I try to keep as much of my personal life out of my blog as much as possible; keeping details vague in stories and even using a pen name to conceal as much of who ‘I’ am as I can. Why? Well, the reason being is that I probably would be a bit embarassed if everyone in my personal life new I kept up a blog about having an anxiety condition. I could make something else up, and say that maybe by keeping my stories free of personal details it helps you, the reader, imagine yourself in my shoes better, but that would be a lie. It really comes down to fear.
It is very hard to try to be an advocate for those mentally ill when you are afraid to take a public stance on the issue. I kind of sound like a hypocrite, don’t I? However, I will say that the true roots to my writing really started out as a sort of journal or diary for me. I am too scatterbrained of a person to keep up with anything hand written, so I thought, why not just share these thoughts with whomever wants to take the time to read them. Someone out there might just feel the same way. And so, here we are roughly a year later.
While my writing has been hugely theraputic for me, I still am not where I need to be to take the pen name off and to completely share my story freely. And that of course I link back to the awful stigma that follows those who are mentally ill. I have my small support group that knows what all is going on with me, and I advocate for everyone to have at least one person they can share everything with. However, mental illness runs in my family. Particularly problems with forms of depression or anxiety. Both of my parents are affected in some way, as are my brother and I; but all of us have different manifestations of mental illness. So one would think I have the most understanding support group ever, right? Couldn’t be farther from the truth actually. I live in a household where there is someone with clinical depression, PTSD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and me, with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. (I know, we sure do sound like a fun time.) But the truth is, we all have had our diagnosed disorders for quite some time now, with mine being the newest. But we all have developed good coping mechanisms, some of us have gone to professional therapy, and on a normal day to day basis, you would never be able to tell there was anything different about us than a ‘normal’ family.
However, the real problem comes when our conditions get a little out of hand. Then all of the sudden the family member with depression is extremely frustrated with, say me, with GAD because they just don’t get what its like with my disorder. As understanding as I try to be, I can’t really wrap my head around why the person with PTSD can’t just stop thinking back to their traumatic experiences, especially when we are having a seemingly perfect day (Christmas, trip to the park, ect).
So I feel that I am in the perfect situation to talk about what I have lead up to thus far. If we are ever going to gain true understanding in society, we must first stop judging each other.
The Stigma WE Cause
Before we can ever start working on how society views us, we have to stop judging others with mental illness as well. Maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone the same way it does to me, but lets look at current events and social media real fast.
Just as an example, let’s consider a very upsetting situation that makes the news all too often. A highschool boy or girl commits suicide because they were bullied. I see these stories on social media at least a few times each year, and it breaks my heart each and every time. But how many times, after you are done reading the story, you look into the comments and someone has said how ‘selfish’ that child must be to abandon their parents and their friends like that.
Seriously, let that sink in for a second.
Someone posted, on the story of a child’s death, that they were selfish, or not strong enough.
We have all seen it before. Someone that was bullied so badly, feeling so alone in the world, that they thought the best solution, or maybe the only solution, was to end their own life. And then we have another person, who is judging what their final decision was.
Now let be extremely clear about something, I am not saying suicide is ‘okay’. But I am saying that once we have already lost a child in this world, likely dealing with mental illness, it is too late for us to help that specific child. Their family is already grieving, as are all of the people whose lives they touched.
What it is never too late for, is to take the most postive stance possible on the situation, and advocate for others who are mentally ill and who are in a very dark state.
How on earth can we take a positive stance on something so morbid?
Well, the first step is to stop judging. As I shared with you, I really struggle with understanding why my familly member with PTSD will have episodes during seemingly perfect days. But that comes from the perspective that usually my anxiety acts up more in response to stressful events. I will never understand what it is like to have anything but GAD, and even then I only understand my own manifestation.
So that is what we need to do. We need to STOP trying to understand each other’s mental illness. Doesn’t that seem counterproductive? Well, it actually isn’t. By trying to understand something that we never will, we take the focus off of the sick person, and put it on us. It is a sneaky way we can be unknowingly selfish. If we try to understand the illness that we don’t have, we instead focus on how it makes us feel trying to ‘deal’ with that person. We will complain about how frustrated we are, how we just don’t understand, how the person is “getting on our nerves”. And that is how stigma breeds inside of the community itself.
Instead of trying to understand the illness, let’s just accept the symptoms.
Once I stop trying to understand why on earth someone is having a PTSD episode while we are at a park having a nice time, I can just accept the symptoms they are having, and that is when I can help them. I can say, “Okay, let’s go sit down on a bench by ourselves.” or “If you are comfortable with it, why don’t you tell me what is on your mind?” or even best of all, something I have not seen many people do, “What do you think will help right now?”
Like I said, most people do not live in a household like mine where everyone has some manifestation of mental illness, (although studies do show a hereditary link in mental illness), but for the average person it could be as simple as finding a story of an affected person online, and instead of calling them ‘selfish’ we say, “Wow, I have no idea what it must have felt like to go through what they did.”
Only once we start accepting each other, do we have the right to tell society that they need to stop stigmatizing us. It starts here.
Hugs and Positive Vibes,