Why I Speak Out About My Struggles With Mental Illness
When I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety, there weren’t many resources out there about mental health. For the most part, it was websites that read like a cheesy pamphlet from a doctor’s office.
“Are you feeling sad or lonely? If so, call this number.”
This was back in 2003-2004, and while the Internet was definitely around, not a lot of people were talking about living with mental illness or life in recovery. I felt alone, hopeless and empty – even though I knew deep down there had to be more people going through the same experiences as me.
When I was first given my diagnosis, I felt like there was something wrong with me. I was ashamed because I thought it meant I was crazy, weak, broken, unworthy or that I belonged in a psych ward. I didn’t think there was a life beyond what I was feeling. And I genuinely didn’t think I’d make it to my 16th birthday.
I always assumed that the ultimate goal in this whole experience was to be “cured.” To get off my medications. To not have depression or anxiety. To just be happy and normal like everyone else.
It took me a long time to realize that mental illness doesn't work this way. Today, I’m okay with the fact that I will never be normal. Instead, I’ve worked to create my own normal. And I’ve come accept that my battle with mental illness is never over and that it’ll always be with me.
I’m pretty open about the fact that I have depression and anxiety – and that I attempted suicide when I was 17. But people often ask me, “why are you so open about it?” Here’s why.
To Break the Stigma Around Mental Illness
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness in a given year. But despite how common it is, there’s still a huge stigma surrounding mental illness.
We’re led to believe that it’s something you shouldn’t talk about and that having a mental illness is something to be ashamed of.
So many people are afraid to speak up, ask for help or talk openly about what they’re going through because they’re afraid of how people will react. They’re afraid of the judgment and discrimination, and they’re afraid of being abandoned by their loved ones.
I speak out because I want to bring to light the things most people keep in the dark.
By sharing my story, I hope that I can help break the stigma surrounding mental illness. I know I’m only one person and that it takes so much more than me, but I firmly believe that those courageous enough to speak up are the ones who make the biggest difference.
When I write or talk about my struggles, I open myself up to judgment, criticism and bullying. And despite how many people tell me to “stop talking about it” because I’m “begging for attention,” I refuse to let fear, shame or the stigma stop me from being a positive voice in the mental health community.
To Make People Realize They’re Not Alone
It’s really easy to feel alone when you’re dealing with your mental illness – like you’re the only person in the world feeling this pain or carrying this burden. I felt that way for a really long time, and it wasn’t until 2007 – when I learned about the non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms – that I felt anyone understood what I was going through.
The Internet is both a wonderful and awful thing. There’s definitely a lot of terrible stuff out there, and online bullying is no joke (I’ve experienced my fair share of it). But it also gives us the opportunity to connect with people going through similar situations.
By writing about living with mental illness and what I’ve learned over the years, I hope to bring some good to the Internet. I share my story (and make myself vulnerable) to show others that they’re not alone and there’s so much more to life than what you’re feeling today.
To Remind People It’s Okay to Not Be Okay
Social media can be deceptive at times. We see people smiling with their significant others, taking dream vacations, laughing with friends and enjoying everything life has to offer. But when you’re dealing with a mental illness, these images are sometimes damaging.
It’s easy to feel that you have to be happy all the time and put on a brave face, but I’m here to tell you: It’s okay to not be okay.
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and you shouldn’t be afraid of saying, “What I’m feeling right now isn’t normal, and I’m not okay.”
It doesn’t mean you’re broken, weak or whatever it is your mind is telling you. It means you’re strong enough to admit that you can’t do this on your own and need other people to get through it.
And that is perfectly okay.
To Encourage People to Get Help
Far too many people suffer in silence and don’t get the help they need. There are a lot of reasons for this – fear, uncertainty, not knowing where to turn, lack of trust in medical professionals and of course, the stigma surrounding mental health.
But there’s also this idea that you’re unworthy of getting treatment. I felt that way for a long time. Even though I was going to therapy and seeing a psychiatrist for medication, I still felt like I didn’t deserve it. I believed I was an awful person and that my life didn’t matter. I didn’t think I’d be alive much longer, so why bother?
Here’s the thing: Life is hard. It’s okay to admit that out loud, and it’s okay to ask for help. You are worthy of getting the help you need, and you are loved. Don’t listen to those voices in your head telling you otherwise.
There’s so much to live for – even if you don’t believe it right now.
Because My 13-Year-Old Self Needed It
I think back to when I was 13 and feeling all these new emotions that I didn’t know how to deal with.
I was sad all the time, no longer enjoyed my favorite hobbies, felt isolated from others, wanted to hurt myself and had this overwhelming feeling that life wasn’t worth living. And through all of it, I felt so alone.
Before being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I didn’t know anyone who had been through something like this. And it was terrifying. I didn’t know what obstacles I’d face in the future, the shame and guilt I’d inevitably feel, who I could trust, what the future held or how I’d ever get through it all.
I speak out about my mental illness in hopes that no one ever feels alone in their struggles. And I speak out for my 13-year-old self who needed someone to relate to and who needed to know that it gets better.
Because it does. It really does get better.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, self-injury, suicidal thoughts or any other mental illness, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, text TWT to 741741 or visit https://www.nami.org/Find-Support to learn more about the resources available to you.