Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Born This Way: On Show Choirs and Anxiety Disorders

Every Tuesday when there's a new episode of Glee, I invite a group of friends over and we have "Glee-tini" night. We drink cocktails and watch Glee, commenting about the musical numbers, trying to spot our favorite dancers from So You Think You Can Dance, and generally having a pretty ridiculous time.

Tonight, however, I found that I was blinking back tears in the midst of the hilarity.

Why? you ask. Well, tonight's episode focused on accepting yourself, just like the Lady of Self-Acceptance, Gaga, exhorts in her song Born This Way. One of the characters, Emma, found that to learn to accept herself, she had to come to terms with her own anxiety disorder.

To paraphrase, her doctor told her, if one of the students you work with had diabetes, you would tell them to use their insulin; so why won't you take the medicine that will help you regulate the chemicals in your own brain?

I was teary-eyed because years ago, I went through the exact same thing, and used the exact same analogy (down to the diabetes reference) to convince myself to come to terms with the fact that my brain doesn't work quite right, and I have to work to keep it regulated. That involves a combination of medication, exercise, and visualizing my happy place.

Coming to terms with a mental illness involves pushing through the strictures of a society that places a premium on mental toughness. You aren't supposed to admit you ever get sad, mad, or tired. I mean, come on, we live in a country where the standard greeting is: "How are you?"

And the expected answer is "Fine, how are you?"

There's also a perception that if you take medication for a mental illness, you're somehow masking your true self. Well, I can tell you, my mental illness kept my "true self" squashed down deep.

Deep down, I'm not a person who curls up and cries on a couch, or who shuts down in the face of interaction with strangers. But that was the person my anxiety disorder made me.

The person I was born to be? That person was born to fight tirelessly for the welfare of children. Born to find family members wherever I land in life. Born to create, dance and laugh.

I know that I have friends out there (some "in real life", some virtual) who haven't yet come terms with the fact that mental illness is a real illness, and we are blessed to live in a time when we can conquer it and be the people we were born to be. To them, I send this hope: to realize that mental illness, like diabetes, doesn't have to stop you from being who you are.

It's Glee-tini night, so if you can't listen to me, listen to Pink, and raise a glass to everyone different from the status quo ('cuz you're wrong in all the right ways):


Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean.

Part of my Cognitive Behaviour Therapy was learning to "act" as if I don't have anxiety - thus learning to face and tolerate things that make me anxious.

The result was that a year ago a friend of mine claimed I was "the most laid back" person she knows.

Ahahahahahahaha. She didn't believe me when I told her I have an anxiety disorder.

Catfish said...

Yes, I totally relate, @ifbyyes. I'm super "laid back" a lot of the time. I rarely feel anxious about the things that make many people anxious.

Instead, I get crazy about the thought of making certain phone calls or think I'm dying when I get a weird pain. That's why it's a disorder, I think, because little things get all blown out of proportion.