Speak Out

I wish I would’ve known… That my symptoms were an actual illness. That I wasn’t alone. That medical help was available. And that I would recover.

I knew I didn’t have a normal problem. I didn’t dare divulge my secret, in fear of being ridiculed. What prevented me from talking about it was the stigma attached to mental illness.

May is Mental Health Month. And this week is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. This hits close to home, so I thought this would be a good time to dedicate a post to it.

I was about ten years old when I started to have symptoms of panic disorder. Of course, I had absolutely no idea what my strange feelings were. At first I’d have episodes of disorientation. It was like I was in a fog or dream, and things didn’t seem real. Sometimes when I looked in the mirror, I’d think, Am I really ME?Β  I know it sounds weird. It was frightening. I never told anyone because I was embarrassed and ashamed. I now know I had feelings of detachment and derealization, which occur in people with panic disorder. I wrote about that in a previous post, you can find it here.

In middle school, I started to have terrifying times when all of a sudden, I’d get lightheaded, my heart would race, I’d start to black out, and was afraid I’d faint. I’d want to practically run out of the place I was at. It happened at school, the mall, and while driving. I couldn’t think of any reason I should be so scared. The sensations would wash over me like a tsunami, and eventually retreat to calmer waters. I didn’t realize what I experienced were panic attacks.

I was in my early thirties when I finally went to the doctor. He told me I had anxiety, agoraphobia, and panic attacks. I couldn’t believe there was a name for my symptoms. And that other people, millions of others, had this too. The best part was that I could get treatment. I didn’t need to suffer anymore. REALLY?

I felt pure relief! I had a diagnosis for my mysterious symptoms. I honestly thought my doctor wouldn’t know what to do with me, that he’d be referring me for tons of brain tests, in a desperate attempt to find out what was wrong.

When my daughter was ten and diagnosed with panic attacks, she didn’t want anyone to know. She was afraid her friends would think differently of her. I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t want the school nurse to write ‘anxiety’ in my daughter’s medical chart. I didn’t want her to be labeled.

It’s much harder to explain a mental illness, rather than a physical one. No one would say anything if my daughter had a broken leg. But I worried what they’d say if they found out she had panic attacks.

Thankfully, things are beginning to change. People are speaking out. But we’ve got a long way to go to end the stigma.

People suffering from mental health issues need to know they aren’t alone. And they can receive treatment and they can recover. I’m happy to say my daughter and I are testaments to that. We are nearly panic free.

First image courtesy of: http://www.namilongbeach.org

Second image courtesy of: http://www.franklinlakes.org









54 thoughts on “Speak Out

  1. You’re right, it is so important to speak up, even though we don’t want to. If we don’t, no one will know that what we’re experiencing is actually much less strange than they assume it is – and that they need to think differently about it, about us.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. How courageous of you to not only speak up but share your personal story Jenny. What really hit me was when you mentioned your daughter not wanting anyone to know and you not wanting her be labeled. If she had “asthma” written on her chart, there would be special precautions or considerations without judgment. I hope that is also the case for anxiety, depression, etc.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank so much Niki. After debating about it, my husband and I decided we needed to tell the school nurse. That way, she’d be aware of Talee’s symptoms, and know best what to say and do. But we really fought it, because we didn’t want her labeled. I always thought it was easier for the parents and kids who had a physical issue. But now Talee’s in college, and the anxiety/panic attacks written in her school medical chart never seemed to negatively impact her (thankfully!) Take care Niki πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, from a medical perspective it is necessary information. It’s confidential but I also understand the stigma attached to it. It’s sad that she would feel embarrassed about something she wasn’t able to control or understand at that age. The more posts of yours I read the more I find myself thinking how fortunate she is to have a mom that is so supportive and can help through personal experience. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • That made me tear up, thanks so much Niki. I’ve always just done my best, and I guess it was easier for me because I knew firsthand how it feels. It broke my heart to see how frustrated and embarrassed Talee was with her panic attacks. Kids don’t want their friends thinking they’re strange or different. But even with all this, Talee turned out to be a very confident young woman, and I’m so proud! πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post and I agree, we need to speak out and end the stigma. I had P A at 20 when my mom died, but got better. Interestingly, they’ve come back post menopause, which makes me wonder if they are hormone related. Any thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Eliza. I’m not sure about panic attacks being hormone related. It sounds like a possibility. I used to wonder if that’s why I had so many when I was a teen, because of hormones. I’ve never asked my doctor, but now I’m curious if hormones impact it at all.


      • The other thing I wonder about is all the chemicals in use today. There is very little research into the short or long term effects, let alone in combinations, of this vast amount in use today (87,000 and counting). Plastics, pesticides, household and construction products, they are everywhere. Yet no one is asking the important questions about their effects on our health. I find it rather worrisome.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s true. I wonder about that too. It’s hard because there’s so much that’s out of our control. But I guess, we just have to be as careful as we can about what’s going into our bodies. And keep questioning.


  4. Thank you for sharing your story. Yes the more that speak out the better. It’s sad that we use labels to identify ourselves. Suffering from a mental illness is not who we are, but it is a part of us. Once we learn how to manage our illness we are better. There is so much awareness of mental health issues because people are speaking up about it. Thanks for being brave for those who are unable to be brave for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words, Lesa Rose! I appreciate it so much. I totally agree with you, a mental illness is a part of me. But I’ve learned to manage it, and, even better, overcome it. It’s made me stronger and I empathize with others who are going through it. It’s been about a year since I’ve been speaking out about it, and I realize more and more how many people can relate. Thanks again πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Good for you! I am so proud to be part of a community that speaks out about these issues. I will be sharing this in my Posts of Note today,
    I plan to share my story this month as well. When I realized that May was Mental Health Awareness month i told my husband that I thought it was time to share my story. I’m a little nervous to be honest. It’s a lot to share.
    You are brave and strong and talking about this is the only way to end that stigma. ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for that, I appreciate your kind words and encouragement! I’m also really proud to be part of this community. I never thought I’d be able to speak so openly about this. I’m honored that you’re sharing my post in your Posts of Note, thank you! I was nervous too, when I first started talking about my anxiety and panic attacks. Even though I write anonymously, it’s so personal, and I write exactly how I feel/felt. It’s hard to open up on such a personal issue, something that maybe you’ve kept hidden (like I did). But now I realize that by speaking up, I can help others. The thing that helped me most of all, was to know that I wasn’t alone. I look forward to reading your story. Remember, you don’t need to divulge everything if you don’t want to. Little bits at a time. At least that’s how I did it. Take care πŸ™‚


  6. Pingback: Posts of Note (Week 4) – A Kinder Way

  7. It’s important to speak out. I’m happy there are some who are able to speak and share their stories (one of the benefits of blogging and writing). Thank you for the awareness and breaking the cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We need to speak up and treat it like any other illness – chickenpox, mono, the flu – instead of treating like a criminal record. We can’t fix what we hide in the dark corners of our mental garages. We can’t cure what we don’t admit we struggle with. We need to haul this stuff out of the shed and into repair shops so we can work on getting our motors running better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely love how you put that Katie! It’s perfect. So true, we can’t cure something we don’t admit to having. In my case, not only did I not admit it, I had no idea what it was. Thanks for your insightful comment! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing your story Jenny. It was very brave of you! Yes, we need to end the stigma. Sometimes I feel like more of the disease and less of me. I have to remember I am Traci, not I am bipolar. I am Traci and I have bipolar; a therapist told me this once. I’m glad you are your daughter are doing well.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I fully agree that awareness and education is so vital and necessary. So many people are unaware that they can get help for the way they’re feeling, that it’s not simply just a way of life. As someone who suffered depression for a few years before I realised that it actually was depression, I’m a strong advocate for educating and raising awareness, so we can not only help ourselves, but can spot the warning signs with other people.
    I’ve wrote about education in regards to mental health on my blog, which you can read here-> https://unwillingadult.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/educating-children-mental-health/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, thanks for visiting my blog and for the comment. I just read your post and completely agree. I had panic attacks for years without knowing what they were, or that I could get help. I never told anyone due to the stigma attached. Keep speaking out πŸ™‚ Just followed your blog! Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

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