Reality TV: Keeping it Real, by Guest Blogger Deborah Bohling
Deborah has a B.A. in Economics from the University of Connecticut but has spent most of her adult life as a full-time mother raising her four children. She is also a writer and is working on her first memoir that explores her experience with mental illness. She works part-time at an independent bookstore and spends her free time reading, playing piano and hiking with her husband.
Eight years after my daughter’s initial diagnosis of anxiety and depression, she has learned to manage her mental health relatively well with the support of her therapy team and medication. It’s an ongoing process, of course, and something she wishes could be cured and done with, like her brother’s cancer. Unfortunately this is a diagnosis that ebbs and flows, needing constant vigilance so it doesn’t overwhelm her ability to cope with it.
I think of how freely we speak of mental health with the people in our lives now. My conversations with others about my daughter are open and honest. My daughter has been a beacon of hope to her friends because of her willingness to share her journey. Yes, she has anxiety and depression. She has times that are better and times that are worse but she manages it. Or rather we manage it, because it really is a family affair. But when she was first diagnosed at the age of 10, I recall rather vividly the way I responded to well- meaning inquirers wanting to know why my daughter hadn’t attended school for 5 months. I found myself dropping to a whisper at the word, “anxiety”…as if saying it aloud in a normal speaking voice would stop everyone in their tracks, like an EF Hutton commercial.
In the years that my daughter has been living with anxiety and depression, I have seen a shift in the way we talk about mental health issues. Certainly, more work needs to be done, but whenever I see anyone speaking of their struggles in an open and honest way and in a public venue it makes me realize that we are definitely on the right path.
I have been a Survivor fan since the inception of the show. I haven’t missed an episode of any season. Jeff Probst feels like a personal friend although I only know him through my TV screen. So this past season, I was particularly proud to be a Survivor fan when Jeff talked to several of the contestants about their struggles with anxiety.
During one episode, Hannah had a panic attack during a challenge. Unable to breathe and feeling her arms go numb, she didn’t know if she should continue with the show. And yet, several weeks later, here she was, one of the three finalists. She mentioned how people wrote to her after the show, identifying with her anxiety and how they felt less alone knowing others shared their struggles.
Another contestant, David, talked about how just coming on the show was a huge win for him. He has had times in his life where he was unable to leave his apartment due to anxiety, and yet there he sat as a fan favorite of one of the most popular reality TV series. Ken, another finalist, shared that for the first 25 years of his life he had terrible social anxiety and nervous tics that damaged his self-esteem, causing him to be a wallflower for most of his life. Regular, every day people, were willing to share their struggles so others won’t feel so alone.
Every time someone chooses to talk about their mental illness, whether publicly like David, Ken, and Hannah, or privately, like my daughter sitting with a friend over a cup of coffee, we are chipping away at the negative stigma that surrounds such a diagnosis. For me, the days of whispering about anxiety and depression are gone. Now I’m grateful to have a voice in the movement to bring awareness to mental illness.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual author or the Jordan Porco Foundation. You should consult a mental health professional for advice regarding your individual situation.