I was adamant that my first post would be about hot chocolate – and I’m sure you’d expect no less, given the title of this blog. Instead, I’m going to be introducing myself by talking about something much more personal, namely living with mental illness.
I have anxiety. I live with it, I suffer from it, I am anxious. However you want to phrase it or dress it up, my brain doesn’t always work properly and, as far as I’m aware, it has always been this way. From as young an age as I can remember, I loved learning but hated school. I struggle with knowing how to talk to people, and I rehearse most social interactions before they happen – whether that’s paying for something in a shop or just saying hello to people I consider acquaintances but not friends.
There are also many more aspects of my anxiety that are less clear cut, and these are often things I know to be irrational but don’t know how to fix. On good days like today, I can laugh at them, but I know that anxiety is often not recognised as the debilitating illness it has been for me. To give a little bit of insight into this, I should probably mention that I do a lot of ‘checking’. Even if I know that something is absolutely positively 100% true, I will still check that it remains absolutely positively 100% true a minute or so later. For example, I have a ridiculous number of key rings because, back when they didn’t jangle incessantly and weigh as much as a newborn baby, I’d constantly be checking that I had them with me. It didn’t matter whether I’d checked just a few seconds before, and this is something I’d do over and over and over again. Something I still do is check for fire hazards. That’s not so irrational, right? Except that I constantly check the switches in whichever room I’m in, and I’ll turn them off at socially inappropriate times. This usually prompts at least one person to ask whether I have OCD in the most ignorant fashion possible. If you are genuinely wondering, I have GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), but that doesn’t mean I don’t detest the misuse of a term that has become far too trivialised in our everyday speech.
If you are suffering from something similar, I applaud you. It is immensely difficult to be battling with some part of yourself that wants to convince you that everything is wrong, and that you’re a failure, and that your house is going to burn down. In reality, there are always good things, and failing some things doesn’t make you less of a person, and you’ve checked the switches so many times that your house will almost certainly not burn down. It is okay to suffer, it is okay to not be okay sometimes, but it is so much more than okay to get help – and I mean that for any mental illness. The stigma around anxiety is slowly but surely beginning to dissolve, but mental health in general is still very much a taboo topic.
I don’t really know how to justify using this blog as a platform to talk about mental illness, but I also know that anxiety is a huge part of who I am, and I can’t write honestly and authentically – even about topics like hot chocolate, which probably seem quite trivial to people who don’t take it quite as seriously as I do – without being honest about my authentic self. I suppose talking about this alongside things that make me happy is a small way to remind myself that nothing is ever completely bad; no amount of anxiety can alter the feeling of warmth that radiates from a steaming mug of hot chocolate, after all.