for the rest of my life. I usually know I’ll have a “day” when I first wake up. I feel like there is a huge weight around my chest and I don’t even want to get out of bed. On those days, I try to avoid other people as much as I can. Even then, I’m prone to bouts of thinking everyone is judging me or assuming the worst in everything. Fortunately, these days don’t happen nearly as frequently as they used to. Time has taught me how I can best handle my own struggles and it’s shown me through all the people I’ve hurt the cost of not doing so. Some of the strategies are common: I try to exercise at least three times a week, I go see my counselor, and I take my “crazy pills,” as I’ve fondly come to call them. A lot of my anxiety stems from being in situations that I feel I can’t control, so I try to avoid them. In all honesty, it was for my mental health that I left academia. I couldn’t take being at the mercy of a cruel job market and potentially winding up somewhere I didn’t want to live. So, I made a choice: I’d always wanted to move back to the mountains, so I chose to come to CU Law. I chose law because I knew that no matter what happened to me, I could always set up my own practice. I might be poor and saddled with student-loan debt, but at least I’d be in a place I wanted to be. And for the first time in a long time, I felt in control. Finally, I tried to embrace what I considered to be the positive aspects of having a mental illness—compassion for others. I know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless, and I’ve always tried to make sure that nobody feels that way.

I’ll try to write something every week this month. Please follow along if you’d like. Please donate to my campaign too. It doesn’t even have to be money; it can just be having a greater appreciation that mental health is an issue for so many people and that just by knowing more about it, you’re doing something to help.

Who cares if I’m made of bronze, if my heart is lined with iron?

Mayakovsky

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