END THE STIGMA

With mental health awareness month fast approaching, I have a few things to say.

First of all, we need to end the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. I’m tired of hearing people use mental illnesses as casual jokes and harassment. It needs to stop.

I’m tired of hearing the anorexic jokes because I am naturally skinny. Using that as a joke seemingly minimizes the importance of the struggles of people who have actually dealt with anorexia. Don’t go around making such a real important struggle a joke for your healthy thin friend. It’s not something to be casually thrown around.

I’m tired of hearing college students complain about tests and due dates making casual jokes about how “depressed” having to study on their weekend makes them. Depression is not a casual joke. Depression is not something to be used as an synonym for some slight disappointment. It’s hard. It’s heavy. And more people than you know have dealt with it. It’s a slap in the face to hear it used as a joke. The people saying it have no idea that who they’re talking to has actually dealt with heavy depression. They don’t realize that just because you don’t sleep all day, stay your room or give up on taking care of yourself that you too may be dealing with depression. Just because someone is able to hide it and keep it behind closed doors, just because someone is able to smile, laugh and act “normal” during the day does not mean their depression is a joke and it certainly does not make it any less real. All those years I dealt with depression nobody would have known if I didn’t speak out because I was the person everyone saw as bubbly, always happy and cheery – but I wasn’t. I struggled every morning to put on that mask of happiness because I felt that it was expected of me. Because I felt that people would be concerned if they witnessed less from me because they expected nothing but happiness and positivity from my direction. That was my “normal.” Behind closed doors I let that act down and it got ugly at times; I won’t lie. It got real ugly – crying myself to sleep ugly. Depression comes in many forms and does not fit any certain sort of stereotype. It was not a good time in my life and I would never ever equate such a terrible struggle in my past as a casual “joke” to use when there’s minor disappointment.

Then there’s OCD. Do you know how hard it is living with OCD in the dorms? It’s absolutely humiliating. I notice the stares, I hear the comments and jokes from complete strangers and friends. But what they don’t understand is that OCD flares up in periods of stress. What they don’t understand is that when my patterns of long hand washing and mindful odd routines increase it’s because I’m really stressed. It’s my body’s form of a cry for help. But they wouldn’t know that. The worst is when someone purposely goes out of their way to wreck one of my routines because it’s “funny” to see my response. It’s funny to watch me panic. It’s funny to watch me stress out. Because to them, I’m overreacting. But to me, it’s a mindset I can’t shake. It’s my reality. It’s not something I appreciate getting all the jokes about. It’s extremely embarrassing. It’s something I wish I could control and had a better grip on, but the reality is that I am not there yet. So pleeease stop with the jokes. Making my struggles a joke is only greater enforcing the stigma around mental illness.

Some people still don’t understand why I am so honest and open about my past struggling with depression and my current battles with OCD. It’s became this thing in society that everyone is “hush hush” about. You’re not supposed to talk about it in public; you’re supposed to keep it behind closed doors in private. But how is someone supposed to get help or inspire others to do so if they keep it all locked up hidden away out of view? How is someone depressed supposed to know it does get better?? How is someone with OCD supposed to understand they aren’t alone? How are we supposed to end the stigma if we don’t tell our story??

If sharing my story helps you share yours then I will gladly share. I will open up so others don’t feel the need to hide behind their struggles with mental illness. It is real. It is important. People need to be educated. End the stigma & share your story.

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