• Emily Powell

Why I’m not ashamed to admit that I deal with mental illness, and why you shouldn’t be either

There is a serious stigma around all mental health struggles. It’s not something that we talk about, but out of all of the people that we know, I guarantee that more than you realize are struggling with some sort of mental illness.

I bet some of you are cringing that I’d write about this. That’s exactly why I’m writing about this. The stigma around mental health struggles needs to end, and I’m here today to share why I am not at all ashamed to admit that I have had my own fair share of mental illness struggles.

Since I was really young I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. Back then, I didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t know that anyone else dealt with being so numb in the mornings that getting out of bed seemed pointless. I just figured that this was how I was. I was messed up, I was wrong. My brain didn’t work properly, and I’d just have to learn how to deal with it.

The first time I brought up my struggle was to a very close friend of mine was when I was twelve. The response I got was “keep this to yourself, or talk to me, but you don’t want anyone else to find out about this. It’s not right. It’s not like you have any reason to be depressed. Plenty of people out there have it worse than you do. ”

I didn’t tell anyone else for several years.

Twelve year old me would walk around and hear the women around me talking about other women that were on medication for depression like that person was about to go completely nuts and shoot up the place. It was always in muted tones, stepping on eggshells, just don’t mention it if you can help it.

Let me ask you this; why is being on medication for a mental illness so hush-hush in our society?

If you had a bad sore throat that lasted for days and weeks, would you just deal with it? Or would you go to the doctor to get on some medication to help with it?

Obviously any sane person would go and get some medication, antibiotics or whatever else that was needed from the doctor to get rid of the pain. If you waited more than a few days or so, the people around you would be encouraging you to get to the doctor!

Why is mental health so different?

It shouldn’t be.

Being on medication for any sort of illness, mental or physical, should not be shameful.

When I was 14, I was so beyond depressed that I was suicidal. And yet, I was so ashamed of the fact that I was dealing with this that no one around me knew. Not my parents, my friends, no one. I figured I could “fake it until you make it” out of my depression.

You know what?

That worked for a little while, or so I thought it did. I was able to hide it and ignore it to the point that it was just barely there on the surface.

I shoved all of my wounds and all of my struggles so deep inside myself that I nearly forgot I even had them.

From 16 to 17 I kept all of that inside so deep that I convinced myself that I was fine. And I really was for a while, I was happy! I went to high school, got good grades, dated, hung out with friends.

At 18 it got a little harder, and so I piled on absolutely everything I could think of to distract myself. High school classes, cosmetology school, and a part time job kept me busy enough that I was happy.

And I really, truly was happy. I fell in love, got married, we moved into our home, took care of our puppies, worked, and it was all absolutely wonderful.

But that depression was always hiding, just under the surface, waiting for something to happen and all those barriers I put up to come crashing down.

Finally, at 20, it did.

I had a tragedy in my life with someone I’d been really close to since I was a kid, and that event triggered all of those other wounds that had never healed to come to the surface and show their faces.

My whole world around me felt like it was collapsing.

I’d realized that I’d been faking it so hard that even I didn’t know who I truly was. I lost all sense of identity.

Those suicidal thoughts came right back.

I realized that I had hidden from these issues for near a decade in shame, and when I thought they were “gone” they were actually still there, just under the surface the entire time.

I heard things like “But you have a great life, a great family, a great house, a great job… etc.

There’s no reason for you to be sad!”

Yet I was.

Thanks to Hyrum, my wonderful husband who doesn’t adhere to the “normal” stigma of mental health issues, he encouraged me to go see my doctor about what was going on. It took a couple months, but finally I agreed and decided to (shamefully) go see my doctor and tell him how awful I was feeling.

And yes, my doctor prescribed me some anti-depressants and some anti-anxiety medicine. He also asked me to go see a therapist.

At this point, I was so embarrassed, but Hyrum said the same things to me that I wrote above and am going to say it again, because it helped me realize what I know now about mental illnesses.

“If you had a broken bone, would you keep walking on it, or would you go see a doctor?”

Walking on it will only make it worse. Dealing with it and just hoping it will get better will only make it worse, or it will “heal” in a really odd position and cause all sorts of problems later.

Mental illness is the same way. Dealing with it without help will only make it worse, or as in my case, it “healed” and then ended up causing all sorts of issues once it got prodded hard enough.

I went to see a therapist weekly, sometimes twice weekly for nearly a year.

I found myself. I figured out who I was, I remembered my passions, I re-learned how to enjoy life.

Was it easy?

Hahahahahaha. No.

It was tears and throwing up because I was crying so hard. It was anxiety attacks and flare ups.

I had to re-open all those hidden wounds so that they could heal properly. I had to relive the things I’d gone through that I’d hidden from for so many years.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I had the support from family, my doctor, an amazing therapist and an absolutely incredible husband to get through this. I was only 20 when I was able to get these things off my chest, to let these wounds heal, to begin to move forward with my life.

There are a lot of people that have these same types of hidden wounds that deal with them well into their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, etc, and without them even realizing it those wounds end up taking over their lives.

I truly believe that every person can benefit from seeing a therapist.

I believe that it should be talked about the same way as going to the doctor is talked about.

No shame, just helping to heal an injury.

Am I completely better?

That’s a complicated question. After a bad injury, it doesn’t disappear completely, right? It turns into a scar.

Day to day, that scar doesn’t hurt anymore, you probably don’t even think about it much anymore. But every once in a while, when it rains, it twinges a bit.

It’s the same way for me. I can truly say that I love myself, I love my life, my husband, my family, and I can truly say that I’m happy. Those wounds have closed, they’re healed, and yes they’ve turned into a scar.

I hardly ever think about it anymore but every once in a while, on a bad day, it twinges a bit.

And the medication that I still take helps those bad days become fewer and farther between.

The reason I’m laying all of this out on the table is because I want to start a conversation about this. I want to talk about depression and anxiety like we’d talk about a sore throat or a broken bone.

I want to talk about mental health like we talk about our physical health. I want someone to be able to say “I just got back from my therapist’s office” without a second glance or a judgement.

My hope is that by sharing a bit of my story that it might start that conversation.

I hope that if you’re reading this and you are struggling with your mental health that you’ll know that you’re not alone. You’ll know that there are other people out there that have struggled and have overcome their wounds.

You’ll know that there is hope.

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