To The Non-Believer,
If I passed you on the street, would you be able to identify that I am not ‘normal’? Would you cringe and slither away from me? Would you see me as different, weak, an attention seeker?
For years, I stayed hidden because of people like you. Taught to fear my diagnoses. Shh, don’t tell anyone. I believed it. I played into the stigma. I did it for protection of what you might say or do. I feared losing friends, family members, even career opportunities.
And then one day I said “Fuck it!”
It just became too difficult to hide, too shameful, too guilty. And why should I feel that way? To hide from you and your posse? On this particular day, many years ago, I stood up proud and said, “I have Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” I would hide no more.
And you laughed because to you, these illnesses did not exist, do not exist. To you I was weak, finding life’s normal stressors to hard. To you I was seeking attention, because you thought I felt ignored. It never once crossed your mind to believe me because hey, you can’t see these illnesses so why the heck would they actually be real?!
It didn’t matter that there were other invisible illnesses that you can’t see but believed were real. It didn’t matter that I was someone you knew for decades. It didn’t matter that a fifth of the population would be diagnosed with a mental illness. To you and your fellow Non-Believers, I was making it up. It was all in my head.
All in my head. Yes, in a way it is. My head contains my brain. Mental illnesses are disorders of the, what? Yes, the brain. The brain, the thing that controls everything in your body. It tells your heart to pump blood. It tells your stomach to digest food and make energy. How could we believe that it could turn against us?!
But it can.
It distorts my thinking, makes me believe I am a loser, unwanted, undeserving of anyone’s love and kindness. It tells me my friends and family can’t stand me anymore. And in some cases, it makes me ponder hurting myself or if life is even worth living anymore. Do you know what that is like? To fully hate yourself, everything about you, everything you were taught at a young age made you the cool unique person you are? No, can’t be real, right? And then more emotions creep in, more lies that Depression makes me believe… the guilt and shame to any wrong doing I thought I did.
I can’t wish these thoughts away. Oh, how my life would be so much easier if I could. I would gladly take one day of a horrible depressive funk if I was guaranteed I would wake up wonderful the next day. Stay positive, you say. One of many phrases that are far easier said than done. Then you throw out remarks such as grow up, man up, snap out of it. You call me selfish for thinking about self harm and suicide because obviously, to your Non-Believer clan, I am only thinking of myself in this situation. You think I am blocking what others may think or feel if I inflicted harm on myself. The problem is, you have never been there, have never been in that position of just yearning to shut the racing thoughts and emotions from your brain, of wanting to not feel like an empty void.
Oh, and the lack of physical symptoms… I laugh. My anxiety causes so many. Where to begin? Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, extreme nausea, dizziness, insomnia. In extreme cases, full blown panic attacks that feeling like I am dying from a heart attack, vomiting, constant muscle tension and hours of rocking back and forth. You tell me meditate, go for a walk and my favorite, hug your child. Not bad suggestions, but when I am tensed up in the fetal position, unable to speak, trying to scratch my hair out, these suggestions are not going to happen.
And then the hospitalizations. You wonder why our government needs to focus so much resources into Mental Health facilities. You think my two brief stays were a wasted of time and money. Yes, of course they were… I so wanted to almost bankrupt my family to pay for these stays. That was my desire, can’t you tell?! My response to you now is we do not have enough resources for people like me. There are not enough inpatient and outpatient facilities. There is not enough coverage through insurance for psychiatrist visits, therapist visits and medication. And there isn’t enough because of you Non-Believers and the stigma you place on my population.
You call me a Millennial with the way I am “overreacting”. Life is hard, you say. Stop being so weak, you say. Everything will not be handed to you on a silver platter, you say. It doesn’t matter that I was clearly born on the tail end of Generation X or that my parents raised me to be a hard-working person. You laugh it off thinking somewhere in my childhood they fucked me up. You would be sadly mistaken. Except for a genetic link, my parents taught me to be respectful, loving and a go-getter. They always told me not to expect everything in my future career because we all are easily replaceable. They taught me that working hard got you to where you wanted to be. You know, all the same things your parents taught you.
And now, I am angry, so, so fucking angry. Angry that this is still an issue, that many people who are diagnosed still feel they must hide, that they would be seen as weak or a freak if they went for help. I am angry that so many people have taken their lives thinking that was the only way out because of you Non-Believers. Just furious, even at myself, that I thought I had to stay silent.
But, I am silent no more. I will continue to advocate for my community and myself. I will tell my story. I will not let the stigma become me again. And, I will not wish you to experience the hell I have even though that might ‘turn you’. The internal suffering and the suffering of your loved ones because they can’t help is too much for anyone.
A Mental Illness Survivor & Advocate