Just suck it up.
You’re doing this to yourself.
Stop being insane.
Life isn’t that bad.
Deal with it.
This is your fault.
If you break your arm, you go to the doctor, they cast it up, and you are on the path to recovery. When there is a bad flu going around, we hear about it on the news. Flu shots are offered, we take preemptive measures to getting sick. We seek out antibiotics if we do catch it. So why is it that discussing mental health is so taboo? Why do we label those who suffer from mental illness as bad and make them feel as though it is their fault? Why do we make it near impossible to get adequate care for most people? Why is there this awful stigma behind something that is so common, and simple; we get sick, we seek help, we take medicine, we feel better. That’s exactly what happens when someone suffers from a mental illness as well. The chemicals in our brain are off balance, causing us to feel ill.
I have watched so many friends suffer from debilitating anxiety and depression. I have held their hand in driveways under the stars, the smell of salt and sand in the air, and cried with them. I’ve had deep discussions in tiny coffee shops about the side effects of medications that seem to do more harm than good. I’ve held souls in my chest as their insurance has refused to cover the cost of therapy, leaving them with no other option but to stop trying to seek help. I’ve always been there. To listen. To try and understand. But even just witnessing doesn’t compare at all to actually feeling what they felt. Then, when I was 24, I had my first anxiety attack.
It felt like I was dying. My whole body heated up. My heart felt like it was going to rip right through my chest. Hot tears flowed from eyes and down my neck. Nothing I did could calm me down. And after the attacks subsided, the depression that followed made me feel as if none of this was worth it. I wasn’t worth it. More and more the attacks happened frequently, and the depression set up shop right inside my brain. For a month I laid restless in bed crying. I didn’t eat. I didn’t care about anything. I contemplated quitting my job. Everything that had once brought me happiness and joy didn’t seem to matter anymore. I felt like I didn’t matter.
Luckily, the support system I had was amazing. One friend in particular guided me through everything I needed to know. She stayed up late with me, just listening to me vent because it made me feel calm. She told me about the different medicines and what questions I should ask my doctor, and what side effects to expect. It brings me to tears thinking about those couple of days where she saved my life. Making me laugh for the first time in weeks, and feeding me tacos. I am forever grateful for her friendship and the light she shed upon me. I was unable to find a therapist I could afford, so she became that for me. She listened without judgment. She offered advice. She was tough when she needed to be, and thoughtful always. I know I would not be here sharing my story with you if it wasn’t for her.
My family doctor was able to prescribe me an antidepressant, one that also helped subside my anxiety. And after a couple weeks of insomnia and dry mouth. The medication worked. I started getting back to writing, running, and yoga. I told jokes to my friends over sodas and chips. I felt like myself again. But unfortunately, so many people aren’t as lucky.
One in six adults suffers from a mental health condition in the United States. And 56% of those adults do not receive treatment for their mental illness. I believe a huge part of this is the stigma of mental health. We are embarrassed to admit it. We feel shame, and judgment when we do. Especially for those of us who are younger. 76% of youths are left with none, or insufficient treatment when dealing with a mental illness. We need to flip the script. We need to be open and talk about the mental illnesses that are affecting so many of us. We need to fight to make care and treatment more accessible to all people. We need to erase the stigma. We need to talk about it. We are not bad. We are not crazy. We are human. Perfectly, imperfect.
May is mental health awareness month. Use this time to bring awareness to mental health, and the way we see it in this world. Together we can make a change. Together we can help people who are suffering find care, treatment, and most importantly acceptance.