Coming out proud: the battle against the stigma of mental illness
I am mentally ill. And no, it’s not contagious.
I have depression, anxiety, and OCD, and I am NOT ashamed despite the discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness in society today.
I started my blog to connect and reach others battling chronic and mental illness, and I intended to remain anonymous. But in light of the growing community of people with mental illness who have chosen to out themselves, I’ve decided to come out too. I’m joining the fight to end the stigma. I don’t want to perpetuate the shame and discrimination associated with mental health by continuing to hide.
While in therapy at an eating disorder treatment center, I learned about the idea of wearing a mask to conceal ourselves from others, whether that is literally with a painted face of makeup, or figuratively by pretending to feel happy when we feel broken inside.
The Mask That I Wear…
…Represents who I think I should be, what I want people to see, what I wish I could be.
…Portrays someone who is content, happy, strong and brave.
…Conceals my feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Without my mask, I feared I’d be unwanted, unlovable, unwelcome, and ashamed.
Despite these fears, society’s acceptance of millions of others as they ‘come out’ about their mental illness has inspired me to do the same. It’s time to take off the mask.
The depression and anxiety started when I was seventeen. I was referred to a psychologist specializing in mindfulness and relaxation techniques by my primary care doctor, because of my IBS and what I now know to be pelvic floor dysfunction.
I started antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds the following year, but as things with my other health conditions got worse, my mental health continued to spiral downwards. The meds weren’t working, and I was ashamed to talk to anyone about it besides my parents. As they were uninformed, my parents believed in ‘mind over matter’, and thought that meds weren’t necessary.
A new psychiatrist, med changes, and additional therapy led to an additional diagnosis, and years of more unsuccessful outcomes. When one health condition acted up, all of the others got even worse. Every doctor liked to pass the buck: the depression is because of the fibromyalgia, the IBS is because of the depression, the pelvic floor dysfunction is because of the fibromyalgia, and so on and so forth. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard the ‘chicken or the egg?’ speech. Regardless, no one was positively affecting anything.
At a certain point, I felt like I was swimming upstream. I didn’t feel like fighting anymore and was making plans to take my life.
I wish back then I had known someone who’d actually been where I was and gotten to the other side. Fortunately enough, I had my sister. But millions of others suffering today aren’t as fortunate.
I was able to find something that worked for me at that point in my life and get me to the other side, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
My point is that the more mental illness is accepted, the more unashamed we’ll be to talk about it, to seek help for it and to be it. We are fighters. We are warriors. We are survivors. And despite feelings of complete darkness, debilitating emptiness, utter panic, or all-consuming anxiety, we keep fighting. And that shouldn’t be something to feel ashamed of.
I want to end the stigma of mental illness. I want to lessen the power it has today.
Read More: Maybe I was built for fighting
My name is Erica and I’m the blogger behind HopenlyMe.com. I’m from New York City. I write about my experiences with chronic illness and mental health, including lupus, fibromyalgia, IBS, depression and anxiety because I want other people suffering to know they’re not alone. I love ice cream, photography, traveling and cozy beds. Connect with her on: Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest.