This is an installment in a series about my personal experiences with mental illness to raise awareness:
It’s taken me almost a week to write this article (I’m trying to get my point across without sounding like a jerk). But I didn’t want to run from this topic, no matter how unpleasant it is for me to talk about it.
Everyone experiences anxiety and depression from time to time; it’s the body’s natural response to stress and over time, the depression and anxiety will lessen until it eventually passes.
Most people continue to function normally before, during, and after these experiences, and deciding to share those experiences can be very helpful for others working to resolve those same issues…
But there’s a clear difference between an experience that comes as a natural response to a significant life event, and, being diagnosed with a mental disorder.
Before I go any further, please don’t think that I’m knocking anyone for speaking about their problems. I’m the queen of self-exposure. I believe that writing out/talking about/positively expressing your strong emotions not only feels great, but is also necessary for your mental and physical health.
Where I find fault, however, is with those who try to denounce sufferers of mental disorders for not presenting it through their own personal symptoms.
I’ve seen comments on mental illness awareness articles, much like the ones that I write, which are downright maddening. Anonymous critics that claim to know exactly what qualifies and disqualifies someone as having a mental disorder from behind their computer screens, feeling somewhat vindicated for exposing the “fraud” to the World.
Newsflash: Mental disorders are mental disorders only when a medical professional diagnoses them. Not because someone doesn’t agree with the diagnosis, but if a doctor tells you that this is what you have based on the symptoms that you present. That’s it. That’s all. That’s the only qualifier.
And, for all of the many mental disorders identified in modern medicine, they each can present themselves in virtually hundreds of ways. I have friends and family members with the same diagnosis that I have that they present in completely different ways from me.
Yes, there are defining symptoms to each disorder and yes, those that suffer from mental disorders can exhibit similar traits…but in no way are two sufferers’ experiences the same. This eliminates the idea that there’s a certain “look” or “behavior” that easily identifies anyone as a specific disorder group.
For example; there are depression sufferers that are outgoing and energetic and that can even be angry or restless and try to outrun their symptoms by keeping constantly busy. There are anxiety sufferers that can easily travel alone and that thrive in crowds and who prefer loud and happy music over silence. There are those living with PTSD who don’t have flashbacks or nightmares, who can easily talk about their trauma and that have no problem with facing their fears (when the time calls for it).
If you saw me on the street, you wouldn’t know that I had any of the disorders that I just mentioned above. So then, how can others attack someone who’s brave enough to admit that they live with a disorder based on a half-glance into their experience?
That sort of thinking plays into an already tenacious stigma that those who are diagnosed with a mental disorder are somehow mistaken; that they’re outward appearance or experience is somehow wrong or false.
And that’s the biggest reason why I’ve decided to write these articles.
The best way to break through those harmful opinions and actions is for me to not be silent about my experiences with mental illness. The path that I walk is similar yet different to other sufferers of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. I write to educate people who do not live with mental disorders on how it feels to balance my work, symptoms, and relationships.
And I’ve also found so much comfort in reading other people’s experiences with their own disorders. They motivate me to keep pushing to accomplish my goals and they remind me that I’m not alone in my struggle.
To those of you that do not suffer from a mental disorder but would like to support, then please continue to research disorders and start a dialogue with friends, family members, coworkers, or complete strangers on the bus; anyone that you’d think would listen.
To those of you that have made the aforementioned comments on others’ articles, all I ask is for you to keep an open mind. The differences between us sufferers are small in comparison to the struggles that we share. It’s going to take all of us to change the narrative on mental illness and we can’t do that by splitting hairs. It’s easy to get caught up in our own problems (and those problems can be huge), but we have to pull together and support one another; no one symptom is greater or smaller than any other.
Please help, please reach out, please be aware of others’ struggles. I am only one voice, but if we combine our efforts to understand each other, then our individual voices can become a shout.