In my various conversations with people pertaining to depression and mental health in general, it’s come to my attention that stigma is not the only reason why those who are struggling with their emotions are reluctant to go for help or treatment – the reason is FEAR. They are afraid of their own emotions – anger, rejection, guilt, sadness – and by not seeking help, they’re able to keep these obstacles to mental wellness hidden and live a perceived easier life in denial. I can understand being scared of my feelings. It took a long time working with my therapist for me to gather the strength and tackle decades worth of suppressed anger. I was terrified that if I acknowledged the rage, it would turn me into a monster and there’d be no turning back.
Fear has kept people in toxic relationships. Being confronted with facing up to the truth is enough reason for so many to stay in troubled marriages, friendships and jobs that are doing serious damage on a mental level and could lead to stress-induced illnesses, all due to the fear of the unknown.
I’ve begged some people to get help for themselves. Many of them don’t want to open up – they’re afraid of crying in front of a “stranger” (i.e. therapist, psychologist, social worker) or even worse than tears, they fear losing control of their actions, and will wind up kicking a desk or knocking over a chair. They are so frightened of facing their emotions, or hearing things about themselves they know to be true but don’t want to accept, that they shun any suggestions of treatment involving divulgence and dialogue.
Although I’m at the point now that I’m not ashamed or scared about publicly discussing my own horrors of mental illness and the unimaginable places it’s taken me, it’s because I was so desperate to get better, that the fear of facing my negative feelings took the back burner to saving myself.
This is what frustrates me when I see people I care about in crisis and I know they can recover if they’re willing to “go there.” I often use myself as an example “take it from someone who has been in your shoes” yet my pleading, often times, falls on deaf ears.
Holding a virtual mirror up to your face and seeing what’s inside can be daunting. Of course I was, and still am afraid of what might surface during a therapy session. However, when I weigh the options of staying quiet, keeping the gunk buried deep, as I did for most of my life, or confronting my demons and learning to let go – the choice is clear.
Our time on this planet is limited. As they say in business, no risk, no reward – and I’d have to say the same holds for mental health. Imagine spending your entire life avoiding something that can help you and heal you, simply because you fear opening a can of worms.
The darkness of depression, be it chronic or episodic, is so powerful and easy to succumb to that it forces you to make tough choices about what direction to take in your life. Do you give in and not seek help out of fear of being stigmatized or fear of what you might find once you walk through the door? If you let the trepidation of feeling your feelings hold you back from living a better quality of life, you’re doing yourself and your loved ones a disservice.
Every wall has a crack, every person has a flaw, and every human has feelings. It’s natural and it’s what makes us who we are. When those feelings turn negative and ugly and take over, overwhelming us, keeping us from experiencing joy, peace, laughter – it doesn’t have to be forever. There are no limits to the amount of talking and sharing about our struggles, worries and ups and downs. However if we fear what’s inside ourselves, going through life avoiding and/or denying the essence of who we are because we’re afraid of being afraid, it will only continue to fuel the fire of stigma we are desperately fighting every day.
Adrienne Gurman has over 20 years of experience in advertising, marketing and magazine publishing. She is currently the Vice President of 1212-Studio, a product design company in NYC. A native New Yorker, Adrienne lives with her husband and their vivacious chocolate lab, Anya. Adrienne began volunteering for Bring Change 2 Mind not long after the organization was founded, and has since been a leading advocate for fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness. She has lived with Major Depression since the age of 12. Adrienne writes a weekly blog for esperanza magazine and continues to be a growing voice in the anti-stigma community.