Name: Sarah McKenzie Baker
From: Cloverdale, Indiana
Embracing Imperfections, Halting Addiction
Embracing Imperfections, Halting Addiction
I believe that we as a nation are in the midst of dealing with an addiction crisis that has developed over the generations due to an increase in anxiety and depression. Addiction comes in many forms, whether that be relying on alcohol or a drug. These declines are often due to coping with mental health issues and are seen increasingly in adolescents abusing these items. As a young adult myself, it is all too scary to see more and more obituaries appear from overdoses.
Mental illnesses are becoming quite prevalent in today’s society. I have been weighed down by generalized and social anxiety for the majority of my life. Each year it worsens, and at a certain point this year I decided that I was at a breaking point. I’m not sure how it has progressed so much over the last few years, but it has since snuck up on me.
Anxiety shouldn’t fill me with shame. Yet it does. How can the rest of my friends live such worry-free lives, while I lose sleep at night? I toss and turn, but my brain just refuses to shut off for a moment of peace. And even on the nights that I sleep in, I wake up exhausted, with no energy left for my day. Completely enervated. With much guilt on my shoulders, I started taking Tylenol as daylight drew to an end. I yearned for even the smallest amount of rest.
Oftentimes I run scenarios in my head, of things that either aren’t likely to occur or are far-fetched. I not only disappoint myself, but I worry about things that haven’t even occurred. My mind is always racing, assuming things of people. Too timorous to trust. It searches for the tiniest hint that someone is talking about me, referring to me, hating me. I digest every word and run over it again and again. My self-doubt and lack of confidence leave me restless and weary. Sometimes I wish I could just flip a switch.
I’ve fought this battle for many years. This year’s worries became heavier and heavier, though, and I wasn’t convinced that I would make it out. Not only was I dealing with the usual stresses of tests, time management, work, and family tension, but my senior year had added a score of more deadlines and concerns. The pressures stacked on until I shattered. Too many opinionated people were trying to tell me what was best for me. I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. I was beyond overwhelmed with nowhere to turn to. With so much dragging behind me, my grades in my most challenging course, Calculus, began to slip. Focus had become imbalanced and I failed to dedicate the same effort that I once had. Quizzes and tests ceased to make sense and the information being taught refused to stick. My mental health was tarnishing my academics, which was the one piece of my life that I previously thought I had control of. I had to remind myself that “this too shall pass” even though I could not convince my own worries that I would rise up from my situation. Oftentimes, being stuck doesn’t allow us to see our way out.
Senior year of high school, I had 5 panic attacks in the building in front of classmates or teachers. Most often, I’m used to them occurring at home, in the car, the shower: always alone, and with no one watching. Mortified would be an understatement. This was no longer something that I was not capable of handling on my own. I wasn’t able to juggle everything, and I just need an unbiased listening ear. And I am glad I sought it out.
Because I sought out assistance, I am now taking medication. My physicians are working with me to uncover the right treatment that will bring me peace of mind. Each day offers an improvement, and with each breakthrough, I uncover a little more about myself. I remain eternally grateful to the people who assisted me in the darkest of times. Without them, I might have spiraled.
On my own quest through treatment, I have discovered that I am not alone and that many people, health professionals or not, are willing to help in any way that they can. There are countless clinics, psychologists, psychiatrists, and group therapies available to those who either don’t wish to medicate or for those who need even more assistance and guidance.
Acknowledging that I could not continue to deal with everything alone was the first step in change, and I am so fortunate to have done so. I struggled with my mental health throughout high school, yet nevertheless, my desire to meet innumerable high expectations and my self-criticism did pay off in one aspect. After many years of hard work and procrastination, and all those late nights spent studying and sobbing over textbooks, I achieved my goal of graduating as Valedictorian of my class. Undeterred by my fears and demons, I held on and didn’t let go. Perseverance brought me through.
Not only is it dangerous to leave a mental health illness unleashed to harm as it pleases, but it is also just as dangerous to attempt to treat with medications. I could have easily progressed into an addiction to taking over-the-counter medications, and after my surgery this spring, it is all too possible for me to have used the Hydrocodone, an opioid, to alleviate more than bone pain. With my family’s history, it is a very tangible situation.
Recently, I discovered that the family tree does involve a few repeated cases of depression and/or anxiety that required medication to treat, or were subsequently drowned out with liquor. In addition to this frightening reality, a family member of mine died from a drug overdose within months after giving birth to her son.
With bearing these matters in mind, I know that it is vital for me to handle how I step forward with tremendous responsibility and caution. With such heavy stigmas surrounding anxiety, depression, PTSD, and the like, it is often difficult for the individual suffering those to seek help. Instead, they push through on their own. Oftentimes, this leads to domestic abuse and/or suicide. If they don’t take out their pain on others, they try to cease their own suffering. Violent actions caused by an addiction to alcohol, opioids, etc do nothing to help decrease the astigmatism surrounding mental illnesses in the United States.
Unfortunately, a common side effect associated with drugs related to anxiety and depression is suicidal thoughts. It is even more prevalent in teens. I strongly feel that it is in the best interest of our society to speak up about mental health issues. It is more common than we think. If we depict mental health in a way that makes it seem more normal and less shameful, I think more people will be inclined to seek help. As of now, those being controlled by substances and their illness are afraid to tell their family members, friends, and neighbors.
Along with these solutions, I think it is imperative that more people with large platforms speak out. Already, actors, actresses, and musicians are demonstrating authenticity by sharing with the world their own genuine hardships-they are human too. Oprah Winfrey, Kourtney Kardashian, Ryan Reynolds and Harry Styles, to name a few, have all taken to their social media or during interviews to state that they have difficulties from time to time. I can attest that hearing others share their own stories made me feel less alone. We need to start portraying celebrities as perfect. They aren’t, and neither are we. And that is perfectly imperfect.
Perfect is a word that will change from person to person depending on their ideals. It can be defined with much variety. Because of its fluidity, maybe each of us are all perfect. If only the term and its characteristics could be changed in our heads. Once we stop ourselves from comparing each little flaw to the “perfections” we see on filtered, edited photos in magazines, social media, and the seemingly flawless skin and characteristics on television, we might slow down and realize its deceit. Not all wounds are visible. We are always going to take the little details about ourselves that we don’t like and look for what we want in other people, comparing until it eats away at the love we originally had for ourselves. Yet those people we are comparing to ourselves, they are probably doing just the same.
See, the idea of perfect is just so individualized that the word itself cannot be perfect, it cannot be a carbon copy as other ideas of itself. This modest word we use in our everyday lives simply translates uniquely to each person, across each independent characteristic. It makes every little perfect trait imperfect, therefore though we are imperfect, we are “perfect.” We were made to be quirky and daring in our imperfection. Wear the eccentricity with pride. Once we start loving ourselves the way we love for others; with simplicity and no judgment. We should also begin to treat our minds like we do our bodies. I no longer want to be in isolation with my demons. There are resources available to remedy our pain, and together as a society, we may heal.