He is, officially, Prince Henry of Wales. Currently fifth in line to the British Throne; the youngest son of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Heir Apparent to the Crown, and the late Diana, Princess of Wales; grandson of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history. He is known more commonly as Prince Harry, the sometimes “playboy” prince who, during his twenties, had more than one run in with the press and paparazzi during nights of partying with friends. But now, at 32, the Prince’s partying days are behind him and he devotes his energy to numerous Royal engagements and work with multiple charities, including Heads Together, a mental health charity in which he joins his brother and sister-in-law, Prince William and Princess Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as spokespersons. Their work on this campaign has spurred the beginnings of a national conversation about mental illness in Great Britain; a conversation which has, sadly, not yet been engaged in the States.
Why after a two month absence from my blog have I chosen to make my first post back about Prince Harry? Well, the answer is simple–Prince Harry knows something about the pain and agony of anxiety and panic attacks. In a recent interview with Bryony Gordon on her “Mad World” podcast, he shared his experiences with anxiety and panic. He recalled being thrust before the eyes of millions of people around the world on what must have been the worst day of his life–the day his mother was buried. We all remember seeing him there, aged just 12, walking behind his mother’s coffin, head bowed, stoic, looking lost. He admitted that after his mother’s death, he pushed all of the emotion surrounding the loss deep down inside and didn’t deal with it for almost 20 years. Finally, when at the encouragement of many people, including his brother, he decided to confront those emotions for the first time, his life was plunged into what he called “total chaos.” He began having panic attacks. Prince Harry described a feeling I know all too well–being at an event, or in a situation where getting up and leaving is impossible, when suddenly panic sets in. Your brain and body react as millions of years of evolution has trained them to do: they go into “flight or fight” mode. Because “flight” is impossible, they begin to “fight” and produce the agonizing symptoms many people experience with panic attacks. Listening to him describe those feelings was terribly cathartic for me. I know them all too well, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to suffer like that with the entire world watching your every move. It’s a wonder, and Prince Harry says this himself, that he (that any of them) has been able to stay sane. In fact, he confesses that there have been many times when he has felt on the edge of a “complete breakdown.”
So, there he is, a Royal Highness, prince of the realm. He can have anything and everything he wants. The whole world is, quite literally, available to him on a wish or whim. Yet, he suffers just like all the rest of us. Mental illness, in this case anxiety and panic attacks, is as some say, “no respecter of persons.” It can and does effect princes and paupers alike. Thankfully, Princes Harry and William, and Princess Catherine have lent their considerable clout to the goal of ending the stigma surrounding mental illness, and bringing attention to it as only people of their renown can do. Would that we had people with such clout (and courage) here in the United States. Maybe then we could work toward ending the stigma here, too.
I took some comfort in knowing that even the “greatest” among us can share in this same pain. If you suffer, or know someone who does, I encourage you to take about 30 minutes and listen to Prince Harry talk about his own struggles and how he has dealt with and is dealing with them. Who knows, it might be just the encouragement you need to seek help or to help someone else. You can listen to the entire podcast with Prince Harry by clicking here.