Stigma and Me

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Mental illness is a real medical illness. It must not be ignored. It needs to be treated–the sooner, the better.

I wish I would’ve known. It took me twenty years before I reached out for help for panic attacks.

I’m not the only one who has waited so long. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, states that people who have a mental health condition typically get help eight to ten years after the first warning signs appear. That’s a huge delay. The main reason?

Stigma.

I was embarrassed. Even if I thought about telling someone, I didn’t know how to describe my strange and frightening symptoms. I knew I was different and my problem wasn’t normal. I didn’t want anyone to know. I hid it very well.

My anxiety wasn’t always there. Most of the time, I was fine. I tried to kid myself into thinking it wasn’t a big deal.

My internal monologue wasn’t very kind.

This is stupid.  I worry too much. Who cares if once in a while my heart beats too fast, and I get lightheaded and dizzy? So what if I feel sick to my stomach, sweaty, shaky, and start to black out? I need to be tougher when I think I’m going to faint. I have to calm down when I feel like running out of the place I’m panicking. Who does that? Get over it.

It’s the dumbest thing ever that I’m afraid to drive because I’m scared of feeling panicky.  People get annoyed when they’re stuck in traffic, but they don’t feel like me. Their hearts don’t pound and they don’t need to pull over to calm down.

And why would I ever be worried about going to the grocery store or the mall? Everyone else looks perfectly relaxed. What’s wrong with me?

The worst is when I feel disoriented, like I’m living in a dream and things aren’t real, and I’m having an out of body experience. That’s creepy. I can’t let myself think that way. This is absolutely ridiculous. I should be able to stop it. Just STOP it.

No matter what I do, I can’t let anyone know. They’ll think I’m weird. Am I going crazy? I don’t think so. But maybe. I doubt a doctor would know how to help. I don’t want to be sent for a bunch of tests. I wonder if I have a brain tumor. I don’t want to scare my family. Whatever. I’m fine. Usually.

When I look back on how I used to talk to myself, it makes me sad. I needed help and should’ve told someone. But I didn’t dream that was an option.

Now I know why I felt like that. Stigma. Growing up, I never heard anyone talk about mental illness. I had no idea my symptoms had an actual name. Panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder.

I thought I was alone.

I was shocked when my doctor said I could take medication to help me feel better. I was even more amazed when the antidepressant worked.

The discussion about mental health conditions must continue. The more that people talk about these disorders, the less taboo they will be.

It doesn’t matter if the symptoms are mild or severe, there’s help available. There is hope. You’re not alone.

Stigma… Go away.

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44 thoughts on “Stigma and Me

  1. Great Post , is councilling another option – so that one is not on medication for life ?

    I clearly don’t know too much. But, I have seen people turn their life around through councilling and meditation etc. Just a thought and no offense meant

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Treatment for mental health conditions are so important. People would never tell someone who is diabetic they don’t need insulin or someone who has cancer they didn’t need chemo or surgery. I think people who perpetuate the stigma would rather think there is something the other person is doing “wrong” rather than confront the scary fact that sometimes the chemicals in our minds become imbalanced, and that such a scary prospect could happen to THEM too. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that! I completely agree. Imbalances in the brain, brain disorders, mental illness… whatever name people use, can be scary because so much about it is not understood. A broken bone is easier to deal with. Or the flu. I used to wish I had something physical and concrete, that people understood, rather than a brain chemical imbalance. Thank you for visiting my blog, the follow, and the insightful comment!

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  3. You are doing a great job raising awareness. People need to realize there is no difference taking medication for mental illness or taking medication for something such as diabetes.
    Never let anyone make you feel less than you are or make you feel different. Everyone has something unique to their own life and that is okay.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. your internal dialogue is like you were in my head. Same things I say to myself. I think sometimes I say them to myself because that is what I think someone else would say to me. I don’t know why. I also feel like that is me just giving myself a motivation “pep talk”, even though it is damaging. I’m constantly trying to find a way to stop stigma. The best I can do is to talk about and be open about my own struggles with others and hope that sheds a little light. We have a long way to go. I hope we get there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you could relate to what I said. But that doesn’t sound right, because I’m also not glad you can relate. I’m sorry you feel like that too. You’re right, I like how you describe it… a damaging self pep talk. Yes, I also feel that the best thing I can do to help end the stigma is talk/write about it. I hope we get there too. It’s going to take a long time. But people hear much more about mental health conditions now, than when I was younger. I think it’ll get better with each generation. That’s the hope! Take care. Thank you for your nice comment 🙂

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    • Yes, good point. I didn’t know what I had, didn’t know it was a mental health condition. But I knew it wasn’t normal, and was embarrassed and scared. But I guess that’s part of the problem. It wasn’t talked about, so I was in the dark as to what might be wrong. Thanks so much! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Awesome post, Jenny! Nobody needs to suffer like you suffered. My heart goes out to you for all that you went through. I, too, delayed getting help for years due to the stigma that I carried against both depression and disordered eating. I didn’t believe I could possibly have an eating disorder. I wasn’t underweight (technically… though my body probably disagreed, because I was amenorrheic), and I didn’t purge. What you went through during all those years before you were able to get treatment is awful, but now you are transforming your pain and helping other people. Thank you for breaking down the stigma!

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    • Thank you Lulu, and you are helping to break the stigma as well, as you speak out about your depression and eating disorder. It’s sad to me to think about how people should/could get help, but wait because their mental illness isn’t “accepted.” In my case, I thought, why didn’t I go to the doctor years ago? Thanks again for your kind words 😊💜

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  6. “If I were stronger, I wouldn’t need help.”

    No. That isn’t true.

    The strongest are the ones who get help. Because asking for it, seeking it, and getting it is super, super hard. But it’s the only way to break free of it enough to live.

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. Oh my gosh. I am so glad I stumbled on this post. I am 18 and I go through a lot of the same things… almost every day. It is a complete struggle feeling like this (you described it pretty much perfectly! The driving stuff, feeling like you are in a different world, shaking, fast heart beat etc. WOW soooo relatable!). I wish there were more people like you to encourage people like me that it’s okay to get help, even when it seems like no one else could ever possibly understand. Thank you for writing this post, I came across it in a time when I really needed to see something like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your lovely comment and kind words mean the world to me! Thank you so much. I’m really glad you came across my blog and this post in particular. I guess it was meant to be 🙂 I’m sorry to hear about your struggle with anxiety. I know how hard it is. I always say, there is help available, and there is hope. Please don’t feel alone. I did for so many years, and once I reached out for medical help, I wished I’d done it sooner. There is nothing to be ashamed of. And I know the feeling so well, that no one is going to understand. But I did find people who understood, and you will too. I wish you the best, and sincerely hope your anxiety improves. Thank you again for visiting here and commenting. I clicked on your name so I could follow your blog, but the page says it’s no longer working. Do you have another blog? Take care, Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

  9. GREAT post! Very true and a very wise post = made me think of how often depressed people are ‘condemned’ for being depressed like it’s a choice. It’s my opinion few if any would ever choose such a perspective but I also don’t believe depression is something you can ‘cure’ easily if at all when it’s not due to a situation (bereavement etc) because it’s like saying ‘let’s change how we view the world entirely’ which yes, maybe some can do but most of us are who we are, and as such if you see the sadness in the world and it is that coupled with not seeing distractions like football as appeasing that intrinsic sadness, then you’re going to for the most part, view the world and life as ‘suffering’ with respites of joy/happiness. That’s how I view the world it’s not because I do not acknowledge others are happy maybe even most of the time, nor that I don’t wish I had that perspective, but since I was a kid I opened my eyes and I saw the world and this is what I saw. I’m not sure that is cultural, genetic, learned or can be un-learned through behavioral or cognitive ‘therapy’ I think it’s the mortar of our soul, some have different souls, some seem to be able to live on the ‘froth of the daydream’ whilst others can ‘make the best of it’ and others ‘endure’ and others are sorrow laiden. I would say, it helps nobody who is ever depressed whether short or long term, to be condemned for it, so I always welcome different perspectives that don’t being with ‘if you just wanted to be happy you could make it so’

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    • Thank you! I really appreciate your thoughtful and insightful comment. I completely agree. That’s the thing… mental illness is not a choice. I would never have chosen to have panic attacks and agoraphobia, and I never would have chosen for my daughter to suffer through debilitating panic attacks. We couldn’t help it, didn’t choose it. And if people thought we could just ‘snap out of it,’ we couldn’t. It wasn’t possible. And while there isn’t a complete cure, there is medical help available. I’m so grateful that for us, it helped. I like your perspective and what you say how everyone is different. Our internal and external make up is not the same. Even so, some people don’t understand why we “can’t just be happy, or not stressed, or not worried.” Those who don’t have a mental health condition have a hard time truly understanding what one goes through. That’s where I think awareness is so important. It’s crucial for friends and family members to know that the affected person didn’t choose their condition, and it can’t be changed or corrected with the flip of a switch. It’s much easier to understand a physical illness, rather than a mental illness. My response got so long, but you really got me thinking. Thank you! Also… I just headed to your blog and followed. You write beautiful poems!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much! I totally agree w/u the main thing as you say, is for others to try to understand – yes it’s complex but it’s not impossible to understand if someone is willing to quit labeling and assuming stuff that is wrong. It truly is the reason so many with mental illness give up, because they are judged and condemned and you are so right people do not understand ‘why someone cannot be happy’ as if they choose that but logically that totally doesn’t make sense. I am glad you are honest about your experiences you ARE helping others by doing that plus it’s courageous and I respect it and you. HUGS xo

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