For the majority of my adult life, I walked with my head down low and my finger constantly on the apology button, feeling perpetually guilty of each and every moment I couldn’t bear the world, my workplace or anything else for that matter. This constant guilt burned deep and was constantly fuelled by my anxiety disorder. It thought itself psychic and believed it could accurately predict the future with its well constructed and elaborate fantasies. That negative storyteller would attempt to convince me that people were going to judge me if I called in sick where I work for example. I imagined my coworkers saying “I knew John would call in sick again.” As if convinced that I did so because I didn’t want to be there. My sick time was undoubtedly higher than the average. The guilt and sadness that I experienced as a result of having no choice but to stay home ill were just what the doctor ordered, well, as far as the anxiety disorder was concerned. It only made the disorder grow larger and stronger. So too did my need to apologize. Unfortunately, this exponential growth turned into a monster and it would eventually put the brakes on my ability to live a happier life. I never say a happy life because my mental health is such that its either playing in the background of my day or has wrestled me into submission. So I always say happier moments, days, times, etc. With this demon ever becoming louder and louder, stronger and stronger, I became overwhelmed and overpowered by it and as a result, was left little choice but to take leave from my occupation in long term care. This would be but the first of three. I have essentially held captive by the constant fear and worry over anything and everything which also amplified my almost compulsive need to explain why I was frequently absent from work. I worked hard on finding solutions to appease myself more than anything even going so far as to ask the director if I could take unpaid sick leave when I had to call in. I tried, I really did. Of course, while I was meeting with her, I took several opportunities to apologize for my absence. It’s just an s***** feeling to constantly feel like you’re less than you are as an employee. I began to feel regretful for my inability to come to work because I, like many others, was under the misguided assumption that mental illness wasn’t the same as being “actually Sick.” As a consequence, I felt like I was slacking, not pulling my weight etc. Over time, this feeling slowly started to disintegrate my self-esteem. I bet you can guess what the results of my dwindling self-esteem were? That’s right, even more, angst. If you are struggling please go here: Crisis Services Canada Want help fund my book? Donate GOFundMe – The Road To Mental Wellness – The book. Contact me on Facebook: facebook.com/TRTMW
Always a believer that there is a solution for every problem and an avid lover of science, I went to work straight away to learn every last thing I could learn about Generalized Anxiety Disorder. On the surface, doing an obsessive amount of research is very, well, it’s very boring, but I was determined to figure out this beast that was leaving me in a state of continual fear, shame, and uncertainty.
I will never ever regret the daunting task of reading through online science journals and I will always, always be grateful for all the therapy I sought out at this time. It really did help me on my way to wellness. Between education and treatment, I learned so much. I learned what made the anxiety deep within me tick and how to recognize and change my way of thinking. It also gave me the ability to recognize when to spot the moments where my angst was building and it enabled me to better identify its triggers. Putting the work in righted the ship and thankfully, over time I was able to return to work.
What I found most profound, the most liberating from my first real healing journey was fitting the symptoms I saw on paper and computer screens to the actual ones I was experiencing within. The fear, the guilt, and the need to keep me super busy all the time. This was so significant because I realized that, one, what I was going through was without question very real and two, I was not the cause of my symptoms but rather a product of them. It didn’t take long for me to see that I was ill, no different from anyone suffering from an observable physical ailment. The fact that my illness was invisible to the rest of the world didn’t make it any less significant or debilitating.
The fact that I was constantly apologetic for my disorder, gave the illness the power it needed and only intensified my symptoms. Every “I’m sorry” created more anxiety, worry, and shame. Now, being armed with the science of how anxiety presents itself, all the feelings associated with it would become more manageable because the literature confirmed that I was not some lazy worthless human being slugging along through the mud of life but rather, there was so much more to my story.
Now, when I know that things are too much and I just can’t do it; I feel much less guilty for taking a sick day because I AM SICK! Calling it what it is, an honest to goodness illness alleviates the majority of the guilt, shame, and yes, the need to apologize profusely. I cope better with it all now and when I’m overcome with panic and inexplicable dread when I am in social settings, I will unapologetically sneak off to someplace quiet and take 15 minutes to a half-hour to soak up the peace, a reset if you will. I like to do this when I’m feeling symptomatic, that’s what I refer to it as. What’s more, I realized that my tolerance for the expected amount of social stimulus is not what I am equipped to handle, and you know, I’m completely OK with that. Knowledge has freed me from always saying I’m sorry for not being able to “do what you’re supposed to.” I am ill and I’m going to have days when I am no match for my symptoms. I didn’t ask to be sick! Think about it this way, it would be absolutely unspeakable to expect an individual with a serious physiological illness to live up to the gruelling expectations of everyday life…right? We all need to get better at recognizing this. I can’t think of one mentally ill person I know who has gotten any joy from falling victim to any mental illness, myself included.
If you are one who is suffering from any form of psychological impairment, please make no apologies for being sick, for not being able to handle the world like others can. Working within your tolerances and understanding that you have little control over the cards you’ve been dealt will set you up for a more successful and happier life. That being said, using one’s illness as an excuse not to fulfill their obligations is wrong! Finding ways to better cope so one can be productive and happier is the goal. Find a way to fit the mould you were born in and pursue the direction you were meant to take, going against your own grain is only exacerbating your symptoms. On behalf of all mentally ill people everywhere I want you to know that we believe in you!
if you are suffering from PTSD or another mental illness, please reach out. I thank you for your service and you are still worthy and mean something. I believe in you!
I am a mental health advocate and mental health blogger. I Have my own battles with mental illness and want to share my story.
"Telling my story of my mental wellness journey, hoping that it will help others along the way."
View all posts by Jonathan Arenburg