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Accepting and Rejecting the Stigma

Guest Author: Mieke

This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, dysthymic disorder, and being in the midst of a major depressive episode, are a few of the diagnoses that doctors have suggested to me during the last 10 years. Crazy, hopeless, and weak are a few of the terms that I have used to describe myself during my darker and/or more frustrated times.

My personal diagnoses aren’t exactly corroborated by WebMD and have never been supported by my psychiatrist, but inevitably I would fall back to these conclusions. Essentially, because I couldn’t “fix” what was wrong and make it go away, I was indeed a “crazy”, weak person whose situation was ultimately hopeless.

I would be fixed.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a child my moods would go up and down dramatically. I developed rituals to simultaneously punish and protect myself from these mood swings – methodically touching a series of objects in my bedroom and then hopping over a wrinkle in the carpet perfectly before I would allow myself to walk through the doorframe.

Over time the number of objects and hops increased to the point where I would avoid entering my bedroom because of the effort it would take to leave again. In college I can remember having panic attacks and deep waves of debilitating depression but never understood what these were or even that not everyone else was experiencing exactly the same thing. My fear of failure (mixed with an intense stubbornness) allowed me to remain incredibly high functioning. It wasn’t until it got to the point where I couldn’t function or at least fake it until I made it that I finally agreed to seek treatment. Even then I clearly remember thinking that I would go see a therapist for roughly two weeks and that would be it; I would be fixed. I would not go on medication. I would not see a psychiatrist. I didn’t need too. Those steps were for people who suffered much more than I.

When it was suggested to me that I might be Bipolar II, I was thrilled.

When it was suggested to me that I might be Bipolar II, I was thrilled. I use the term “suggested” because my psychiatrist needed more time to evaluate to make an accurate diagnosis. Nevertheless we discussed this as a possibility and I left the appointment feeling excited. Excited that I may be Bipolar II. Relieved to know exactly what was wrong. Happy to tell my family the news. And the reason for my excitement had very little to do with having possibly gained a better understanding of what was wrong, or navigating a new approach regarding my treatment, it was solely based on my belief that “Bipolar II” was a more believable, credible, and serious illness than depression alone.

In my mind, depression and anxiety were overused terms used to describe a fundamentally weak person who just wasn’t trying hard enough. Nice – right? And this from a woman, who had been taking medication for depression and anxiety, seeing a therapist, and writing a blog about these experiences (titled “Depression Awareness” no less) for the better part of seven years.

Relieved to know exactly what was wrong.

This experience wasn’t unusual. Over the years I have rejoiced at every possible new diagnoses that has been communicated to me by a trained professional or that I have stumbled across online. The end result though is always the same-the diagnoses was never enough for me; not strong enough, not big enough, not scary enough, to truly describe what I experience on a daily basis. And it’s not enough in part because I didn’t have the courage to begin to reject years of stigma and self-judgment that constantly threaten to derail any progress that I make towards a healthy mind and possible recovery. If I can’t accept that my depression and anxiety are real, that they are crippling and terrible and need to be carefully treated and managed, then I will continue to exist in my own whirlpool of anger and sadness.

There is no blood test for depression, or vaccine for anxiety. I don’t have test results to refer to when I become confused, or a cast to wear when I feel broken. I can’t find the location and size of these illnesses on an X-ray. For so many years I craved this kind of proof as much to prove to myself that I am sick as to show others. My own, internal stigma prevented me from accepting the diagnosis that I had already been given: depression and generalized anxiety disorder.

Here’s to rejecting the stigma (inside and out) of mental illness.

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