When I started to open up about disordered eating and body image, I learned that shedding light on the darkest corners of my life can help shed more light on a path to healing for myself and others. In the hopes that opening up about depression will do the same
Throughout this week, we aim to encourage communities to explore what hope means to them by exploring their own definition of hope, what it can look like, and experiencing what it can inspire you to do. These hopeful discoveries can be used to incite positive change while nurturing empathetic and compassionate conversations about mental health.
Twenty-five years ago, or so, I received the basic stamp of “anxiety” and “depression” from some doctors doing what they could with a fifteen-year-old girl who didn’t know what was going on. In fact, my initial diagnosis came after six to eight months of checking for heart problems, anemia, food allergies, and “period problems.”
As a child, I suffered from a panic disorder that went undiagnosed until I was 25. Because no one knew what was wrong with me, everything was wrong with me. Every symptom I displayed was labeled and classified as something else: learning disability, perfectionism, insecurity, processing disorders, hypochondriasis and on we go. I struggled with a self-criticism so intense I became trapped and stuck inside its horrifying whispers.
Taking care of mental health is not only for people with mental illness, either. Chronic stress causes just as much damage, if not, more, on our brains and our bodies. This is the kind of stress that seems to have no end, no solution, nor reward once overcome. Financial instability, toxic situations, bad relationships, and an endless workload can contribute to brain problems like confusion or memory loss, headaches, exhaustion, and a taxed immune system.
If it is in my power to improve my situation, then I’m the only one that can do it. And to stay focused on the true meaning of gratefulness, I’ve challenged myself to take one picture a day of something I am really grateful for. Thus far, its resulted in everything from a bowl of almonds, rolling waves, and sunshine to pictures of my little one!
People need to feel safe opening up about these weird thoughts that don’t quite fit into a “normal” checklist of casual mental illness. There are those out there who just need someone to reassure them. There are also many who truly need this space so they don’t harm themselves.
It’s as if I’m stuck in a dream, watching a movie about my life, but I don’t know the plot, the characters are completely foreign, and I’m the only person in the theater. I’m both involved and detached simultaneously, unable to make connections with others or the outside world.
When you have mental illness, you can’t just pick up and keep moving. Sometimes you are sidelined. And when you are, it can be devastating to feel like a failure on top of the actual symptoms you are experiencing. There is a line we have to walk in this space.
Coming out as mentally ill is hard, or it can be. It’s one thing to discuss symptoms and solutions with a doctor; it’s something altogether different to disclose a diagnosis to a friend, family member, or coworker. Making the decision to be open about one’s mental illness can help strengthen already solid bonds of friendship and familiarity. Conversely, it can create distance between people, depending on their levels of comfort, education, and acceptance.