Destigmatizing Mental Illness

When the term mental illness is brought up, we don’t think about the range of what those words entail. When I was younger, I use to associate “mental illness” with a crazy person. And you know, technically it is, if only everyone understood that person’s reality.

Mental illness does not make you any less competent or less of a person. Mental illness is a subject that for some reason we are unable to talk about. One in four of us will have a mental illness at some point. That is a lot of people. It just… society almost shames the idea of having a diagnose. It’s rejected, or treated lightly and it should not be. That itself is so harmful to anyone who is suffering. It’s not right to do that. And overall, this is something that we need to talk about.

This is me talking about it.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. 

 The main reason in my writing this is because I’m not suppose to talk about it.  I’ve been told to stay quiet about it. And for that reason, after over a year of staying silent, I’m going to open up about it. Maybe there is someone who will stumble upon this blog post and read it and think hey, this girl gets me. I feel that I could be making a mistake and doing something I should not be doing, but you know what, Society? That doesn’t matter right now. Someone is going to have to do it.

I don’t know what I have. The first psychiatrist told me I had clinical depression. The second told me it was a mood disorder. My mother thinks I am bipolar, and I can see how at times that matches up. To me it doesn’t matter what you call it. All I know is that my anxiety and depression come hand in hand. I’ve had it for years.  The problems it caused had become intolerable my senior year of high school. I’ve been on medicine since April of 2012. My life is so much better now. I feel as if I am in complete control of myself and my emotions. I was afraid to start medication, and I remember the fears my mom had about it. She told me that medication changed people, and she  could not grasp how in a one half hour appointment, a doctor could learn enough about a patient to know he or she needs to be diagnosed with a prescription. I held my trust in the doctor’s hands. I remember sitting in his office wondering what was going to happen to me. He explained it to me, what the antidepressant would do and how it worked with my chemistry. He also explained how “untreated depression worsens over time” which made sense. I look back to my state in middle school. I’d get sad, but I’ve always been able to bounce back up. It was much later in high school where my outlets did not work the same for me, and I had days i could not bounce back up. I ended up in the hospital my senior year.

I had some experience in dealing with people who have mental illness and depression, but I didn’t see the signs in myself. I couldn’t ask for help because I didn’t know I needed help. -Clara Hughes 

My boats of depression started in middle school, but I’ve had minor anxiety since the earlier years. In elementary school, I was terrified of being called on in class. When the teacher would ask a question, I would tremble and my heart would race at the thought of being called on. If I did get called on, I’d peep out an answer, and then hold back the tears after. I remember I loved discussion though, especially in reading classes. I’d want to raise my hand to contribute to discussion or to give an opinion, and I did. My heart would speed up as I would hold my raised arm, and oh goodness, the time leading up to being called on was the worst. This happened a lot in 5th grade. It wasn’t only in school where I had problems. Since forever, I had phone anxiety. I would purposely let the house phone go to voicemail because I refused to pick up. It seemed easy enough to say “Yolanda isn’t home at the moment, but I can leave a message for you” but I would never get to that point. I had my mom make all of my important phone calls to schedule appointments. If my parent were home and the phone rang, instead of picking up and telling the person to wait a moment, I’d sprint to every room to deliver the phone before its last ring. When I was a preteen, I refused to go to the grocery store to pick up a gallon of milk for Mom. I could not do it. Looking back now, what is the worst the cashier could have done? Ask me how my day was? I just had the fear embedded in me. The thought would send me into trembles, and tears.  Ugh, my tears would always get the best of me. I remember in first grade, we were taking a quiz of some sort and we had our folders standing up so the person next to us could not see our answers.I was humming a song as I was writing, and the person next to me let out an angry SHHH. My heart dropped, and I felt the hard lump form in my throat. I think that was when I had my first miniature panic attack. I was hyperventilating, shaking and trying not release my sobs. I couldn’t even get a “sorry” out.I could cry almost instantly when I was under distress. I was nervous. I was worried, concerned, anxious, tense and shy. But I was also the brightest little girl there was. I was a happy child, a laughing child. In third grade I’d write stories and perform puppet shoes with my friends to the rest of my class. I was a normal kid. Except for these quirks.

It got better. And then sophomore year of high school is when it got bad. I’d have crying spells for no reason at all sometimes. I’d come to school and just feel miserable. My mood started to go with the weather. I remember I told one friend at the time about how I was not well. She’s send me songs to listen to, and one day she did the nicest thing anyone could ever have done. I don’t remember it exactly, but she put together a packet for me. It had a space where I could draw or write everything currently on my mind that was making me ill. And then on the next pages, she had beautiful pictures of happy places I could close my eyes and picture myself in. There were all sorts of places and nature scenes with arrays of mystery and colors. At the end of the packet, she gave me a scavenger hunt sort of thing, only it was a checklist of things to do throughout that school day. I remember one was to eat a cupcake, and another was to make friends with the cafeteria janitor, and another to do a cartwheel. That whole day I held that list and shared it with my friends, and they’d help me complete the list. My friend even showed me how to do a cartwheel at the end of our band class. I had never felt more loved than that day. I’d have the roughest days, and then the days where I could be completely lifted up. When that would happen, I believed I had fought through it and the world was okay again. Of course, the weeks would repeat themselves. It became normal, however.

Sophomore year was when I started self inflicting harm. I was never into the cutting, so I would hit. Hitting did not leave physical marks. I would hit my head with items, and punch myself until my face was numb, or I could not feel anymore. I’d hit my head on walls, and with objects like the bell of my clarinet.  I’d hold my breathe until I’d want to pass out. I believe I gave myself brain damage from a half year of doing that. I’d get migraines, absolutely terrible ones, where I’d have to stop anything I’m doing and hold the side of my head and not move. It became harder to focus in my classes and in general, and my memory became not so great. When I realized the correlation and the fact that I may be the one causing this, I stopped. You know that feeling when you have your heartbroken? I would only cry when my heart had felt that way. I cried a lot. I felt like that often, naturally. I hope that shows the pain of it. I have friends who can’t remember the last time they cried. I couldn’t remember the last time I went a day without crying! It was almost ridiculous. I went to my school counselor and she talked to my mom, but my mom thought I only wanted attention. She said that everyone gets sad. (In all due of respect. I love my mom, and she just did not understand then what she does now. I should have had a one on one talk with her about it, so she could really see that I wanted help.) Naturally I thought it’d get better. And like always, it did! My junior year of high school I switched schools for marching band and to get a new environment and focus on my grades. I was well.

My ex girlfriend and I started talking the second semester of my junior year, and we became a thing at the end of the school year. She is my first actual relationship. I loved her, and my best came out with her. Later on in the late Fall of my senior year is when I started having problems again. I don’t like to talk about this, but I know that’s what ruined the relationship. I ruined it. Rebecca saw my worst. When I had trouble with my self esteem and the regrets I had, I began to take it out on myself again. My crying spells started all over again. I did not want her to see me in the state, but at the same time she was the one I was closest to, and I felt I didn’t have anyone else. I was so scared of losing her. I would lose it. I remember going crazy. I’d have these weird…moments.. and just go crazy, and I knew I was going crazy but that would not stop me. There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. I’d sob, and I faintly remember one time I’d reach for something sharp and she’d have to hold me back and tell me NO. She helped me so much, but she was my age, and no one should have to feel that responsibility. The next day I’d feel fine again, and normal as if it had never happened, but for her it had happened. I was terrible at communicating, too, and when things bothered me I avoided confrontation and I held it all inside, only for my emotions to get the better of me. We had really great times together, and we loved each other. I know that she loved me. It was too much, though, and even I knew I wasn’t the same girl I was when we first started dating. That’s when I got crazier; at the reality of losing her. She was the closest person to me, and with everything else going wrong at the time, I felt lost. I couldn’t stand seeing her with somebody else. I overdosed in March, and I was not suppose to wake up but I did. Coming home from being hospitalized was the worst; it was like, now what. I lied on my carpet for three hours without movement, because I didn’t know what to do with myself. Waking up was hard. Going to sleep was hard when I’d just wake up crying most nights. Before that, I couldn’t go to school anymore without sobbing in one of my classes. My teachers did not know what was going on with me. I haven’t talked to anyone about that ever; I was sad we broke up and she did not like me anymore. But it was so much more going inside my head. I was upset, and livid at myself. I was angry at myself for being the big cry baby, for wanting to hurt myself and for hating myself. I hated myself for hating myself, funny enough. I would think of myself in my most pathetic moments, and that destroyed me. I’d think of my school and my grades. The first half of high school went terrible. The second half, I did so much better and I was ineffably proud of myself. But for some reason I could not forgive myself for that first half. At some point, I feared I was not going to get into college because of my own doing. All of this just came together at once, and it wrecked me. I did not like myself in the mirror, and without meaning to, I’d constantly list my failures and my flaws. I just felt so unhealthy in my head and I didn’t know how to get out of it. After the overdose was when I had to go to a doctor, and that’s when I was given medicine.

“When you are mad, mad like this, you don’t know it. Reality is what you see. When what you see shifts, departing from anyone else’s reality, it’s still reality to you.” 
― Marya Hornbacher, Madness: A Bipolar Life 

Like I mentioned before, my mom was totally against the idea. But a couple weeks in, I remember a comment she made on how she could tell I was different. Everyone could tell. I didn’t get angry anymore. I didn’t yell for no reason. I still had a full month of school left, and it was hard going through heartbreak and seeing my ex with someone else. We weren’t friends anymore. But the Prozac made it doable. I wouldn’t get anxiety from standing up in front of a classroom any longer. I didn’t feel so embarrassed if I answered a question wrong. I didn’t shake anymore. I started college in the summer; I am fortune for that. I had to get away from my city and all of the bad memories associated with it. I got to start my life new, and boy, did I make an impression in the summer. I’ve made so many friends, and I feel so confident myself. I’m actually surprised at myself. I can focus now, not only in my schoolwork, but with people. I love to listen, and my mind does not drift like it use to. My memory even started getting better!!! All throughout Fall semester, I would have random flashbacks including memories from my childhood. I am starting to remember. Goodness, Fall semester, I stepped onto campus and had made and left an impression to the rest of my class. People like me. I became involved at my university and in my city, and I became a voice and an activist, and an inspiration. People would not believe the person that I was. I’ve been told I seem so happy and in control, and I am! Since leaving for college, I’ve been great. And my only downfalls were when I had complications with my medicine.

Speaking of, one of those times is now. Walmart pharmacy messed up on my prescription. I went to my USF Student Health Services to make sure it wasn’t them who messed up. I haven’t had a chance to go to Walmart to fix the problem and get my refill. Today, I am about a week without medicine. I am fine until the 5th day, usually, and that’s when it hits. I feel miserable. I’m upset, and I have such terrible thoughts, and my body is exhausted. I am crying so much. I know its mostly because my body is reacting to suddenly stopping the medicine. You’re suppose to have your doctor wean your way off of it, and what I’m doing right now is bad. Around day 3, I actually purposely have been avoiding going to the pharmacy. I, I don’t know why I do this, but I think that I can get by without it, and I start to believe it. I don’t want to be the girl who needs her meds in order to function. I want to be natural. And each time this happens, I tell myself I can do it. I don’t need this. I can naturally do this. No, I can’t. Right now I can’t and I need to accept that. I won’t be on medicine forever, but right now, i need this in order to be okay. I’m not to where I can function right without it. That’s when I start doubting myself, though. These past couple days, I’ve been suuuuppperrr down.

Here is a little synopses of the inside of my head: I question myself. I question the medicine. I’ve been great since going to the doctor a year ago. But its the medicine making me that way. I’m not this wonderful of a person. It’s the Zoloft that has created me to be this. I’m just a creation. I am unnatural, so this isn’t really me. Who is Melissa Garzon? I am just a living, thing. Melissa Garzon not on medicine is the real Melissa. The real Melissa is bad. And is irrational, and just cries all of the time and takes her frustration and anger out on everyone else. There’s no point in taking medicine when I’m never going to be good. I’m a fake.

When I’m thinking smart, I know I should not think that. I know plenty of people who are on medication, and they are love dearly! Medication isn’t a bad thing. My chemicals are just a little unbalanced, and my antidepressant fixes that. That’s all there is to it, and I’m able to be a normal, functioning member of society again after doing that. Plenty of people do it. That doesn’t make them not worth anything. That also doesn’t make them less of a human being. Right?

I care about my family and friends. I want to remind them every single moment how dear they are to me. Every single one of them matters. I even want to do this to those I haven’t formally met yet. I want to tell people they are wonderful, because they are, and they really can make a difference in this world because they already have to at least one person.
It’s scary when I think of how opposite I can be when I am not well. No one would believe it. This past week, I’ve had people stop me and ask what’s wrong, or point out that I’m not my normal self. And it concerns them. Heck, even when nothing is wrong, when I wear a neutral face people assume something is the matter because I’m literally always beaming at the walls. I get so angry sometimes. I was angry all today thinking of how pathetic I was in this mindset, and how much I want to claw my face when I look in the mirror. At night, I want to hurt myself. I have the urge to jump off of the parking garage. I don’t see my future in these states, and I could care less, but I know that I should care because I have so many people who love me and I love them too! I’ve just been crying this frustration out the past couple nights. I am smart enough not to cut again because they leave marks. Both of my arms are scarred from activity I’ve done this February (When I was off of my medication for a week, not by choice).  I can’t tell anyone this, because what am I suppose to say, “I’m putting myself on suicide watch, I’m not okay right now.” ? I’m not going to do anything. I, I think I know that. I would never do anything anymore because I am smart enough. But the feeling I hold on nights like those, its just hard, okay? And it hurts to keep it to myself, but no one can see me like that.

Mental illness has been swept under the carpet and is hoped to just go away. Whether it is biologically based or not, its still existent. I even heard someone say once that mental illnesses do not exist; it’s all created in your head. Well let me tell you, I have a pretty vivid imagination, but I did not ask for this. If you’re religious, I’d describe it almost as your idea of Satin living inside of you, and there’s no way to pray him out. They don’t talk about it in schools, and I think we need to. Or families should.Just anything. “Mental illness can happen to anybody. You can be a dustman, a politician, a Tesco worker… anyone. It could be your dad, your brother or your aunt. [Frank Bruno]. And not everyone is able to do something about it. My friend has confided in me that she is not well, and has not been for the longest time. She would like to see a psychiatrist, but she doesn’t have that money. She doesn’t even have health  insurance, so if she were to see one, she couldn’t keep up with the prescriptions. That help isn’t available to everyone. Sure, there is free counseling that Universities offer, and always natural therapeutic ways, but what about when it gets serious? I don’t know what I would have done this past year without any medical assistance, and I don’t like to think about it. I don’t think I would be here. And if I were still here, I wouldn’t have gotten this far.

It just… I feel like its my biggest secret. there are a lot of people who feel the same way I do, and go through the same. There are people who have not the slightest clue. My life isn’t bad. I have not had any major traumatic events in my life.  I haven’t lost a parent, or been through war, or have been physically abused. I grew up with loving parents and a shining personality. I’m 19 years young, and life is full of all the opportunities for me. I read a comment by someone on a forum that those with good lives have no reason to be depressed. This isn’t something I choose to go through. It’s a condition that finds its way into every day of my life. It’s a killer. My anxiety and depression has always gotten in the way of things. It’s ruined my social interactions. It’s made getting up and going to school a challenge for me. It’s had me terrified to call my own dentist to cancel an appointment. It’s had me crying in a room full of people for no reason. It broke my girlfriend and I up.

I’m a fighter though. :) And I’ve gotten through it, and will continue to get through! I just want to help anyone else who hasn’t been as lucky as me. I love life, including all of its hardships because I understand that its made me stronger. No one should only recognize those struggles only. We all deserve to be content, and FULLY in control of our lives. It’s the greatest, feeling, ever.

Mental illness is a very powerful thing. If it is with you it is probably going to be there until the day you die. I am trying so hard to break mine, but it is not easy. It is my toughest fight ever.
-Frank Bruno

 

Either way, authentic or not, it’s back to smiling.

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2 thoughts on “Destigmatizing Mental Illness

  1. Dear Melissa,
    I’m going to write you a really long comment on this. You can delete it if you want to, but I feel like I need to reply. I want you to know that you are a wonderful, beautiful, brave person, and that I know how hard it must have been for you to write this. I think that it’s important to talk about mental illness, not just in clinical terms but in terms of personal experience. I know you’ve had a hard time lately and it’s amazing that you can still open up like this in order to bring awareness to others.
    I can’t entirely relate to your experiences; I’ve never seen a psychiatrist or taken medication specifically for problems of mental illness. But I know what anxiety feels like. I know what depression feels like. I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t turn to anyone for help. Of my friends and family, I’ve always been seen as the strong one, so even when I’m having a panic attack or bursting into tears for no reason, I try to get to my room or a restroom to hide it. When I’m upset, I get sick, and that really embarrasses me. I try to convince myself I can fix my problems on my own, my life isn’t that bad, etc. I’m always afraid people will think I’m doing it for attention. When I started questioning my sexuality and my relationship this year, things got really bad for a while. I didn’t want to talk about it–I was sure people would freak out or dismiss my increasing belief that I was a lesbian. When it started to interfere with my schoolwork and I began to cry myself to sleep every night, I knew I needed help. But it was still so hard to get to the Counseling Center and make an appointment. In hindsight, I’m really glad I did.
    I also understand your issues with medication–how it feels false and unnatural. I was put on the birth control pill my sophomore year of high school for cramps, but I was surprised to find that it also helped regulate my mood swings throughout the entire month. I’ve been on it constantly for almost five years, and I know it has changed everything from my period to body shape to my mood patterns. I worry about how much of me is ‘me’ and how much is the result of continual hormone therapy. During the week I don’t take it I notice that the first thing that changes is my mental state, how I look at the world. I hate being so reliant on medication, especially with possible links between estrogen and breast cancer, but I also feel I don’t really have a choice.
    I’m so proud of you for writing this. I think more people need to see that (just like with issues relating to LGBT rights) mental illness is not something that doesn’t effect them–everyone knows someone who is suffering, even if they can’t talk about it. I think the more people like you open up and discuss such a taboo subject, the more people will realize that this is everybody’s problem and that we can do more as a society to help.

  2. Pingback: Giving Up Is Not An Option When Your A Mum - The Good Mother Project

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