Ending the Silence

Last week I went back to high school. I had something I wanted to share with the students. At one point, I realized I had thirty pairs of eyes watching me intently. I knew they were listening. Really listening.

I told three different classes about my journey recovering from anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. IΒ  explained how hard it was when my little girl developed panic symptoms. Talee was in fourth grade when she had a panic attack at school. She was terrified it would happen again. She literally couldn’t make herself walk into the classroom, and missed two consecutive weeks. She was afraid of being afraid.

I spoke on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. I’m trained as a presenter for NAMI’s Ending the Silence program, developed for high school students. The goal is to raise awareness about mental illness and to help end the stigma. We discuss the warning signs of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and suicide. We talk about what to do if we notice the warning signs in ourselves or a friend.

I wanted those juniors and seniors to know I waited twenty years before I told anyone about my frightening symptoms. I knew it wasn’t normal when I felt disoriented, like I was living in a fog or dream. I knew it wasn’t right when all of a sudden, my heart would pound, I’d get lightheaded, shaky, and afraid I’d pass out.

I didn’t want anyone to think I was strange. So I kept it a secret. I figured I needed to deal with it. Alone.

The main reason I felt this way? Stigma.

The stigma surrounding mental health conditions is strong and very real. It can delay someone from getting treatment and symptoms can worsen. Mental illness affects millions of people throughout the world. Not only individuals, but also their families.

My daughter and I were fortunate, as we both recovered from panic disorder. It wasn’t easy, and there isn’t a complete cure. But medication and positive coping strategies — eating healthy, exercising, deep breathing — enabled us to resume our normal lives. We’re productive, happy, and in control of our panic.

I don’t remember mental health being discussed when I was in high school. I didn’t knowΒ  anxiety and depression were considered a mental illness. I had no idea that other people experienced the same terrifying panic symptoms that I did. Maybe if I’d heard about mental health conditions when I was a teenager, I would’ve received treatment earlier.

That’s why I speak out as a mental health advocate. I want people to know they aren’t alone. There is help available. There is hope.

I’m looking forward to visiting more high schools to tell my story and do my part to help End the Silence.

First image courtesy of here

Second image courtesy of here

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43 thoughts on “Ending the Silence

  1. you go girl! i honor you for your bravery in telling your story and doing your part to stamp out stigma. stigma arises out of ignorance. now there are 31 people, kids + teacher. who know a bit more, are a little less ignorant, about mental illness because of your presence and story. who would have thought your struggles and your story could carry such great power! if this is your first time, keep at it. it can be very rewarding.

    full disclosure: i present with nami with the ioov, in our own voice, program telling my story to the public, doing my part to stamp out stigma.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! Your kind comment makes me feel so good. Yes, it was my first presentation, I did three that day. Each had at least 30 kids. I can’t wait to do more! I know you totally understand, as you’re a NAMI speaker too. They offer such wonderful programs, and I think having speakers tell their stories helps people to understand and not feel so alone. So thank you for doing what you do. Together we can help end the stigma. xx

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  2. This is brilliant. I wish we had been told about mental health issues when I was at school. I only received ‘help’ (in the form of medication that put me to sleep) when my symptoms became obviously physical, ie I would pass out on the stairs. No treatment. Just pills until I was ‘better’. Then it happened again at uni. I was ill for a long time, but they just gave me pills which didn’t solve anything. I couldn’t walk into a room that already had people in it, I thought I had two heads or something and everyone would stare at me. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. Thank you for doing such a great service. πŸ‘πŸ»

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I appreciate that so much. I’m sorry you had such difficult struggles. I know how hard it is not to understand what is happening, and not know what’s wrong. No one used to talk about mental health issues. I was afraid I had a brain tumor because of my panic attacks. I was actually relieved once I told my doctor and he told me I could get help. Thanks again for your kind words!

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  3. I would love to do something like this but I have a tendency to lean towards the darker side of subjects and get caught up in cautionary tales. It’s so important for advocacy specifically after seeing the prevalence of illness versus the funding it receives for research. Eating Disorders, $28,000 when Anorexia has the highest rate of death and no recovery? Boggles the mind. I had Panic Attacks every day before school starting very early on. I remember dry heaving every morning and trying to be as invisible as possible. I didn’t find out until a few years ago that my father suffered the same. He was taught to hide it. Men didn’t show panic or fear. Thank you for all that you are doing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing that and for the kind words. I agree that advocacy is so important. Mental illness affects many millions of people, and it’s time for it not to be a taboo subject. And for people not to be afraid to talk about it, to get help, like your father. Having a mental health condition doesn’t mean you’re weak, but I think many have that perception. And mental illness can be hereditary, which more people need to be aware of, and not ignore signs or symptoms. My mom had major depression, imbalanced serotonin. I also have the serotonin issue, but in me it shows up as anxiety. I’m thankful I was so aware what to look for when my daughter started to have panic attacks. Thanks again for your comment. πŸ™‚

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  4. Well done you, that is so brave! I’m sure you will be making a difference to some young people’s lives. I’m 28 and have been struggling with my mental health since a teenager. I wish that someone had helped me overcome the stigma then instead of me trying to do it now x

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    • I know, it’s so hard. We’re in this together. If a lot of people speak out about mental health, the less stigma there will be..eventually. Sorry you’ve had to struggle so much. I hope you’re doing better now. Thanks for your nice comment and for sharing. xx

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  5. #endthestigma
    We’re in the throes right now, helplessly watching our loved one sink deeper into her abyss. Such a confusing place to be and the stigma pushes people underground. If we can’t talk about it, we can’t fix it.

    Thank you for speaking out!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so welcome. I’m really sorry to hear about your loved one. So difficult for the person with the illness, and for the family members. It can be very confusing. Not sure if you live in the US, but if you do, maybe check to see if there is a local NAMI. They have wonderful support groups and courses, both for the individual and family members. I attended a 12 week course called Family to Family, that was informative and really supportive. All the groups/classes are free. I love what you said, if we can’t talk about it, we can’t fix it. So true. Thanks for sharing. All the best to you and your loved one. xx

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  6. Pingback: Repost from another Blogger: Ending the Silence β€” Peace from Panic | Wanderingthinkerblog

  7. You did a great job Jenny. πŸ™‚
    Mental health is the root of the whole building, our body. If roots won’t be strong, building is prone to get disheveled. The social stigma about mental health can be fought only by spreading more awareness about it, and you are doing that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! I love your insight about mental health, being the root. That’s very true. And yes, I feel that if more people talk about mental health and mental illness, eventually the stigma will decrease. Thanks again and happy new year!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Yay!!! Congratulations Jenny! I remember when you were talking about doing this. I’m sure you helped some kids by sharing your story and talking about the stigma. I haven’t advocated on that level yet, but I would like to; I have been doing a lot of emailing and calling to legislators.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, I really appreciate that! It is hard to be vulnerable and talk about things I never thought I would. But I’m happy to be sharing my story and doing what I can to help end the stigma. Thanks for visiting here, it’s great to connect with you! πŸ€—

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  9. What a brave and inspiring story!
    May I ask how you got involved in this program? My mental health challenges peaked in high school, and I remember feeling frightened, alone and confused. I would love to be part of a program like this to help end the stigma and bring hope and awareness to the next generation! Thanks for your great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, I really appreciate your kind words. I felt the same as you. I want to help end the stigma and let people know they aren’t alone. I’m glad you’d like to be a part of a program like this. It’s so rewarding! The way I got involved was I contacted my local NAMI office. They’re always looking for volunteers. I met with a volunteer coordinator, explained my situation, and she explained about all the programs NAMI offers, to see what type of volunteer position would be a good fit. I knew right away I wanted to be involved in Ending the Silence. You can check out the main website at nami.org. Then look to see where your closest office is. Good luck, I’d love to hear how it goes! Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much. I agree, everyone needs to be made aware. Mental illness can affect anyone, as it affects families and friends of the loved one as well. I think education and awareness are key. That’s great you’re able to tell your story. You can help a lot of people by sharing your experiences and struggles. Thanks for visiting here, it’s great to connect with you!

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  10. This is all so relatable! Great job on everything you’re doing to end the stigma. One day, I hope to help spread the importance of mental health, as I’ve dealt with this for awhile. We won’t let it define us. We can do it

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Sorry to hear you’re dealing with mental health issues, I hope you’re doing well. You’re right… don’t let the illness define you. Thanks so much for finding my blog! I just visited yours and followed. Take care! Jenny

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