Last weekend, it was announced, just hours before he was set to hit the stage, that Zayn would no longer be performing at the Capital FM SummerTime Ball. Following the cancellation, Zayn took to his Twitter and Instagram to let his fans know the reason behind his decision.
He wrote, “I have suffered the worst anxiety of my career.” And my heart broke immediately. I began crying quite uncontrollably with my phone still clutched in my hand as I finished reading the rest of Zayn’s Instagram post. All of that resulted in my very teary-eyed reaction video.
My visceral reaction was a result of a few things. Zayn’s confession stirred in me a mix of emotions from shock, sadness, fear, and ultimately…happiness? I was initially so shocked that a celebrity of Zayn’s caliber not only openly admitted to having a mental illness but stated it as the reason for pulling out of the biggest show of their career so far. This was virtually unheard of these days. The initial shock turned into sadness. Sadness because he was suffering to such an extent that he physically and emotionally could not bring himself to perform. And I’d love to say that Zayn having an anxiety disorder was a surprise but it wasn’t. It all made sense. I even commented on it in a few of my YouTube videos that Zayn always looked nervous, sometimes awkward, sometimes uncomfortable on stage.
I felt a deeper connection with Zayn.
Having dealt with mental illness myself, I couldn’t help but also be afraid for what would ultimately come next for Zayn. The all to present stigmas surrounding mental illness, definitions of masculinity, upset fans, and Zayn’s already heavily criticized career I knew would lead to a new concoction of ignorance, disrespect, ridicule, and hatred spewed at Zayn. All of which can only make his anxiety worse. I just kept thinking about what would happen to him once he read all the hateful comments. Once the fear subsided, I had a feeling of content. I was happy that Zayn was able to speak candidly about something so personal. And as bizarre as it sounds, I felt a deeper connection with Zayn. I wasn’t alone. My fav is human and just like me!
On a grander scale, Zayn’s confession helped start again some serious discourse on mental illness, who it affects, and how its effects are shown among different people.
This ignorance and lack of empathy leads to the harmful culture of silence.
There are too many people in the world who either don’t believe ‘invisible’ illnesses such as depression and anxiety exist or they believe it is something that sufferers can just get over. This ignorance and lack of empathy leads to the harmful culture of silence. Often times, the fear of being dismissed, ridiculed, and our feelings being downplayed, we choose not to speak up about our illness. Not speaking up then leads to us not seeking support or help therefore making our illness prosper.
So, I have to say, mental illness is very real and can have very real physical effects. But, it doesn’t look the same on everyone. A person can be a social butterfly one day and be crippled by thoughts of sadness the next. And just because a person’s ‘job’ is in the public eye, like Zayn’s job as an artist, doesn’t mean they can’t either. If anything it makes more sense…everyone is constantly watching their every move. I saw many people on the Internet stating that they didn’t buy Zayn’s ‘excuse’ because for four years he was in a hugely successful boyband that went on 4 world tours. And I saw others saying that he should’ve ‘sucked it up and did his job.’ The lack of understanding and empathy from such commenters was disheartening. Extreme anxiety is a perfectly valid reason. It shows that some people don’t know or care to know how debilitating an anxiety attack can truly be for certain individuals. Additionally, people are different and behave differently and that’s true whether or not they suffer from any type of disease. So you can’t force someone to react to something the way you want them to or behave the way you think you would’ve behaved. It’s unfair and it’s illogical.
I would say to myself, “why are you like this?”
From my own experience, my depression crept up on me from the shadows of seemingly mundane self-doubt. Before I knew it, my exam scores plummeted, my hair started falling out, I gained 40lbs in a year, and I was sleeping 15-17 hours a day. And while all of this was happening, my social life was lit. I had a good job, co-hosted a college radio show, was the photo editor for my university’s newspaper, and often hung out with friends. I was a seemingly well adjusted young adult to the outside world. Often times after I took my ‘happy face’ off, when I was alone in my apartment, I would say to myself, “why are you like this?” “You had fun today so why are you crying now?” “There are people in the world really suffering and here you go!” But no matter how much ‘tough love’ I tried to give myself, nothing worked. I felt ungrateful and embarrassed. I thought, all my friends are so happy, they won’t understand what I’m feeling, no one will. I fell deeper and deeper. I suffered in silence for about 3 years. That’s how my illness looked.
I said all that to say this: Mental Illness is experienced differently. IT IS A REAL DISEASE that can only be cured through non-judgemental and non-dismissive conversations.