Posted in Shattering Stigmas

“A Rant About Being Invalidated” by Ben Ace

Ben is one of my closest friends and I am so excited to welcome him to the blog to discuss his mental health. Ben is a fantastic book blogger, writer and future translator. He was my buddy at Bookcon this past year and he has co-hosted several blogging series with me, including Shattering Stigmas! Keep up with Ben on his blog, Twitter and Instagram.

I don’t think enough people understand that when your mental health hits an all-time low, your physical health often suffers, and vice versa. Trying to figure out which started the other has become a chicken-or-egg situation for me. I often find myself retracing steps from the last 15 months or so, trying to figure out what led me to be in the physical and mental state I’m in today. But the truth is, I can’t point to any one thing, and I shouldn’t have to.

For a bit of background, I’ve dealt with Generalized Anxiety Disorder for literally as long as I can remember. However, I didn’t have a diagnosis until my sophomore year of college (two years ago), and even then, my therapist at the time gave it as a loose diagnosis. Her words were something like, “I think you probably have GAD, but I don’t want to hold you to that.”

She didn’t like giving me labels for my symptoms and even talked me out of saying I have ADHD because she thought it was anxiety getting in the way of my studies. She said I don’t have clinical depression because my constant worrying tires me out to the point that I only appeared to have symptoms of depression. In hindsight, that should have been a red flag, but I had never seen any other therapist, so I assumed she knew best. Sometimes I want to believe her hesitation to give me a GAD diagnosis was the higher forces trying to save me from a life of being disbelieved by doctors. But really, her diagnosing me with only GAD set me up to have every pain and problem get traced back to anxiety.

In 2019, the most important thing I have learned is that doctors like to blame everything on my anxiety. Also, I’ve learned from my peers that I’m a hypochondriac who doesn’t realize that there are people in this world who have it worse than me. Apparently, both details should make my pain easier to deal with.

If I try to pinpoint when my health started taking a turn for the worst, I can name a few different times in my life. I remember my first panic attacks in third grade. I started dealing with vertigo attacks and tinnitus in tenth grade. But everything else hit me like a train in my third year of college.

There’s a lot I don’t remember about the first semester of my third year in undergrad. I was still a sophomore because I hadn’t earned enough credits to qualify as a junior, and I was only taking 12 credits (the minimum to be considered a full-time student). That was a source of stress because I’d no idea how I was going to graduate on time, or at all, and go to grad school if I couldn’t handle more than four courses at a time. On top of that, my parents split just a couple of months before, and it was the first semester I decided to live on campus instead of commute. My life was a domino fall, but not a simple line of dominoes. It was one of those complex videos that you see on TikTok set to some chaotic sound as thousands of pieces tip over right after each other.

One thing I do remember from that time was that it was the first semester I started using the term “chronically ill” for myself. I hesitated to say it the first few times and almost choked on the sound coming out of me. I don’t think the people around me understood the confidence and sense of self it gave me to say it because I got a lot of comments from friends saying I talked about it too much. In a way, I don’t blame them. There was no way for them to understand what I was going through. I just wish I’d been better able to explain at the time it was like finding any other label. My frequent mentions of being chronically ill felt no different to me than my or their frequent use of “I’m so gay right now” or “I’m too ace for this.”

No one could understand that on top of my anxiety plateauing at a record high, the vertigo and tinnitus attacks were back. The chronic nausea was more violent than I’d ever experienced. I was so fatigued that taking the stairs was a chore. These weren’t types of pain people could see.

So I continued to go to class and sit in the back so no one would tell I was panicking. I downed Tums like candy hoping the chronic heartburn was the only cause of the nausea. I even took the stairs if I was walking with a friend and didn’t want to explain or if I was only going up one floor because it looks pathetic to get in the elevator on the first floor and press “2” when you don’t look like anything’s wrong with you. Because people can’t see the heart palpitations or stomach acid reaching your throat from a little bit of physical exertion.

By the end of the first semester, most of my friendships were strained, I barely talked with my family (until going home for winter break), and I took extensions (which I would never finish) on two of my four classes. It was getting too much to handle, and I spent that month off talking myself into going back to school. Because finishing my degree is the top priority! Because I need to be the first in my family to graduate! Because I need this education if I want to pursue the career I’ve been dreaming of for years!

Besides, it was all “just anxiety.” And me wanting to find a diagnosis is apparently proof that I’m simply an overly health-conscious worrier. At least, that’s the message I got from my primary care physician.

The first time I asked her if what I was experiencing might have been more than GAD, she upped my anti-anxiety meds. Later, she switched them because the “physical manifestations of anxiety” weren’t going away. I’ve now been off of anti-anxiety medications for a month, and not a single symptom has gotten worse.

The second time, I tried a bit harder. My grandmother drove me to that appointment, so I was venting about all the reasons I was going. By then, I was too numb to be concerned when she said, “That sounds like your grandfather and his MS.” I’ve always known Multiple Sclerosis runs on both sides of my family, so it was more of an “I might finally be onto something here,” running through my head. 

But the doctor said because no new vision problems had recently appeared, it wasn’t MS. I tried to push, hoping that even if there was no way it was MS, maybe she’d suggest tests for something else, but she didn’t. I let it drop.

The worst was when I went to her in July because I hadn’t had a period in four months (since March.) Before that, it was December, and before that, it was September. I’d assumed it was all just stress, but it was getting longer between periods, and I’d been out of school, and therefore less stressed, for a couple months, so I knew it had to be something else. 

The only question the PCP asked was if there was any way I was pregnant. There wasn’t. Then she started typing in the computer, apparently sending in a prescription for progesterone, a female hormone. When I told her I didn’t want to take that because I’m transgender (which was at least the third time I mentioned it to her) and she said that it was the only way to get my period back, I realized there was no winning in that doctor’s office. There was always going to be some kind of miscommunication or disagreement.

I brought up the possibility of PCOS, a hormone disorder that screws up people’s menstrual cycles and causes a ton of other problems. She said that’s probably what it was but didn’t think tests were necessary. I haven’t been back to that office, and I’m scared to switch to another doctor because the idea of going through the same thing several times to find someone who will take me seriously is exhausting.

So I suppose the message here is to take someone’s lack of physical or mental health seriously. Sometimes I, and others, don’t need to be comforted. I need answers or at least an effort to get answers. Sometimes I just need to vent and for people to act like they’re listening. But the number of times I’ve been invalidated by healthcare professionals and told by peers that I’m being overdramatic and these symptoms should not stop me from staying in a club or continuing school frustrates me to the point that I have no words. So please take a minute to check on your friends who are dealing with some nasty stuff. They need a reminder that they’re not a burden and reassurance that not everyone in the world will downplay their pain.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

“Write About Anxiety, Said My Brain” by Charvi @ It’s Not Just Fiction

I’m so excited to welcome teen book blogger Charvi to the blog today with a post about examining anxiety from a variety of angles and through books. Charvi is a newcomer to Shattering Stigmas and I’m so excited to have her post on my blog. Keep up with Charvi on her blog and Twitter.

Write about anxiety said my brain.
It’s gonna be great, said my brain.

Hi everyone! My name is Charvi and you can usually find me blogging away at Not Just Fiction. Today I’ve popped up at Taylor’s blog for the Shattering Stigmas series. First off, I want to applaud all the co-hosts of this series for coming up with this idea, I absolutely love it. Also, thank you so much Taylor for having me here 🙂

Why am I here though?

I’m here to talk about anxiety.

No, I’m not here to give you textbook definitions of what anxiety is and educate you on how to go about it. Because to start with, anxiety isn’t really something you can define. It is indefinable because  different people experience it differently. Trying to define anxiety would be like trying to define love, there is no one definition.

And many a times people don’t even use definitions, they use prevalent stereotypes associated with anxiety as definitions.

“Oh you’ve got anxiety? You must shy away from every single person and hate phone calls.”

Maybe, maybe not. Either way your stereotypes are making me uncomfortable or invalidating my anxiety, if I don’t fit into your stereotypes of what anxiety is. Here’s a true story for you. I’ve always been an anxious individual and a couple of years ago I found out that the internet associates anxiety with being afraid of making phone calls. I found phone calls a pretty normal part of my routine but to get that validation my teenage self somehow internalised that stereotype and now I’m anxious of phone calls. Bravo! As if I didn’t have enough anxieties in life 🙂

Please tread lightly when it comes to anxiety, or any mental health illness for that matter of fact. You may not intend to or even realise the amount of damage you are causing to the other person. Whatever you know about anxiety is only the tip of the ice-berg. I like how media, especially books are giving voice to anxiety in so many ways these days.

I’m so tired. I’m tired of anxiety that twists my stomach so hard I can’t move the rest of my body. Tired of constant vigilance. Tired of wanting to do something about myself, but always taking easy way out.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Every time I thought I’d worked out what I really enjoyed, I started to second-guess myself. Maybe I just didn’t enjoy anything anymore.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

But like I said, everyone experiences anxiety differently so there’s plenty more room for other narratives. In fact, for this post I want to list out some anxious thoughts that are a part of my daily routine, ones that you might never think a person with anxiety has to go through.

  • Me, lying in bed: my dorm neighbours are having some fun. Hmm, I wonder what my friends back home are doing. Are they having fun? Have they already forgotten about me because they haven’t contacted me in a long time. Wait am I the only one in my friend group who’s not having fun in life?
  • Oh that’s nice, my friend is going back home today. I hope they have a nice flight. Wait, it’s raining outside. What if their flight gets delayed? Or cancelled? What if they have to stay alone and hungry at the airport?
  • I wonder how my sister’s studies are going? Ugh she has such bad concentration, I hope she’s not on her phone right now. God I hope she gets good marks in her exams. What if she doesn’t?
  • Am I feeling anxious? Or am I hungry? Oh god why am I feeling anxious about feeling anxious??
  • God why is it so hot in October? It’s global warming that’s why. I’m so worried about this, when is the government going to act? Are we really going to die by 2050?
  • Okay, I’m so full. I literally can’t eat anymore. But there’s still some food and I don’t want to waste it. So I should eat it I guess. But what if I get a stomachache from eating too much? What do I do??

In a nutshell, my anxiety doesn’t just revolve around me. It revolves around the lives of every single person I know and every incident that takes place in my consciousness. Anxiety can be triggered by something extremely random and knowing that I’m getting anxious over something completely random and useless doesn’t help in the least bit.

I hope what I wrote resounds with at least one person who reads this, but even if it doesn’t resound with you, I’m going to recommend five books with great anxiety representation and hopefully you’ll see yourself in those books 🙂

“I learned years ago that it’s okay to do this. To seek out small spaces for me, to stop and imagine myself alone. People are too much sometimes. Friends, acquaintances, enemies, strangers. It doesn’t matter; they all crowd. Even if they’re all the way across the room, they crowd. I take a moment of silence and think:

I am here. I am okay.” –Eliza and her Monsters

“In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)” – Fangirl

“Some people’s coping mechanisms were all about festering and secrecy and ruminating until you grew yourself a nice little tumor in your heart with a side of panic attack. Different strokes.” – Emergency Contact

“I get into this weird place sometimes where I worry about that. I’ve never told anyone this – not my moms, not Cassie – but that’s the thing I’m most afraid of. Not mattering. Existing in a world that doesn’t care who I am.” – The Upside of Unrequited

“I wonder- if nobody is listening to my voice, am I making any sound at all?” – Radio Silence

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

Social Anxiety and Heteronormativity by Olivia Gennaro

I know I shouldn’t play favorites with my Shattering Stigmas posters because they are all wonderful and I am so grateful for each and every one of you and my fabulous co-hosts Amber, Shannon and Mari. However, there is something special about having such a close friends share extremely personal things with me and on my blog. Olivia originally wrote this piece for last year’s Shattering Stigmas and it got lost in the shuffle. However, I’m more excited to post it this year because over the past year, Olivia has become such an incredibly close friend of mine, so thank you my favorite (and only) accountabilabuddy and podcast co-host. Speaking of our podcast, Culture Popped Open, you can find us on Twitter and Instagram, and you can listen to us wherever you get your podcasts. Olivia is a future English teacher (she’s gonna be goals, y’all) and you can find her bookish and educational musings on Twitter, Instagram and her blog. Take it away, friend. ❤

I have social anxiety. I can say that now because my licensed therapist agrees. I also didn’t figure it out until this year, and I didn’t even realize I had anxiety until four years ago, even though it all makes sense I’ve had this all along. Oh, and then there’s also how my therapists have said I probably have some sort of OCD, and I obsessively check my hair and pick the skin on my fingers and typo-check and over-explain things, revise, and explain again. There, that’s it. Over-explain things. Like I am right now. Let’s move on.

I’m also bisexual. I feel very sure of that and I’ve properly known for like three years, even though of course I’ve always known a little all along. I also like the word queer, but that one’s more difficult to explain to those outside the community. I sort of like pansexual, but how can I confidently say I’m attracted to all genders? Oh, look. There I go again. You get it.

These two things interact in a way that goes beyond that paragraph. For me, my social anxiety means that I take great pains to present myself how see myself, so that others can see myself that way. Hence the constant explaining. (This means I’m confident in school, because I’ve always been told I’m good at it, and you can see how my perfectionism ended up very unhealthy.) This obviously gets complicated when it comes to bisexuality. Unless I’m wearing a big bi flag button (which, admittedly, I do have on my backpack), no one’s first guess is going to be bisexual. It’s not anyone’s first guess. Most people are going to assume I’m straight, because the world is rather heteronormative. Others might think I’m gay now that I’ve got shorter hair and sometimes I’ll dress more masculine (I like to switch it up). Or they might assume one or the other depending on the gender (or assumed gender) of the person I’m dating. And then I can’t just broadcast this fact to everyone, either, because homophobia and biphobia exist, and my social anxiety really just wants people to like me because that’s how I feel in control of my image. Being “political” or “controversial” by nature doesn’t go well with that.

And then bisexuality comes with even more explaining, because a lot of people don’t understand it. When did you know? How do you know? When did you come out? Are you 50/50? Have you been with each? Wait, there’s more than two genders? Then why do you say you’re bisexual? But if you’re in a relationship with [gender], are you still bi? How does that work??

So, naturally, every time I tell someone I’m bi, I have to resist the urge to explain exactly what I mean by that and my entire history of crushes on various genders. (Thankfully, a lot of my friends at college are totally used to bi people, if they aren’t LGBTQ themselves.) But this world is aggressively heteronormative, which I learned I really, really hate.

This is the story of how I learned that.

I’m going to curb my compulsion to explain everything when I set the scene here, so: Senior prom. Small school; we all knew each other. My boyfriend of 2.5 years broke up with me a few months earlier, and we’d tried to stay “friends.” (We actually had different definitions of what friends were, at least good ones, so after graduation we stopped speaking.) We were in the same friend group, which was more or less the half of the grade because again, small school. As you’d imagine, with my social anxiety that I hadn’t figured out yet, I was terrified of being that girl (dumped, upset, vengeful, so on), in addition to all the academic pressures. I knew I was bi, but I was only out to my ex at the time. (He was totally fine with it. But that’s another story.)

In this new stage of my life, where I was single and college-bound and just looking forward to all the independence that comes with that, I figured we would hang out with our mutual friends together. There were other girls I knew who were recently single and it seemed like a fun idea. After all, he’d broken up with me to be single and focus on himself, right?

But then I asked him if that’s what he was thinking of too, and he revealed he’d already had a probable date, one of those recently single friends, so there went my plan. Putting aside all the personal feelings that necessarily came up here, he said something that bothered me: “It’s important to me and my family.”

I didn’t understand this, and honestly, I’d never understood all the conventions about buying tickets or paying for dinner. (Not to mention that we’d had a junior prom, of course, and took many pictures.) We’d always make a joke of it. I said it was because it was important to me that I felt equal in our relationship, which is why all the college and career stuff caused me to panic a lot and ended our relationship. But now I understand it was about way more than that—it was my queerness.

I had this complete existential crisis during the actual dance. Most of our friends had dates, mostly not romantic ones, and I just didn’t understand why it was so important. (Of course, all the pictures taken to be posted to social media also stressed me out, because of my obsession with getting my hair to look right and the digital trail of information.) Sure, I had an argument with my ex over I don’t remember what and cried, but I spent a lot of time sitting in the bathroom, just thinking about why none of this felt right and other senior year feelings.

Part of that was my sexuality, even if I didn’t quite put my finger on that at the time. I wanted—needed—to be seen as me, and I’m bisexual. And that fact will never go away no matter what relationship I’m in.

Social anxiety can be illogical, exhausting, and time-consuming, but it does force me to examine who I am. And while I struggle daily against the heteronormativity that means most people don’t see me as I truly am, there are benefits from this self-scrutiny. Labels like “bisexuality” and “social anxiety” help me understand how I operate, eliminating all the fear and confusion that dominated my teen years.

Posted in Shattering Stigmas

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay by Carolina Santana

Shattering Stigmas is about being candid and honest about our mental illness to end the stigma that causes so many of us to be silent in the first place. Today, on my first official day of guest posts, I am so thrilled to share Carolina’s beautiful and honest essay about her anxiety. When she’s not writing kickass posts for me for Shattering Stigmas, you can find Carolina on Twitter or on her blog, Santana Reads.

I’ve been putting off writing this for a while, mainly because I wanted to be in the right headspace. But also, because I’m anxious about my problems not being as big enough as other people’s. That I’m making my anxiety up.

Funny, huh? I’m anxious about my own anxiety.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t always been like this. I was a dynamic student in elementary; always wanting to be first-in-line to help. I loved singing in school activities, I loved raising my hand to answer questions in class. Yet, with time, I realized my shyness developed into something bigger.

Whenever there was a new kid, I never went over and said hi, like the rest of my classmates. When teachers sent me to run errands, as much as I enjoyed it, I never knocked on the door, to make it as quick as possible. And if I ever had to give a message to a certain group of people, I always whispered to the teacher, “My teacher told me to tell you to tell them.”

No, the teacher didn’t send me here to tell you that you need to tell your class something. It’s supposed to be my job, I simply just can’t bring myself to do it, for some reason.

Once I graduated from elementary, something changed. I closed myself off from the world. The overachiever in me, the #1 fan of school everyone despised, because who the hell would love school in the first place, disappeared. I lost my love for studying. I stopped caring. Slowly, I started relying on TV shows and books.

To this day, I’m still uncertain as to how and why it happened. Maybe it was my old school’s toxic environment. Maybe, my used-to-be friends’ digs on how every teacher preferred me and put me above everyone else, finally got to me after years. Cause hey, all I was trying to do was be me and do my best.

Maybe, the moment in which I finally realized, “Hey, maybe I like girls” was also a turning point. Or maybe it just happened for no reason at all, because life can be like that sometimes.

To be honest, sometimes I hate talking about my anxiety, because there has been this stigma built by society about mental illnesses that I can do nothing about. Sometimes, I hate making new friends because it means opening up and explaining why am I the way that I am. Why can’t I breathe properly whenever I’m going to give a presentation in front of my class? Why do I constantly avoid my friends and close acquaintances when I care about them so much? Why is it mentally and physically impossible for me to go out if it isn’t with family? And when I do go out, why do I have breakdowns when I’m in the car? Does that make me whiny or spoiled for not wanting to go somewhere? Why do I have panic attacks over my grades when everybody else is perfectly fine with a B or C?

The truth is, I don’t know.

I spiral a lot. About coming out, accidentally outing myself, my friendships, and my future. My brain traps me and sometimes all I wanna do is cry. For no reason. Or somedays there is a reason, like heteronormativity, everyone secretly hating me, and fucking society.

I feel empty and exhausted and stupid and meaningless and really, what’s the point?

What’s the point of all of it? What’s the point of life?

I hate myself. I hate myself. I hate myself. I hate myself.

Why can’t I just talk to them? Why can’t I just go over and say hi or wave or smile like a normal person? Why can’t I just tell them I like boys and girls and enbies? Do I have to explain what being enby is? And do I have to explain it’s similar to being genderfluid, in a way but not really, which is what I feel I am some days? Am I really gendefluid or am I just stupid? I’m so stupid. This stupid math exercise.

So simple, yet so complicated. Makes me want to curl up into a ball and cry. Because if I can’t do a math problem without sobbing my eyes out, can I really achieve anything in life? I’m doomed.

As dark as some days can be, there’s also good days. There’s always hope. After all, for a tunnel to be a tunnel, there has to be a beginning and an end. And as scary and lonely and obscure the path to the other side, there’s always gonna be a little ray of sunshine. A whole-ass beam, perhaps.

Everyday, I’m grateful for the friends who are there for me. For books, which are my escape. For all the opportunities life has thrown at me. For my mother, who knows me inside out and always tries her best to understand me and get me in every possible way. And I’m grateful to God for giving me the strength to keep me going.

Folks, the ride may be bumpy, but I believe with my entire heart that the destination is worth it. Your voice matters. Your feelings and thoughts and emotions matter. You matter, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Enter our *international* giveaway for a mental health read of your choice!

Interested in more Shattering Stigmas posts? Check out this post that Ben, another of our amazing co-hosts, put together listing every single Shattering Stigmas guest post and giveaway so you don’t miss a thing!

Posted in Book Review

Review: Sparrow by Sarah Moon

Sparrow by Sarah Moon, Arthur A. Levine Books, 272 pp.

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Content Warnings: Depression and suicidal ideation

I love to read books about mental health. When they’re done right, they feel like talking to a friend. They give me hope. They help me process my own experiences. These books build community. So I’m so excited to talk to y’all tonight about one of my favorite, favorite, favorite mental health reads of 2017: Sparrow by Sarah Moon.

When I got this book a few months ago, the first thing I noticed was the cover, which is gorgeous. They say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I do. I so do. I love the pastel blue and coral color scheme that sets up the mood of the novel. The mix of birds and music notes. The silhouette of the girl. And the Brooklyn apartment cityscape with the MC, a WOC, in the window. I don’t usually spend so much of a review talking about the cover, but this one is so on point that I have to give a shout out to the artist Cannaday Chapman. This is cover art at its BEST.

On to the actual book now. Sparrow was found on the roof of her school and now everyone thinks she was trying to kill herself. She has to see a therapist, Dr. Katz, and starts to fall behind in school. Her mom and her have a strained relationship. She spends all her free time imagining turning into a bird and flying above the chaotic streets of New York City where she lives. However, when Dr. Katz starts to break through to Sparrow with music, she starts to find the strength that might help her soar for real.

I loved Sparrow as a character because I connected with her in so many ways. I connected to her fear of people and inability to really talk to people even when I really wanted to connect to them. I connected to her strength and resilience, her wanting to get better even when it felt like an insurmountable obstacle. Her voice was so strong from the very beginning that I felt like I could hear her in my head. She’s also a WOC, although I won’t comment extensively on that aspect of the rep because it’s not in my lane. It felt well done, though, and reflected the challenges of being black and mentally ill that I’ve heard from my friends’ experiences.

I thought the representation of mental illness was spot on, from the way that her mom reacted to it to her navigating the stigma of it at school to the way that encouragement from a teacher or a therapist could be really beneficial. The writing also really helps with the representation because the style is so honest and raw. The dialogue was crisp and felt real. I flew through this book (pun fully intended) and loved every minute of it.

At the risk of spoilers, I just want to talk vaguely about some things that happen later in the book so please excuse my general-ness. There’s one moment that really makes me cry towards the end of the book when a group of girls come together who are all facing challenges come together to make the day of their friend. It was so pure and so well done and it made me want a whole book just in that setting with those characters. In case you can’t tell I’m squeeing.

So if you want a therapy-positive book about mental illness that leaves you humming a good song by the end because it wasn’t dreary and dark but also doesn’t tie up everything in a neat little bow. If you want a nuanced description of how depression can affect a girl’s life, about the challenge of finding your own voice, read this book. And then come find me so we can squeal about it together.

Sparrow is out October 10. Please buy a copy as soon as it comes out from your local indie or you can preorder it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or whatever other site you use.