I remember it vividly.
I was having lunch with my then boyfriend at a BBQ place. At that point we had already broken up a couple of times before. I had been unemployed for a couple of months and I could feel that affecting our already fragile relationship. He didn’t understand how long it was taking for me to get another job. He didn’t want to be in a relationship with someone with no future (money?). He didn’t understand why I quit my job in the first place.
I quit that job because I was severely depressed.
That job was contributing to the pain I was in and the overall state of oblivion that took over me. I explained this for the first time. I felt raw, vulnerable, and emotional as I brought up my history with mental health issues. I cried over a brisket sandwich. People around us must have thought he was dumping me. He was briefly reassuring and I went to the restroom to “compose myself.” I ended up breaking down once more in that restroom. I went back to our table, finished my meal, and we switched topics to a lighter fare. We broke up shortly after that. The breakup was attributed to many other factors, but I’m sure my mental health status wasn’t exactly an attractive feature. I told this story to a close friend and his response often replays in my head. “Dude, not to be rude, and I love you, but he probably dumped you because of that. I mean, I wouldn’t like to be with a crazy person either. No offense!” I nodded. I accepted it. I never freely spoke of my mental health after that.
The stigma surrounding mental health is despicable. We live in a world where the slightest comment about a common mental health issue prompts others to associate madness as a defining character trait. Society’s stigmatization of mental illness prevents people from freely opening up about their issues, which happen to be more common than you think. One in four people suffer from a form of mental illness. I have suffered from clinical depression, crippling anxiety, and to a lesser extent, I have dealt with several compulsions and obsessions that have negatively affected the quality of my everyday life. This year alone, I have been to several therapy sessions that have alleviated my psychological pain in unimaginable ways. I have not felt the need or been advise to take prescription medications in a very long time, but I don’t see the negative connotation that society attributes to them. I am no longer afraid to speak about my mental health issues. What I am afraid of is living in a world where many think they should fight these battles alone.
I am lucky enough to have a family who rather than seeing me as a statistic, see me as a complex human with many attributes, qualities, and quirks. Just about a month ago, I was driving out of a grocery store’s parking lot with my family in the car. I had an anxiety attack while behind the wheel. I had to pull over, get out of the car, and try some of the techniques that have helped me deal with it before.
- Breathing in and out.
- Thinking of a forest (it is oddly reassuring for some reason).
- Mouthing to myself: “You got this.”
- Reassuring myself that I am brave, strong, and important.
- Wiping away the tears from my face.
It took me a few minutes before I found myself at ease and capable of going back to the car. When I got back, my family simply asked if I was okay and then we continued driving, laughing, and making silly jokes. My family understands that these uncommon episodes do not affect my character or the person I am. They don’t make a big deal, they never see or treat me differently. My friends are pretty supportive too. My circle is filled with people like Cruz, who can read me like a book.
By bringing this kind of attention to myself I am simply trying to make a statement. I am tired of society’s stigmatization regarding mental health. I am sick of the generalization that comes from admitting symptoms or succumbing to emotions. I am fed up with the negative connotation that comes from actively treating mental illness with modern medicine. I am that one in four that is dealing with mental health at the moment. But it could also be your best friend, your spouse, or even yourself. You are not alone and together we can lend our voice towards bringing humanity to this very common issue. As a society we can start by calling out judgmental viewpoints surrounding mental illness. We can continue to inform and educate ourselves towards the issues. And lastly, we should encourage a culture of being open to seek outside resources. Someone who has the courage to find ways to deal with the betterment of their mental health should be celebrated, not shamed.
To everyone dealing with mental illness or any mental health condition, I am here for you. I bow to continue to lend my voice towards the dismantling of the ignorance and discrimination that you face everyday. I encourage you to seek outside help and to think of yourself as your number one priority. You are valuable. You are important. Things will get better.