The fact that I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety is not something I am always comfortable revealing to others. Not because I am ashamed of the fact, but rather because of the disappointing stigma that still surrounds mental health issues in our country.
As far as the treatment of mental illness has come in our country, there is still a general lack of awareness and understanding surrounding it. This leads to both difficulties accessing care and people being ashamed to seek care. Judgment, confusion, and fear often surround mental illness.
We feel scared and threatened by the mentally ill/suicidal perpetrator of the mass shooting or the homeless man mumbling incoherently on the corner. When how we relate to mental illness becomes a dismissive “well, they’re just crazy” it can be hard to wrap our head around depression or anxiety or other mental illnesses in our own lives or those of the people around us. Panic attack, depressed, and o.c.d. are part of our everyday speech now, but not still not understood. When they are thrown around as adjectives, it makes it easier to categorize them as “no big deal” or consider them not to be true illnesses.
My Mental Illness Story
Although I was not officially diagnosed until college, I had struggled with depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic attacks since I was a child. Depression wasn’t a large factor in my life until I was a teenager. However, I remember experiencing intense anxiety as early as 3rd grade. And as an eight year old I didn’t know what was going on in my head. In fact, sometimes I still don’t know what is going on in my head. But at that point I didn’t know that there were a lot of other people going through what I was.
I didn’t know that there was a reason that I would sometimes freeze at the back door and physically feel like I couldn’t leave the house. Why I would stay up at night unable to fall asleep because the anxious thoughts about just about everything were rolling around in my brain. And then as an anxious teenager entering middle school and then high school I found that not only did I not fit in because, well I wasn’t the makeup loving, pop culture obsessed “normal” teenager, but I also had managed to pick up another straggler in the form of soul crushing sadness and confusion that I had no clue how to deal with.
In college I began my journey towards actually figuring out what the heck was wrong with me. Medication, lots of different medications, were tried. Lots of therapy. Lots of really hard work to manage the illness and take charge of my mental health. And although it’s been over eight years, I’m not cured. It is a day in, day out part of me. It doesn’t define me, no. But it sometimes affects how I interact with the world around me. Just like a person that is living with a diagnosis like diabetes.
Yet, this is still a part of me that most people don’t know about. Because sometimes I just don’t want people to change their perspective of me. I don’t want to be judged. I feel empowered in who I am and partially credit my depression and anxiety for developing me into the strong, self assured person that I am today. But, I was afraid to tell my husband when we were first dating, both about the depression and anxiety and the fact that I on medication for it.
Because I’ve heard crap like this from people that understand mental illness…
Depression is the result of unresolved sin in your life.
You just need to snap out of it or get over it or just stop feeling sorry for yourself.
It isn’t a real medical problem and therefore you shouldn’t be taking medication for it.
If you just got of the house…or hung out with friends…or did x,y, or z you would feel better.
It is a character flaw, not a medical condition. You are just lazy, or a debbie downer, or a worry wart.
We might not be locking up depressed (or pmsing) women in insane asylums or performing lobotomies willy nilly anymore, but awareness and understanding about mental illness still has a long way to go.
Here’s some more insight into my depression and anxiety story:
And help for those that might be struggling similarly:
How do you think we can improve how we handle mental illness in our society?