I heard that a lot growing up.
From my first panic attack, it was treated as an inconvenience. It’s all in my head, so why don’t I just snap out of it? I was 13, completely convinced I was going to die, and endlessly terrified and frustrated that nobody was going to help me.
I was probably right.
I was taken to see my pediatrician once it became obvious that my panic attacks were something my mother was going to have to put up with on a continual basis. Once my doctor said it was probably anxiety, that was the end of it– there was no discussion of treatment, no therapy, nothing but eye-rolling and reminders that “it’s just anxiety.” When I was breathless with my heart beating out of my chest, “it’s just anxiety.” When I was absolutely certain I was about to drop dead, “it’s just anxiety.” When I was laying on my bedroom floor because it was cooler there and I felt like I could breathe more easily while I tried to will my heart to slow down, she walked in, snorted with laughter, and said, “Whadja do, faint?”
My mother comes from a generation where, to hear her tell it, “we didn’t have all this crap.” By “crap,” she means mental health diagnoses and appropriate treatment. I wasn’t treated because “when we were kids we didn’t need it.” It didn’t just go away, though– when I started having intrusive thoughts, I ignored them until they began to legitimately terrify me. I thought I was losing my mind completely. When it finally reached a point where I was desperate enough to confess, it was dismissed. My brother, however, got all of the help he needed to manage his ADHD.
When my brother and I got into an argument, she butted in with, “Well you’re the one who hears voices!”
I didn’t want to go out. I became afraid that simple things like standing in line or exercising too vigorously would make it too hard to breathe, or set my heart off again. I had days where I was afraid to get out of bed.
I was lambasted for being a homebody. “All of your friends are so active! You don’t even do anything. Burn a calorie!”
When I skipped school because I was afraid to move, I was screamed at. Threatened. Struck.
As an adult, I’ve struggled with panic attacks and agoraphobia. I actually do have allergic asthma and a common heart condition– both problems I could have been treated for and gotten under control if the things I was experiencing hadn’t been dismissed as “just anxiety.” I probably wouldn’t have to deal with many of the challenges I face now if I didn’t also have the enormous fear that something terrible would happen to me, and I’d be mocked instead of helped. It was one reason why I decided that trying to make it on my own at the ripe age of just-barely-old-enough-not-to-be-brought-back-by-the-cops was safer than staying home.
I wish I could say that my experiences with this kind of attitude ended the day I closed the door to my childhood home behind me, but they didn’t. It was one I’d encounter again and again, albeit in different forms, from other witches and Pagans I knew.
“Don’t practice magick if you’re on any medication!”
“You shouldn’t take medication, it’ll kill your intuition. Your symptoms aren’t mental illness, they’re divine!”
“Well, historically, people like that were valued for their ability to prophesy…”
I would go more into my experiences coping with mental illness from a Pagan perspective, but it’s a complex subject that warrants its own post. The Domestic Witch has blogged pretty extensively on the subject (I even submitted some of my experiences here) of witches with mental illness, and some good words on the subject of prescribed medication and Paganism.
Were you denied treatment for mental illness? If you’re a witch or Pagan, what kind of attitudes toward mental illness have you encountered?