I very actively speak on mental health topics that I feel passionate about. I think the goal of breaking down the stereotypes and misconceptions (that somehow still exist) is something that we all agree is important, even necessary. Sometimes I question such activism, I don’t want to speak about mental illness to make people uncomfortable. However, my goal is to reduce the stigma and make people realize they don’t NEED to be uncomfortable, as avoidance won’t get anyone anywhere. If I avoid these topics, what kind of example is that setting for others?
Having watch someone I love been through hell and back with bulimia (for several years), followed by further years of intense rotating bouts of anorexia, and binge eating, I have seen that same person I love also struggle with anxiety, substance abuse, depression, and ADHD. I also have another loved one who was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at age 2, and have grown up with them also being diagnosed with ADHD, depression and anxiety. Mental illness is something that impacts my friends, family and life everyday. I have grown up with it, been exposed to and felt myself. It’s central to my whole existence.
There is no way I could say I’ve suffered body dysmorphia, but I have instances where I almost let my insecurities take over. As much as many still like to think of eating disorders as a vanity issue, the reality is far different: the reality of crippling anxiety, fear, isolation, self-punishment, and the frustration of intellectually knowing things that your mind will not effectively process nor apply to your own human body. It is a reality of rejecting the most basic human needs, a reality for many that comes terrifyingly close to suicide. No one deserves to suffer this slow and painful way. For a short period of time, I had my own experiences with bulimic tendencies, and thankfully due to extremely compassionate friends who noticed changes in my well being, they intervened and I got the help I needed fast before it manifested. Additionally, I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. This is accompanied by panic attacks. It has made me had to drop classes, had to leave class crying, not perform well, and unable to leave bed for days. People who know me know that I've always had these ticks. I used to chew my hair, pull my hair out, chew my knuckle. I never knew why this was until I started to learn more about mental health. I quickly realized that my manifestations of anxiety were shown in my ticks, and they accompanied me with my racing thoughts and feelings of being nervous that I thought was just an anxiety state. Not until this past year have I been hit so hard with anxiety and panic attacks that have caused me to drop classes, leave classes, not do midterms, cry randomly, or even not be able get out of bed somedays (or for days).. With accepting this, I have sought help and am lucky that I did. I would not want anybody to be limited to life because of a diagnosis. It is not worth it.
I don’t speak out about my own experience for pity. It isn’t my identity, nor I am not the only person who has been affected by mental illness, and I am certainly not the only one whose had to watch someone they love suffer. Simply, it has been a huge factor in shaping my life both for the negative and the positive. I am truly grateful for what I’ve learned, and where the crazy road has ultimately led me. I have a thicker skin, a better sense of humanity, and a far greater love and appreciation for life and those who matter to me. I speak about it because mental illness is an internalized disease that thrives on secrecy and manipulation, and that is how so many go unnoticed or misunderstood. There is a reason these illnesses drown in silence. There are misconceptions surrounding it, and usually those who are uneducated and the ones that perpetuate this stigma.
Those suffering need to hear that when you feel true passion for something again, when you realize the beauty in the little things that you previously overlooked or took for granted every day, recovery will come. When the smile plastered on your face is once again formed from actual happiness instead of being a mask, things will start to change. When you can let the little things go and appreciate both the good and the bad in life, there will be a realization that there is a balance and a reason for everything. When you realize that you are a survivor, finally a feeling of confidence will come and you’ll see that you can handle almost anything life throws at you. Hope really is a thrilling concept, and when the hopes you have for life in recovery are realized, and even surpassed exponentially, it gives you a reason to fight. That fight is one that varies on a day to day, sometimes minute to minute basis… some days it’s easy and other days you really have to battle it out. It IS a fight that is far more possible than it feels. It’s looking in the mirror and saying, “I may not be totally happy with myself or my body, but I have a genuine sense of joy when I wake up every day, a genuine feeling of gratitude. It’s a feeling I wouldn’t want to trade for anything.” This is a feeling I truly wish for every person still struggling, whether a mental or physical illness, or just going through a rough patch of life in general. To be able to provide even a shred of hope or inspiration for someone who is in a dark place… to be able to say I truly do understand, have been there, and have managed to find the other, beautiful side of life… is something that means something beyond words.
I’ve had many people reach out to me. I’ve had extensive conversations with people who needed advice on how to best approach the situation and support their friends, siblings, and loved ones. We need to build strong support systems for the people involved and affected by mental illness. Take what you want from this, but if anything, try to catch yourself and actively recognize and reject the innate ideas society has instilled where a person’s weight or appearance dictates their worth as a human being. Realize what is hurting you is not something to hide.
Every person can contribute to the fight against the stigma, to help move society forward as a whole. I hope those reading this realize they are not alone.