When Stigma Kept Me Quiet

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I’m grateful now for something I didn’t think was possible years ago, when I was first diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia — People are talking about mental illness.

Stigma is still strong, but it’s beginning to lessen. The conversation is open. Nearly every day, I hear someone speak out. Often there are news stories focused on mental health. Actors, singers, athletes, and famous people publicly share their stories.

People are acknowledging that mental illness is a real medical illness that should not be ignored.

Schools are starting to offer courses in mental health. Teens are learning about mental illness through programs such as Ending the Silence, developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Thousands of mental health organizations around the world have resources available to help those affected.

Things have definitely changed since I was a young girl, when I experienced confusing and frightening symptoms, which I kept secret. I knew my problem wasn’t normal and didn’t think anyone would ever understand. I didn’t dare speak up, in fear of being ridiculed.

It took me twenty years of suffering before I received medical help.

I’m not the only one who has waited so long. NAMI says that people who have a mental health condition typically wait eight to ten years after the first warning signs appear to get help. The main reason?

Stigma.

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Most of the time, I was fine. I graduated from college, got married, and had two baby girls. But by my early 30s, my panic attacks became more frequent and more severe.

I was angry with myself because I couldn’t stop the symptoms. My internal monologue wasn’t very kind:

This is stupid. I worry too much. No one else feels this way.

What’s wrong with me? 

Maybe it shouldn’t bother me when my heart beats too fast, and I get lightheaded and dizzy. It’s just how I am. So what if I feel sweaty and 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 where I’m panicking.

Who does that? Get over it.

It’s the dumbest thing ever that I don’t want to drive because I’m scared of feeling panicky. People get annoyed when they’re stuck in traffic, but their hearts don’t pound and they don’t need to pull over to get hold of themselves.

And when I feel disoriented? That’s the worst. It’s like I’m living in a dream and things aren’t real, like an out of body experience. That’s creepy. I can’t let myself think that way. This is absolutely ridiculous. I’m so weird.

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 strange. I doubt a doctor would know how to help. Maybe 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 was sick and needed help.

Growing up, I’d never heard anyone talk about mental illness. I had no idea my symptoms actually had a name: panic attacks, panic disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder. I couldn’t believe it when my doctor told me that millions of other people suffer from it too.

And all that time, I thought I was alone.

HARVESTING SINCE 1892

I was shocked when my doctor said that medication could help me. I was even more amazed when the antidepressant worked.

When my daughter Talee was 10 years old, she started to show signs of panic attacks. It broke my heart to know that she had to deal with the same terrifying symptoms that I’d had.

Even though I’d been through it myself and knew that many people had anxiety, I still felt the stigma. I didn’t want Talee’s teacher or the other parents to know my daughter had a mental health issue. I didn’t want her labeled.

But I was NOT going to let my sweet girl suffer in silence and secrecy, as I’d had. I pushed the stigma aside with all my might, and reached out for medical help right away.

Thankfully, both Talee and I have recovered. And now, I speak out to reassure people that there is help available and they are not alone.

The conversation must continue. The more that people talk about mental health and mental illness, the less taboo it will be for future generations. Let’s end the stigma.

There is hope.

#CureStigma

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First image courtesy of here

Second  image courtesy of here

Fourth image courtesy of here

 

21 thoughts on “When Stigma Kept Me Quiet

  1. Great post, so honest and open. I am sorry you felt you had to suffer for so long and that you could never talk about it. Sometimes I think that still is very much an automatic fear for many. Even my step-daughter at times will be in the mindset that talking about her anxiety or being open about it is looked down on, she thinks it’s better to hold it in. It never should be something we keep stuffing down, being open and okay to receive help is the best route. Encouraging post and a great way to share the awareness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, your kind words mean so much to me! You’re right, it shouldn’t be something we keep quiet about… now that I understand it better, I compare a mental health condition to having a physical problem. I have high blood pressure that I take meds for, and have never felt like I needed to hide that. Should feel the same for a mental illness. But it’s just harder. I hope your stepdaughter is doing well, sorry to hear she has anxiety. I used to think I should just be able to control it, and that since I couldn’t, there was something wrong with me… like I thought other people had a better handle on their emotions or something. Thank you for sharing and for your nice comment! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this. I love reading about other people’s journeys through and WITH. I think we owe it to ourselves to seek support and care, to try all the options, and then we owe it to others to share what helped us. Cause you never know. Ain’t no cure, but there is a lot of help if we’re open.
    I’m glad you got through and learned how to live WITH.
    Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much! I love what you said about owing it to ourselves to seek out care, and to share with others what helped. So true. There sure is a lot of help available! Thanks for your kind words xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Unfortunately, I know all too well that internal monologue and the symptoms/silence. I’m glad you found the strength to speak out ❤️ Breaking the silence, although tough, is the only way to be free and to help others know they are not alone. Thanks for your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, that means a lot! Sorry you’ve had a similar experience. But there is hope, and I agree with what you said about breaking the silence. It is freeing and does help others. Take care! Jenny

      Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know that you’ve had OCD since childhood. I can relate… I honestly felt like the first step in my recovery was to know that my strange symptoms had an actual name, and that what I had was REAL. Then I knew and could move on from there with treatment. Thanks for sharing Lynn! xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • I always had these things that were different but never knew what it was and it was ok until I got older and it got worse. I learned to just hide it but it was hard and I struggled.
        Then after having my 9th child it was so bad and so I read on the internet to figure out what was wrong! OCD came up. I told my sister and she said in a joking way, no way really?? She said of course she knew it for years.
        But again it was never diagnosed and became worse with the abuse. I have PTSD but when I was finally honest with the therapist she told me wow this is OCD! So it was great to finally hear it!!
        I fought it for years and struggled. Having you talk about mental illness is so helpful and yes there is a stigma or people think everyone is a little OCD or anxious.
        My daughter took Psychology a couple of years ago and came home almost crying, they had watched a video on OCD and it became very clear to her that I really had OCD and it wasn’t something you could just “get over” or “ignore” It’s difficult because even health care professionals don’t always have a good grasp on mental illnesses. So thank you!!! You are making a huge difference!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn, thank you so much. Honestly, your support means the world to me. Your first paragraph sounds like me. When I was young, I was able to hide my panic. That’s interesting about your sister, that she knew. I’m wondering if she has OCD tendencies, and that’s how she was aware of yours. I know how you felt when you heard your dr. say it, validate that you have a real illness, OCD. I felt the same way!! That’s good that your daughter took that class and became educated on your struggles. It helps so much when loved ones understand. Thank you for sharing your story. Hope you have a wonderful weekend! Jenny

        Liked by 1 person

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