When I choose to agree with the shame I feel, I am the one giving power to stigma. I am the only one who has the power to break this internal stigma because I get to choose what I believe about myself. So for me breaking stigma requires intentionally breaking out of the mindset my childhood gave me. It requires me to talk back to my mental tapes that tell me I am not enough.
I am choosing to focus on that strength I have discovered and the hope that it offers. I can hope for a life where things get better slowly and I have more good days than bad. I can hope for a life free from the tyranny of perfectionism— a life where instead of impatiently criticizing my own weaknesses, I allow my imperfections teach me empathy.
You and me. Us. It isn’t easy. We both bring our own set of challenges to the relationship, but somehow they are what has made are love stronger. It is in the difficult times that love is seen most clearly and I know without a shadow of a doubt that you love me exactly as I am.
I kept up my pattern of not admitting when I was feeling depressed, of hiding my illness, of not disclosing my symptoms even when asked directly. I kept saying, “I’m okay,” even when I was not okay because I did not trust that doctors would respond to my mental health concerns with empathy. I felt ashamed of admitting when I was not coping with stress and emotions effectively and I was afraid they would judge me or push me to try another medication. In church I did not trust that my pastors would respond with belief in the validity of my illness. I was afraid they would blame me.
I knew my confession was motivated by the hope that I could change the trajectory of my life. I wanted to find a way out of depression more than I wanted to keep hiding my compulsive self-injury. I wanted an end to secrets, an end to shame. I wanted my classmates to look me in the eye and accept me for who I was, not for girl who I pretended to be.
Change is often an agonizingly slow process, but from this side I can say it truly is worth it. While I continued to struggle with self-harm for three more years eventually I developed a support system that helped me to achieve my goal of sobriety—11 years now.
To this day I live with reoccurring episodes of depression, but even that has changed. I am quicker to recognize the downward spiral, quicker to seek the help I need. I have learned to say on the good days and on the bad, “I am lucky to be alive. “
Our culture is changing in regards to its view of mental illness, but we have a long way to go. There will be people who don’t understand. People who say the wrong thing whether out of spite or malice. If you let fear of what they will say dictate your life, then in a way stigma wins. I will teach my daughter that it is the people who love you that matter. The people who are there for you when you feel empty and tired are the ones who have earned the right to speak to your heart.