Mental illness in another person we all admire.

You will not find a more perspicacious, able, and kind person in the atheist movement than Amanda Knief of American Atheists.  Combine that with a heavy dose of humility and you have pretty much the most admirable person in the biz.

I’ve asked Amanda if I could share her facebook status from the other day and she said I could.  Here it is:

So here is an example of my social anxiety rearing its ugly head.

My book, The Citizen Lobbyist, officially comes out on July 1. I want to have a “launch party” at a local restaurant. Just celebrate the day and thank lots of people who helped me do this.

BUT anxiety tells me no one will come, anxiety tells me I don’t know how to host a party, anxiety tells me I am arrogant and narcissistic for thinking of doing this, anxiety tells me it will be awkward and no one will have fun, anxiety tell me to just forget about it and stay home. In less than 10 min from when I thought of the idea, my stomach is now in knots, I have shortness of breath, and I feel panicky.

I understand that the anxiety is not rational, but it is very real–emotionally, physically, and psychologically.

Not sure yet if my braver self or anxiety is going to win this battle.

The presence of mental illness bears no relation to one’s personal fortitude.  Zero.  It is present in people both admirable and contemptible, the same as any other physical condition.  Frankly, it makes what people like Amanda have been able to accomplish all the more impressive.

The point is that there is no shame.  Our society conflates weakness of character with mental illness, insisting we should just “toughen up” and get over it.  Sadly, most members of the human race are prone to making narrow-sighted assessments based on an enormous vacuum of knowledge, and that is precisely what is happening here.  But when those with mental illness, especially the best of us like Amanda Knief, start announcing that we are sick, not weak, but sick, then that stigma will begin to melt.

Good for Amanda.

Also, speaking of her book, Amazon has had to re-order Amanda’s forthcoming book The Citizen Lobbyist 21 days before it’s official release due to pre-orders.  Brick and mortar stores are increasing their orders as well.  Methinks we have a ground-breaker with this one!

  • griffox

    It’s something I can certainly relate to. It’s really great when people are up-front about their mental illness. I’ve spent my life trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to hide it from other people and I think that the worst thing I could have done. Though I would love it if no one had to deal with mental illness, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone and that there are people who are still successful despite their struggles. Thanks for sharing, JT.

  • amycas

    Ugh, the same thing happens to me when I think of hosting parties :-( I hope she goes through with it and has a great time!

  • Jasper

    Definitely a sufferer of social anxiety here. I’m otherwise a lone wolf. I don’t maintain friendships, really, and normally that doesn’t bother me… but it prevents me from going to the movie theater, because it’d be awkward to go there alone. I’ve lived in my town 5 years, and never gone to the one that’s a mile away, the whole time, for that reason.

    It took me a few weeks to build up enough courage to go to the ocean alone.. still felt awkward, but was generally happy I went.

    When I first moved in, I had 9 months of garbage bag piled up in my back room. I had a permit to go to the dump with them, but I didn’t know the process/procedure and couldn’t determine what I was supposed to do when I was there, and it kept pushing me to procrastinate, until I simply couldn’t anymore. Once I did, it was easy, and I was slapping myself wondering what all the worry was about… for 9 freaking months. I knew that was going to happen to, but that doesn’t mean I could reason myself out of the fear.

    I loathe phones. My boss wanted me to call some client, and I was practically hyperventilating by the time I made the call. Doing something like that sometimes requires days or weeks to build up the courage.

    You can imagine what effect this would have on my career, and “love life”.

    So yeah. Familiar with the concept. All I’ve been able to do in life is learn tricks to dealing with it.

    • Loqi

      Lots of overlap with my experiences, especially the phone. Going to the store is rough too. I lost like 50 pounds one year because once I ran out of food, it would be a day or two before the hunger overcame the anxiety and forced me to go. I also didn’t get a haircut for like 3 years during that time.

      • Loqi

        Somehow I was able to fit 3 years into one year, apparently. I cannot words it today.

      • John H

        Ugh, I’ve had similar problems when the depression hits bad, though the development of web-based systems to order food allowed me to still eat with minimal human interaction when I’d not leave the house or even my room except to void waste and get food delivery. I feel lucky most of my issues are cyclic – having to deal with e.g. social anxiety constantly sounds really terrible.

  • Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

    I feel anxious about just attending a party, I seriously doubt I could ever manage to host one. I’m cheering your braver self on, but no one here will think less of you if you don’t have the party.

    I’m not American, so I’m not sure how pertinent the book will be, but it sounds interesting enough that I’m ordering a copy anyway.

  • Germaine Harms

    I can totally relate! Lately, I have begun trying to think of my anxiety as excitement and just go with it. Seems to work, most days. ;)