Hey all! Welcome back to the Art + Deco blog. I’m so grateful to everyone that has stopped by to read my previous posts. It means a lot! If for some reason you missed last week’s post, you can find it here.
Today, I want to discuss a topic that is generally ignored and/or dismissed by mass media: mental illness. Of course, I can only draw from my own personal experiences battling with anxiety, but I think it’s important to open up a conversation about what it’s like to struggle with mental illness and how harmful it is to dismiss it in others.
I was formally diagnosed with anxiety in late 2016 after having several bed-ridden days over the course of the summer season in which I felt glued to my bed in a nonsensical panic. I couldn’t slow my racing heart and thoughts; I would fall asleep for only a handful of minutes only to wake up in a cold sweat. What made me panic most was that I couldn’t pinpoint why I felt this way. Now, on medication and equipped with the tools to help combat rising panic, I possess the clarity to see that I’ve suffered with anxiety all my life.
Picture it: a younger version of myself, around seven or eight. Every night before bed I would relentlessly barrage my parents with questions. ‘Did you lock the front door? Did you lock the windows? Is my closet door completely shut?’ Night after night I relentlessly interrogated them, convinced that if I let down my guard, our home would be infiltrated.
At the time these were brushed off as silly childhood fears, but I see them now as my developing fear of the irrational. If my closet door were even a half inch open, I would be frozen in bed, convinced that some evil clown or ax murderer was hiding inside. These mild fears evolved into other aversions as I aged, developing into what I now classify as my own triggers.
It’s hard to recognize something that plagues you from the inside. No one could look at me and tell me that I had a problem. Likewise, it was hard to reason with myself that the way I was feeling even deserved being addressed. I went through cycles of thinking that making an appointment with my doctor would be a waste of both of our time and an overreaction.
Reading books is an incredible tool that I use to help calm that tidal wave inside my mind that announces itself when I’m most vulnerable. Books offer brief reprieves from that churning chaos, if only for a few moments at a time. When I stumbled upon books that feature mental illness, I felt a new kind of comfort.
I remember taking a Survey of Early English Lit class my freshman year of college and reading ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a well-known piece among English majors for its supreme symbolism and its contribution to early feminist literature.
The narrator, goaded by her physician husband, takes a ‘necessary’ rest period to recuperate from a recurring bout of depression. They spend the summer in a vacation home, where the narrator spends most of her days in their bedroom. Through journal entries, the reader sees the narrator become more and more unreliable as she becomes laser-focused on the bedroom’s yellow wallpaper — she’s convinced there’s a shadow woman trapped beneath its pattern. The longer she spends in the room, the more her mental health declines, ultimately personifying the pattern of the yellow wallpaper and slipping into a kind of psychosis that scares her husband into fainting.
Having not encountered many other stories that delved so shamelessly into mental illness, this piece resonated with me long after the semester was over. At the time, I found myself still too self-conscious to openly discuss my own anxiety. This story, and the essay I wrote along with it, acted as a vessel for me, for the first time, to explore and discuss anxiety and depression without fear.
Another book I appreciate for its insight into mental illness is Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted, perhaps one of the more well-known books that discusses mental illness. Kaysen recounts a year of her youth spent in a psychiatric ward after attempting suicide. Through her narrative we also meet several other patients that all possess varying diagnoses and deal with treatment in different ways. It’s a perfect example of how everyone can experience the same illness differently.
“I was trying to explain my situation to myself. My situation was that I was in pain and nobody knew it, even I had trouble knowing it. So I told myself, over and over, You are in pain. It was the only way I could get through to myself. I was demonstrating externally and irrefutably an inward condition.”
There’s an odd sense of solidarity I find in knowing other individuals face mental obstacles like I do. It isn’t that I wish upon someone a mental disorder, but there is some selfish comfort in knowing you aren’t the only one with an invisible illness. Just like a fallen tree in a forest: Does anyone suffer with anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD if no one talks about it publicly? Besides, it’s become so commonplace to refer to oneself as ‘depressed’ just because you’ve fallen unusually sad for a day or so. Moreover, when some people think that just by drinking more water or making the conscious decision not to be sad anymore is in some way a true cure for depression. In some conversations with my peers, I’ve seen them try to relate to my confessions of anxiety by saying, “Yeah, I get nervous too, sometimes.”
When illnesses like anxiety and depression get thrown around like common ailments, it makes those who truly suffer sound ingenuine. I’ve felt that more often than not on occasions when I’ve accidentally overshared my personal experience. Of course, it’s also important not to invalidate yourself if you feel as though you may require a formal diagnosing. It’s complicated, right?
There are already too many analogies to describe mental illness, so I won’t bother making up my own. It’s walking barefoot on hot sand on the beach, hiking to school uphill (both ways) through the snow; it’s a hundred mosquitoes that won’t stop biting you in the ass. There’s never a moral to this kind of story, so for now, we can all agree in the value of being vulnerable.
I’m Dana, a recent college grad from Sonoma State University and newly appointed Social Media Intern here at A+D here to chat with you every Tuesday and Friday. I’m excited to be a part of and witness the publishing process through the lens of a boutique agency. It’s so cool to be a part of a publishing movement specializing in artistic branding and helping contemporary writers craft their written work. Here, we’ll chat about the books that are changing and shaping our lives! So, here’s the place to explore them, to let them out. You can just think of me as your modern-day Bridget Jones – the bookish version!