When it’s been a long time since I’ve been very anxious, I forget the worst part about being anxious.
It isn’t the queasiness, the fast heart rate or the weakness in my arms and legs — it’s the waiting. It’s the act of sitting on my bed for five hours, binging “Chernobyl” and trying not to move. It’s the act of swallowing a Xanax in the dining hall and waiting for it to kick in.
My most recent bout of anxiety started without fanfare. I got the stomach flu. I lost somewhere between three to seven pounds in two days. And then, inexplicably, the rapid heartbeat and nausea caused by the bug refused to leave. I’ve been in such a good place for so long that it took me a while to even consider the idea that those sensations were being caused by anxiety.
This is a long buildup to a simple point — that while I was pacing my room and scrunching my body into a Cheerio on my bed and dealing with so, so, so much waiting, I started to get a little pissed off.
My whole life — every twist and turn of the mental health roller coaster that has been the past 19 years — I’ve been told a simple message: It’s okay not to be okay. This is, without a doubt, one of the most damaging messages that people who live or struggle with mental illness are told.
Let me explain. I’m not saying that it’s “weird” or abnormal to be anxious or depressed. They’re common states for people in the U.S. A whopping 16 million adults are affected by depression every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the normative status of depression and anxiety doesn’t, in any way, say that it’s “okay” to be depressed. This is for good reason. When I’m anxious and the only movement I make every hour is to click “next episode” on my screen, I’m not okay. I feel like I’ve been hit with a truck full of serotonin thieves.
When depressed or anxious people are told it’s okay for them to feel the way they do, they’re being told that their depression and anxiety aren’t a big deal. They’re being told that it’s okay to have to wait under their covers and stare at the wall and hope that the bad feelings end soon.
Of course, when people say this, they aren’t ill-intentioned. Perhaps they mean to say that it will get better, or that they’ll be there for the person while they’re anxious or depressed. They could intend to express that the person isn’t alone and isn’t at fault. But to express these things, one needs to clearly say them.
Every single additional second added onto a depressive or anxious episode is awful. Last year, I wrote about how you shouldn’t judge people for medicating for mental illness. I stand by that, but I want to add on to it.
Along with death and taxes, it’s a constant in life that the psychological services of the Claremont Colleges are terrible. Wait times for counseling at Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services are now at four weeks. The staff, even with all positions filled, is evidently underfunded and, still, understaffed. This obviously isn’t okay.
When friends, family, acquaintances and mental health professionals say the oft-repeated “it’s okay not to be okay,” they’re essentially advocating the waiting that I’ve grown so friendly with. They’re condoning surrender to month-long wait times by pushing the idea that the acceptance and commonality of mental illnesses are equal to comfort and functionality whilst in their throes.
While watching “Chernobyl,” I learned several valuable lessons. I learned that the control rods of nuclear reactors should never be tipped in graphite. But I also learned that I’m not very patient with my feelings.
This isn’t a bad thing — sitting and waiting under the assumption that eventually everything will be okay again is the easiest way that I can set myself up again for more sitting and waiting.
Getting out of bed, going to class, going to the dining hall — doing any of these things is difficult when one is anxious. But they’re even harder when people tell you that it’s okay to feel anxious.
Of course it’s normal for people to struggle with their mental health. But perpetuating the idea that it’s okay for people to struggle with their mental health prevents action and disallows progress towards true okayness.
Eamon Morris PZ ’22 is from Orange, California. He’s really enjoying his HBO subscription.