“Feeling nervous is not a panic attack. Realising you forgot to buy an avocado is not a panic attack.”
It’s World Mental Health Day and social media is alive with a very genuine and sincere buzz of much-needed discussion around mental health issues. It’s great to see so many people challenging the mental health stigma and talking so openly about the problems they face.
Inevitably though, Twitter is also alive with people trying to outdo each other in a massive haystack of self-indulgent hashtaggery.
You’re not part of the media ‘set’ these days unless you’ve got some form of quasi-mental health issue that you can pop on your lapel like a badge every time it suits the mood.
It irks me, because I’ve met many people with real mental health issues of all kinds in my time as a journalist and, for a while, I suffered very badly from anxiety, depression and panic attacks myself. I don’t get them anymore because I cut the tumours out of my life. I feel much better now, which tells me that my mental health took a dip but wasn’t irrevocably damaged. My anxiety and depression were not chronic conditions, they were transient symptoms of a really shit time in my life surrounded by shits.
That’s good then; but the experience taught me just how debilitating mental health issues are and that’s why I find myself frustrated by those who say, in such a blasé, wispy way “Oh yeah, I suffer terrible like panic attacks it’s like really difficult. The other day I was so nervous about my job interview…I only ate half my lobster.”
That is not a panic attack and your only mental health issue is delusion.
Of course, many mental health issues are invisible to the rest of us and lord knows people who are suffering need our unquestioning support but there are some charlatans out there and that gets my goat. You might think: who cares? Who are you to criticise someone for saying they have a mental health issue when really, they’re just looking for approval? Because it belittles a very real problem suffered by so many people in silence.
The truth is that this scrabble on the part of some to identify themselves with mental health issues is indicative of the one mental illness that people don’t like to broadcast: narcissism. And by being narcissists, the usual suspects ‘bravely’ tweeting about their own supposed ‘experiences’ belittle those who are truly struggling with mental illness…often in secret.
I point to panic attacks and anxiety because I know from my own experience what they’re like and also because they seem to be the mental health issue of choice for the attention seeker. It’s a comfy fit for someone wanting to add a complementary hint of tragedy to their designer personality because it’s not stigmatised in the way depression is, it suggests you’re very busy and rather important and to the wanton attention hoover it sounds a bit dramatic.
Feeling stressed – even really stressed – is not a panic attack. Feeling very nervous is not a panic attack. Realising you forgot to buy an avocado is not a panic attack.
A panic attack is where your brain can think of nothing but extreme fear. A panic attack is where you feel like you can’t breathe and you want to scream and your heart is thudding so fast it’s almost a vibration, where your hands are cold and prickly and your thoughts are spinning around like a thousand smashed eggs in a washing machine and when you sit you want to run in any direction so long as you’re running and if you stand up and walk you only want to lie down somewhere silent and dark but then you might die and there’s a pain in your chest and should you call an ambulance and what if you got on the floor now and pressed your face into the ground and screamed…
That is a panic attack. Don’t say you suffer anxiety if you occasionally get anxious. Don’t say you suffer panic attacks if, once in a blue moon, you panic. Don’t look for a Twitter response by allying yourself with people who are genuinely struggling. By doing that in the hopes of seeming right-on you cheapen the issue.
More importantly, if you often feel very anxious when there’s no clear cause or you do go into regular very pronounced panics even when you should be feeling relaxed and zen, then you must seek help. There are some handy contacts below.
We all struggle sometimes and it’s vital that we can express our feelings to those who are there to help us. We have to reach out when we feel like we’re sinking…or sunk. Thankfully, there are some amazing organizations set up to offer support when we need it most.
Just remember though, that World Mental Health Day is there to raise awareness of mental health issues…not raise awareness of you.
For help with mental health issues call Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463