The Stigma of Mental Health Issues

I used to be one of those people who thought that anything metally going wrong with me meant that I was weak. It made me feel abnormal. Other people were happy, why wasn’t I? I knew I didn’t have a terrible life, and it was beyond me as to why I felt the way I did. Everyone else seemed to be able to handle their lives and troubles. How were they able to let things roll off their backs while I was constantly wallowing? Why did I feel like such a fake, a phony? Why was I struggling all the time?

Well, I have learned a few things since I started treatment. And I want to share some of that with you, so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

The first is obvious: you never really know what other people are going through. They may look fine and as if they have their act together but secretly are in pieces. It apparently is really common to ignore or misunderstand mental health issues, or for people to hide them out of embarrassment. Many people don’t want to admit it if their lives are not perfect, and they put on a show for their Facebook friends and family. But inside, they are struggling and wondering why nobody actually sees what is going on. When I was open with my friends and family that I was receiving treatment, I found out that there were others who needed help or were in counselling themselves. I had no idea. I encouraged those who wanted help to get it, and if you are considering it–I’ll tell you the same. Give it a try. You’ll only know if it helps you if you seek out the help for yourself.

Another thing that I learned is that most mental health issues are out of our control. It would be like getting mad at yourself for getting the flu. You could wash your hands all the time, get the flu shot, and still get sick. Does that mean you did anything wrong? Of course not. The next time somebody tells you that you’re choosing to be unhappy, or something similar, think about it: are you? Does it feel like a choice to you? It probably doesn’t feel that way, and I’m here to tell you that it probably isn’t a conscious choice. I am also here to tell you that with some work, it does not have to be your default setting.Some mental health issues are genetic: you may know that bipolar and schizophrenia are hereditary, but did you know that scientists also believe that depression can be inherited as well?We may learn bad mental health habits like repressing our feelings from our families, and have no way to express anything other than anger when it all becomes too much because we’ve never seen any healthy alternatives. Other times, our issues areunhealthy coping mechanisms or survival techniques that we have learned from traumatic experiences, like codependence or PTSD. A significant group of us who need mental health services are victims of genetics, our environment, or an event that triggered us. We didn’t cause these things. We should feel no shame in getting help for them.

The thing about suffering from mental health issues is that we are generally just trying to survive. The way that we are is the only way that we know. It is hard to change but it is necessary if we want to get better and be able to stop surviving and start living. I know I was terrified to get help, but I’m really glad that I did. I feel better now. I may never be cured, but I can feel the difference in how I used to be and how I am now. Life does not seem so overwhelming to me anymore. Things that used to upset me are now easier to put into perspective. I needed that for myself, and I wish that so very much for you.

The First Steps

For a long time, I was in denial about what was going on in my life. I was scared of the thoughts in my head and the way that I behaved. I thought that it was just who I am and what my life was going to be forever. It was understandably hard to get out of bed every morning. I had no energy and no desire to do anything. If there was a rainbow outside, I couldn’t see it—I was too busy huddled in a dark room with the curtains drawn.

When I went to the doctors for the third time complaining about pain in my feet, I had a different doctor than I usually do. Instead of telling me that it was because I was overweight and sending me on my way like my regular practitioner, this new doctor asked me a bunch of questions about myself that seemed completely irrelevant—how was I sleeping? How did I feel otherwise? How was the pain affecting my daily life? She seemed so sincere and kind, and it was the first time in a long time I could remember anyone even asking me about what I was going through. I cried in her office for a long time, and once I was able to calm down, she gently told me that it was time to get some real help. She was guessing that the severe depression I had been suffering wasn’t just affecting my mental and emotional state. She had a theory that, because I wasn’t addressing my actual issues, my body was escalating the symptoms and my depression was now taking a physical toll on me as well.

She sent me to a psychiatrist.After a few sessions, he officially diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder and moderate depression. I was put on some medication to help manage the depression and I receive counselling for the PTSD. The day I was given the diagnosis, it made me feel bad. How could I have let this happen? There’s something wrong with me! I wasn’t normal, I was a crazy person!

But then I realized something. There was something wrong with me. Rather than going into a panic or feeling bad about it, I realized that what I had been experiencing had been real this whole time. What I initially did not understand was that my diagnosis was a gift. With it, I could start treatment. And that treatment meant that I could finally start feeling better. My life didn’t have to be so miserable and dark, and for the first time, I realized it was my choice—I could make it better if I wanted to. Taking those first steps was downright terrifying but so very worth it. It has been a lot of work to get where I am and I know I have a long way to go. I may never be “cured.” I am OK with all of that. Most of my todays are better than my yesterdays, and when they aren’t, I am learning how to cope.

I am a work in progress.

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care is something I’ve always struggled with. For awhile, I didn’t even know that I was supposed to do anything for myself. I had my job and my friends and I just worked, came home, ate whatever was easy, and crawled into bed. That was my life. While I wasn’t happy, I didn’t really see any way (or any reason) to change anything.

But then I was diagnosed with depression, and the therapist asked me what I do for myself. I just stared at him for a bit. I wasn’t sure how to answer at first, and then I realized it was even worse than that—I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t do anything for myself. I didn’t think I deserved it, and I didn’t have the energy for it.

At first, it felt like something that I had to check off on my to-do every single day. Like it was work. But it does not have to be that way. As time goes on, I am practicing self-care more and more. It is an important part of the recovery process. We all need to believe that we are worthwhile, and self-care is a very simple way to show yourself that you are.

Here are some of my favorite ways to show some self-care: reading a book in a bubble bath, getting my nails done (or even taking the time to paint them myself), wearing my pjs all day on a weekend and watching cheesy movies, calling a friend on the phone to talk about anything or nothing, writing in this blog or a notebook about my day or my feelings, talking to a counselor, getting a haircut, going out to a movie with my friends, dancing around my living room to a good song.

Not all of these things cost money and some take hardly any time to do at all. Self-care can be as big or as little as you make it. What it is doesn’t matter as long as it is something positive. For example, maybe a couple of cookies can be a real treat for me but if I eat the whole bag in one sitting, I’m not taking care of myself at all—just the opposite, actually. I also know lots of people who indulge in retail therapy. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. If you have a budget and stick to it, this might be an occasional treat for yourself. But buying things can quickly put you into debt—which can make you feel even worse and add to your stress—and purchases don’t usually make people feel good for very long.

Think about the things that you like to do and how you can incorporate even little aspects of them into your day. Giving yourself a few moments to meditate, write about how you feel, or something else that puts a smile on your face every day is going to be very worth it in the long run. You deserve it!