Shame. Fear. Uncertainty. Hopelessness. These are emotions we all feel from time to time. For me, this is a battle I fight every day. I sit here with trembling hands as I type this message now: I have an anxiety disorder. More specifically, I have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
So why on Earth am I divulging this? For a couple reasons. First, it pains me when I see people struggling with mental illness who think they’re alone. I assure you, you’re not. Second, these struggles should not be a secret. Why is it acceptable to discuss every other part of the body that experiences difficulty except the brain? Why do we feel no shame in telling others we have the flu, a broken arm or even a more serious condition like diabetes, yet cases of mental illness are typically not shared with many? Why is there such a negative stigma around mental illness? It does not mean you are crazy. It does not mean you are weird. It does not mean you are inadequate. If you’re struggling, it’s OK. You are not alone.
While living with a mental illness certainly is exhausting, it’s made me into the person I am today. A person who has been through a battle. A person who has faced many fears. A person I am proud of.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
1. It’s OK to get help.
I’m a huge advocate of using modern day medicine when appropriate. I know some people believe anxiety isn’t “serious” enough to medicate. They probably don’t understand how bad it can really get. While there are lifestyle changes that can certainly help reduce symptoms, it’s OK to also need medication to live a happy, full life.
Imagine you have to walk on a tight rope across two cliffs over a lake of ravenous sharks. Would you be scared? Of course! Now imagine if someone told you that your fear of walking on that rope was fake. I’m sure you would not appreciate the comment. For those who suffer with anxiety disorder, medicine makes these extreme fears more manageable. Medicine certainly isn’t a fix-all solution, but it can certainly improve the quality of life for those who suffer.
2. There’s no reason to be ashamed.
In recent years, I’ve come to find that just about everyone knows someone with a mental illness. But we still don’t talk about it, and the stigma remains. So we all assume no one could possibly understand and opt to suffer silently. Generally, people are surprised when they find out I struggle with OCD, but really there are tons of people out there who we perceive as “normal” who are struggling, too.
3. It’s something we should be talking about.
Over time, I’ve become more open about my challenges with anxiety, but this wasn’t always the case. But I speak up because with increased openness, I think the perception of mental disorders can be changed for the good.
We are all facing our own battles. Whether it’s mental or physical, challenges come in all shapes and forms. The best way to overcome them is to cast out shame and embrace who we are. Seek help from those you trust and find your own way to happiness. Most of all, be patient. It’s a journey. After all, pressure makes diamonds and diamonds shine. Just you wait.
This story was published on The Mighty, a platform for people facing health challenges to share their stories and connect.