One of my favorite things about Shattering Stigmas is that it offers a safe and accepting space for people to talk openly about their mental health, sometimes for the first time. I’m so excited to welcome Sam, the book blogger behind Spines in a Line to my blog today to talk about books and her anxiety. You can also find Sam on Twitter.
Thanks so much to Taylor for including me in this year’s event! This is my first time participating in Shattering Stigmas and I’m excited to share a couple books that have been really important in helping me understand my own mental health.
I’ve talked a little about anxiety in my blogging before but I haven’t gotten into specifics. Until today! So I’m very grateful for this safe space to share openly and have such support.
I used to excuse a lot of things about my personality on two points: I’m self-conscious and I’m shy.
I always worry that people are constantly watching me and judging me – for what I’m wearing, how I’m walking, what I’m eating. And especially what I say. But I always thought of that as being extremely self-conscious. I just needed to be more confident in who I am and those thoughts would go away.
It wasn’t until starting a book blog and seeing people from the book community being so open with their mental health struggles that I started to realize it could be something more. But even then, what I perceived as my less severe symptoms compared to others’ experiences with anxiety prevented me from identifying more openly.
The book that really opened the conversation for me was A Fantastic Mess of Everything by Beck Medina. I connected so much with the MC, a college student who, like me, struggles in social settings. It was the first time since beginning the process of figuring out my mental health that I read a book with an anxious character and I could see so many parallels with what I felt. Social anxiety started to feel more and more like a term I could claim for myself.
But then the shy part was different. I’m just a quiet person. That time all through elementary school when I never spoke in class, when I couldn’t speak in front of boys or male teachers so I gave my presentations either in a small group of girls or only to my female teacher, not breaking even when I was pressured to speak by groups of kids who would surround me … that was all just being shy, right?
The major breakthrough happened when I read a middle grade book, After Zero by Christina Collins. The MC in the book tries to limit her words in school – fewer words spoken means less chance of saying the wrong thing. It was the first time that I could see my elementary school experience so clearly depicted, the same things I was afraid of expressed by this young girl.
The most fascinating part for me was that there was a name for it. ‘Selective mutism’, which the author describes in the afterword is an anxiety disorder. Suddenly I wasn’t just a self-conscious person who also didn’t like to speak but I had been struggling with anxiety the entire time.
I’ll be honest, as wonderful as it was to have a name for something I didn’t even know existed, to have a reason for the way I feel and behave, to realize that what I’d experienced as a kid was not just a weird quirk, it was also scary and more than a bit devastating to know there wasn’t a simple fix. Yes, what I feel is real. But it also means I can’t just get over it by talking or ignoring what other people may think. I am very grateful for the books and people that have led me to better understanding my mental illness but the realization did come with pros and cons.
I’m continuing to learn more about myself and it’s a process I expect to continue for a long time. But I’m forever grateful to these books, the authors for sharing their own experiences, to have found myself represented here and to have discovered a whole community of people in the same boat.