As Someone Who Has an Anxiety Disorder, the Question R U OK? Holds a Special Significance
“Breathe in, breathe out.”
“This really shouldn’t be this difficult.”
“Is it hot in here? I feel like it’s getting hot in here.”
“Is it just me, or are the walls closing in? The room definitely feels smaller.”
“Why isn’t anyone else panicking? Am I dying?”
My mind was racing, my body was sweating, and I was looking to escape. Not just from the room, but my body, mind and thoughts. I was in the office, working as normal, when all of a sudden, things started taking a turn.
I was having a panic attack.
It was terrifying, and I kept thinking, “I don’t want people to know”. So I got up, isolated myself in a meeting room and messaged my best friend.
“I don’t know what’s happening. Life is great! I have no reason to feel this way.”
A week later, it happened again during an event with close to 100 people. This time, however, people noticed, and despite being surrounded by so many of my loved ones, I had never felt so alone.
I started receiving unsolicited advice mid-panic attack: “It’s probably because you haven’t eaten breakfast.”
“Maybe if you slept earlier.”
“Baz, just calm down.”
Just. Calm. Down. As if it’s as simple as “just calm down.”
Living with an anxiety disorder and OCD is a constant battle — one that I fight every single day. Every morning when my alarm goes off, there’s a sense of uncertainty as to how the day is going to play out.
The majority of the time, I feel great. I feel active, and I’m the Basmah everyone is used to seeing. The one who is focused, driven and motivated.
However, on days when my anxiety has decided to take over, it can be hard to get out of bed. Simple things such as responding to a text message can be difficult and draining. It’s gotten me in trouble in the past from people who think I’m ghosting them — I promise, I’m not — but when the voices in your head become louder than the ones who care about you, it’s hard to focus on anything else.
I don’t blame anyone who gets offended, though, because the truth is, no one — besides my husband and my closest friend — knows what I deal with when I’m going through an episode. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been open about my mental health; I believe it’s an important discussion to have, but I always avoid going into detail.
On paper, my life looks amazing. I have an exciting job, I have wonderful friends, I have a great husband, and my family is supportive. But the truth is, anxiety doesn’t always make sense. Actually, in my case, most of the time, it doesn’t make any sense at all.
Of course, there are reasons why I have anxiety and OCD — I’m a chronic people pleaser who cannot set boundaries even though my life really does depend on it (I’m working on it, I promise). Still, sometimes, like the time I had a panic attack in the office, my mind started racing for no reason at all.
I was fine.
I woke up feeling great, ready to conquer the day, but life had other plans.
We’ve heard it before, but it’s time to reiterate that mental health does not discriminate. It does not care who you are or where you’re from, which is why we need to check on ourselves and those around us regularly.
I’m a big advocate for therapy, but I recognise it’s a privilege not many have access to. This is why, when we were told this RUOK Day that you don’t need to be a professional to help the ones you care about, it left me feeling inspired.
Therapy has helped me immensely, especially when recognising why I feel the way I do and what I need to change moving forward. But if it weren’t for the people who check in with me from time to time, I believe I would be in a very different place.
Anyone dealing with a mental health disorder will agree with me when I say it can feel lonely. For the majority of us, it feels as if no one fully understands what we’re going through.
So asking someone, “are you OK?” may seem like a small gesture, but it carries a lot of significance. Sometimes, when someone is struggling with their mental health, it isn’t always so obvious.
They aren’t walking around with a cloud of gloom hovering above their head, which is why a regular check-in is important.
But other times, you may notice that a friend has been a little absent recently, or a family member hasn’t left their bedroom for days, and while you may feel helpless because, after all, you’re not a professional, there’s so much you can do to help guide them in the right direction.
A simple “How can I help?” can make the biggest difference, and may be exactly what someone needs to feel like they can get through the day, the week and inevitably, the rest of their life.
If they aren’t willing to talk, reassure them that you’re there to listen whenever they feel ready.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15-24, so never assume that someone is doing OK, and always know that you have the power to change someone’s life.
If you’re struggling with a mental health disorder, just know that you’re loved, you’re not being dramatic, and your feelings are valid. The guilt, the sadness and the urge to make your mind stop talking is a feeling I know all too well, but there are resources and people out there who are willing to help.
So, this RUOK Day, reach out to a friend, a family member, a colleague or anyone else that comes to mind, and ask them the question that may improve their life: “Are you OK?”
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here.