I often wonder if anyone else thinks consistently about the stigma of Mental Health Illnesses like I do. My heart breaks when I read about all the teenagers committing suicide whose stories turn viral as they circulate on Facebook or when media sites post the latest statistics on drug overdoses, especially when they are so young and around my age. I think about how much life they had ahead of them and wish they knew they were loved and had other choices, but then I remember how powerful mental illnesses can be. Mental Illness symptoms and thoughts can be stronger than your highest willpower.
I browse through the comments on these tragic suicides or overdose posts and see the comments that are made, filled with such negativity from people who appear so narrow-minded and heartless. I try my best not to judge, after all I’m far from perfect. So when I see the negative comments like, “If you take drugs, you’re going to die… what idiots” or “This is taking the easy way out, I don’t feel bad for them…(referencing suicide) than I talk myself into believing that maybe (and hopefully) the people leaving those negative comments on these stories are probably just VERY ill-informed on the subject of Mental Health.
I remember feeling low and down at times as a teenager and figured as I grew older that it would become a phase I’d grow out of. The first time I paid attention to these feelings was at 15, right as I was entering sophomore year of high school. Reality hit me not too far after though as I became a mother at the age of 21, a wife, and “adulting” as we say, was in full gear. Little did I know than but my mental illnesses were in full gear too.
I knew nothing about mental illness, even as a young mother and young adult. What I did know is that I started to not only consistently battle the low mood I had grown custom too, but I began paying closer attention to my lack of motivation, and feelings of hopelessness. I now know those symptoms are also known as: Major Depressive Disorder. As life carried on, I began feeling the immense pressure of just everyday life on my chest like ten tons of bricks. I remember at 23, I didn’t know anything about mental health and mental illnesses STILL, but I knew that I wanted to be “happy”. You know, like the happy you see posted on all the Facebook families or Instagram stories. I wish I knew now what I didn’t know than which is that life isn’t always as it appears and especially on social media. Comparing myself to others was probably the worst thing I should have been doing at that point. However, I continued to do it.
I would celebrate successes like job promotions, vacations, great family times… and life felt normal, for a few weeks… until the depression and anxiety returned like a bad nightmare you hope you never have again; but can’t prevent it from returning every night when you sleep. That “ten pounds of bricks on my chest” feeling is what I now know as anxiety.
Sometimes my anxiety gets triggered, sometimes it just lingers in the back of my mind and I can ignore it and sometimes panic attacks come out of nowhere. The first time it happen, I remember distinctly the feeling of my throat closing and wanting to take a deep breath only to figure out there was no air to breathe. The room starts spinning. I feared I was officially loosing my mind for good and I can hear my heart beating so loud in my head, like I just got done finishing a triathlon. My first panic attack was at 23 and as much as I hate them; Man, do I hate them...that anxiety attack is what saved my life because it led me to what I know now.
I started to see a therapist and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after only my first appointment. When I first discovered I had these Mental Illnesses, I let these mental illnesses become labels that defined who I was. I believed there was nothing more to me than these 3 diagnosis’s. I thought about them like name tags that I had engraved on every outfit and I didn’t want them to be seen by anyone… so I put on a mask. A mask that would cover the truth about what I really was going through.
I did everything I could to avoid the reality something was “wrong with me”. I actually had a mental illness? More than one?! That must mean I’m crazy. Nobody can know this. Actually I’m not going to believe this myself. I’m sure that therapist was wrong, these feelings will go away. I’ll make them go away, whatever I have to do. These were the thoughts that consumed me and I let the stigma that “It’s not okay to not be okay” run my life for two years, up until last year.
The mask I wore only worsened things. The mask that I wore so long to avoid the stigma that mental illness meant I’m crazy caused me to lose my identity completely. I overcompensated for the fact that these mental illnesses meant I had bad days, sad days, every day anxiety and traumatic memories that occurred throughout the day; but at the time, the terms “Depression”, “Anxiety Disorder”and “PTSD” was shameful. I wanted my mask to hide these issues and I did so by pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I filled my schedule up with so many things to do so I didn’t need to talk about it, or feel it, or think about it. I ran myself ragged because I refused to “not be okay”. I wanted to prove to the world, and to myself, that I was normal, and okay; But one day, it caught up with me and I was painfully forced to face the music. (That story is for another post….).
That’s when I realized that I’m not alone. That’s when I realized that Mental Illness is so incredibly common. The problem isn’t Mental Illness, but the problem is that nobody wants to talk about it. It’s looked at like a weakness in society. It’s viewed like there is some magical cures that people with Mental Health issues can use to just simply talk yourself out of being anxious or being depressed. However, asking someone why they are depressed and why can’t they just be happy? Is like asking someone with a flu why they keep throwing up and why they decided to have a fever and keep it?
If people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or any mental illness could control their feelings, they would. If they could just be happy, trust me, they would choose to be happy in a heartbeat. I don’t think any person on this planet that has been diagnosed with Mental Health Illnesses chose to feel that way, in fact, most would tell you that they’d trade the feelings associated with depression or their mental illness for almost anything else in the world.
Today though I stand tall, without my mask anymore. Today I’ve worked through some really tough times to discover the tools I need to manage my mental illnesses. Today I am so proud and I love to be able to say, “THIS is me.. take it or leave it”.
I decided I’m going to write a book this year. I journal on a regular basis, but I’m deciding to adventure into the blogging world because I’m truly passionate about self-growth, owning who you are and most importantly, breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness. Everyone brings something unique into this world. The hard part is taking off the mask to show the world who you really are and shining bright, like you were designed to do.
The stigma around Mental Illnesses is something I’m not only going to college for so I can live a career where I can help people live wellness in their illness. It’s also something I’m going to talk and write about in my free time. Because if even one person can read this and know they aren’t alone, and that it’s perfectly OK to not be OK; than I feel the stigma slowly can begin loosing its grip on people.
If you can relate to this, I hope you’ve begun your journey back to loving yourself despite any mental health issues. I hope you realize that those diagnoses aren’t labels, they don’t define you and they are just a part of you. I hope you can realize what I had to learn which is that there are many resources out there to help us live the life we are destined to live; I hope you fight through the tough times to find your passions and pursue your purpose in life. Our circumstances are all different, but one thing I KNOW is that we all have at least this one thing in common and that is: that YOU were perfectly and intentionally made to live your life just the way you are.
Together, Let’s begin to be Kind to our Mind.
Till next time,