How Talking About My Mental Health Will Help End The Stigma
There are plenty of things I prefer to keep to myself. I keep details of my relationship quiet, I don't like talking about family drama and my insecurities are privately maintained. In essence, I don't want people to know certain aspects of my life. They aren't entitled to know about them and it can also be difficult to discuss.
However, over the years, I have let down my guard. Specifically, I'm referring to my mental health.
Sometimes I feel like I sound like a broken record when I talk about it, but it is now empowering to be openly discussing it.
When I first noticed that I had a problem, I was in middle school. I would never wish for anyone to repeat that catty three-year span from sixth to eighth grade. The idea of anyone finding out that I had even a hint of a problem dealing with things in a healthy way was utterly terrifying. That is why I kept it to myself for so long.
I hid it from anyone I knew for a year before I could no longer take the intense feelings of panic, anxiety and depression anymore.
Even then, I felt like this was something my parents would want to sweep under the rug as that generation does out of fear of the stigma associated with mental illness.
I told one friend and finally cracked and told a teacher who was fortunately there for me when it became a problem again in high school, resulting in many missed classes.
I should have felt reassured then, but I didn't. I still felt like I had this dirty little secret, making me feel like an outsider.
I remained quiet, believing no teenager wants to hear that these thoughts their friend is having. Who wants to hear about someone so concerned for the future, running through the hundred possibilities of a situation to the point where they sometimes can't breathe?
I would make excuses for having missed school and would brush it off in a humorous way, though the situation was far from funny. Therapy wasn't ideal, because I've never liked telling people when something was wrong and the one prescription I tried made my brain foggy.
It wasn't until late in high school and early in college that I started opening up to my friends. I told my best friend and she wouldn't ask questions, but would talk me down when I needed it.
On a trip to New York, I started to panic first at a Broadway show and then again as I waited with a friend for the subway. He asked if I was okay, I said I was fine, but when we were going to sleep, I told him that I wasn't and he was the most understanding person.
After seeing how supportive these two were, I realized that hiding was a disservice to myself and to the people who cared about me. Hiding not only kept me from learning to handle my anxiety, but also made me come across as stand-offish to those around me. I was distrusting of people in my life and I didn't want to be like that anymore.
As I got more comfortable in college talking about it and found healthier ways to deal with my anxiety, I found it easier to explain to people that by abruptly leaving somewhere or staying in my room was my way of dealing with it.
I was scared of people not wanting to associate with me anymore. Which is absolutely absurd, but anxiety manifests itself by making you dream up any possible scenario. So the idea of my friends no longer wanting to associate with me did not seem that far-fetched.
But that was just the anxiety talking. I'm fortunate enough to have a selection of friends that accept me for who I am and understand that everyone is different. We all have our quirks and they make us who we are.
My anxiety has made me more sympathetic to people, but empathetic to what they may be going through.
In opening up about my struggles, I've made it so people are comfortable coming to me about the problems in their own lives. I enjoy knowing that someone feels comfortable enough to come to me with something they may not feel entirely okay talking openly about. Talking to just one person about it allows them to move forward.
It's been difficult for me to not only deal with the issues themselves, but the stigma that comes along with them.
It's important to continue the discussion, making it more accessible and more mainstream, in the hopes that those suffering don't have to do so in secret.
The discussion needs to continue so those who don't understand what someone is going through are able to create a dialogue that leads to a better understanding. Explanation can be difficult, but talking about it can only improve matters between those suffering and those who want to help.
I will do whatever it takes to make sure that those who need help can feel comfortable seeking it. I want them to feel comfortable discussing it and never fear the idea of sharing their struggles with others. I want those who say "just get over it" to understand that it's never that simple.
I will continue to share my story, hoping the stigma surrounding mental health ends with our generation.