The world could stand a little more honesty—on a lot of levels. Most importantly, it’s time we started getting really honest about our lived experiences and stopped “posting the highlights.” In our online lives, our public personas, the downhill slopes or the mundane patches are rarely mentioned. We don’t talk about the darker aspects of life, because they’re not fun. We might even be afraid of them, or what people might think of us when we mention the dark at all…
But the dark patches are normal, and talking about them helps keep small problems from becoming big all-consuming crises. People, especially youth, need to be taught to cope with the peaks and valleys by people who have been through similar experiences. But what kind of tour guides are we becoming in the Instagram generation when everyone’s plastering on a smile and saying “Hey! Totally straight and narrow path. No bumps. No ice. No problems!”
As a professor, the number of students committing suicide alarms me. Not only because so many of the students are gay, but because they’re so young. They haven’t had a chance to learn that the black days get lighter. It isn’t something that’s talked about.
So it’s time to talk.
I’m now 31 years old, which means I’ve officially become the older generation. In response to #BellLet’sTalk day, I decided to take a stab at being a better tour guide. In this five-part blog series, I’m going to talk about my own experiences with “The A-Type Trifecta”: anxiety/depression, OCD and insomnia. My hope is that this encourages some honest dialogue between older and younger people, and starts busting down some doors regarding the stigma around mental health.
The Type-A Trifecta:
I like to express this theory as a quadratic equation. Why? Because I’m not one bit ashamed of being a math nerd. 😉
Anxiety(insomnia)^nights with no sleep + depression(insomnia) + OCD = TYPE-A TRIFECTA
What does this mean? Basically that I believe experiencing good mental health consists of multiple variables. This is my particular concoction of dark aspects that need to be managed in order for me to live a full and productive life.
Type-A people live in a funny paradoxical world. Because of their ambition, drive and competitive nature, they’re often seen as invincible. Few people guess that Type-As often struggle a lot with certain types of mental illness such as anxiety, and also struggle with the added barrier of being isolated because of their reputation for being able to handle anything.
As a Type-A person (some might say an extreme Type-A), perfectionism, impatience, self-criticism and competition are all ways of life for me. I’m only happy in motion, never sitting still. The upside to this is that I get a lot done. I use my 168 hours every week to their maximum potential, and can have long, sustained periods of creativity and activity. By 9:00 AM, I can have done an entire day’s work and just be getting started.
The downside is that my grey patches can turn to black pretty quickly when I start to run out of steam. The drive and activity can turn to anxiety, which can lead to depression. Perfectionism and attention to detail might lead to obsessive behaviour and cause my wife to want to rope me to a chair to STOP FOR FIVE MINUTES. Trying to cope with all the balls I have in the air will undoubtedly keep me up all night at least a few times a month, and insomnia can be a bitch that compounds all other problems.
Navigating all this can occasionally get to be a little much. If I deviate too far from my ‘balanced routine’ I can skid off the rails pretty fast. But recognising this tendency and putting the brakes on comes with age and experience. I’ve crashed a few times – yikes. Over time, I’ve come to realise that living with cyclical mental health is similar to learning to live with asthma or arthritis. You figure out your triggers, do your best to avoid them, and work as hard as possible to catch yourself before you fall too hard. For me personally, the Type-A Trifecta is just part of life—the highs and the lows—and I like my life, even on the days when it gets pretty dark.
In my thirties, the thing that helps the most is learning to be honest with people around me, especially some friends who experience the same highs and lows I do. Occasionally, I need a little reminder to get back on track and look after myself – even if self-care is sometimes a pain in the ass and I’d rather see a movie. Luckily, I have friends who are brave enough to be honest about themselves, and that’s often enough encouragement for me to pick up and drive on.
There’s a quote I love. “I have two choices: Give up or keep going. I’m not going to give up, so that leaves keep going.”
Tune in on Friday for Part II: Anxiety