My grandpa, a lifelong dairy farmer, was one of those strong and silent types, yet, he struggled deeply with anxiety.
My dad often recalled many a time where Grandpa, a devout Catholic, would have panic attacks before handing out communion at church. Grandma would gently remind him that he didn’t have to hand out communion, but Grandpa stubbornly refused and pushed through the attacks.
Unfortunately, anxiety disorders are often hereditary, and my small branch of the Statz family forest is no exception. In fact, all three of us in my immediate family are being treated for anxiety, depression and panic disorder. My struggle with mental illness began during my parents’ divorce when I was in fourth grade. I became deeply depressed and anxious as my worries of things I had no control over began to loom ever larger. Even after the divorce ended, the thought patterns were set in stone. In seventh grade, I went on anti-anxiety medication for a few months until I felt the disease was under control. I ended up going back on medication again in high school; again, I stopped after a few months of treatment.
Fast forward to my junior year of college.
I had been hired as the editorial intern at Hoard’s Dairyman and got engaged just a few months later. Unfortunately, with so much life happening at once, my anxiety came back with a vengeance in the form of severe panic attacks. While panic disorder is a mental illness, the physical symptoms are very real. It would be a perfect sunny day, and I would suddenly become plagued with hot flashes, heart palpitations, and nausea – which is the hardest symptom for me to overcome because I also struggle deeply with emetophobia, or fear of vomiting. These attacks reached a fever pitch during my summer internship, and when I had a full-blown panic attack at the office a week before my internship ended I knew it was time to seek medical attention. When I went to the doctor a month later, I was placed back on anti-anxiety medication. In addition, due to my panic attack symptoms, I was also diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) based almost solely on my emetophobia. People tend to think people with OCD are just annoyingly neat and organized, but the disease takes many different forms, hence the words obsessive (uncontrolled thoughts) and compulsive (actions and rituals conducted to ease the obsessions, like excessive hand washing).
Do I still struggle? Every single day. It’s a battle that I will likely wage for the rest of my life. However, despite the fact that I’ll likely be fighting anxiety and OCD for the long haul, I’m so blessed to have a network of family and friends to lean on when I’m really feeling low. A lot of other people aren’t so lucky, especially when mental illness is still stigmatized. And, in more rural areas of the country, it may be even harder to reach out when we are so consumed with the day-to-day responsibilities of running a farm and mental health specialists aren’t always nearby.
What I guess I’m trying to say is that if you’re feeling exceptionally down, or more anxious than normal, don’t just shrug it off. Reach out to loved ones and friends, and please get the help you need to get back to feeling like yourself again. With farming becoming a high-suicide occupation, we need to make mental health a priority now more than ever. Seeking out help doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re strong because you’re finally standing up to the bully that is mental illness.
No one should ever have to suffer alone in silence – even if you are one of those strong and silent types.
Photo attribution: Google Images/thscatalyst.com.
Ruth Check says
Your analogy of mental illness being a bully is spot on. See if you can’t get this published on some platform to reach even more people. Perhaps local papers would publish it. I think it is extremely important. I really think the Times Reporter in Adams would want it. Keep writing!!!!
Dawn Stone says
Well thought out and well written as always. I’m so so proud of you for standing up to your “bully”.
You know I understand because of who/what I deal with daily..
Love ya kiddo!!
Brittany makes some really important points. I think everyone deals with some degree of anxiety disorder – with different levels at different times. There is no shame in sharing feelings and getting help to defeat that ‘bully’ – especially so it doesn’t force you into abuse – of yourself, of others or of substances.